Layer up for wintertime kayak fishing

Kayak anglers can extend their season into the winter as long as they layer up for warmth. (Picture by Phillip Gentry)

Fish the winter blues away while keeping dry and warm

Anglers who would gladly step aboard a luxury powerboat during winter can hardly fathom paddling the kayak out for wintertime fishing. The excuse when the weather turns cold is they don’t want to — or are afraid of — getting wet.

Dressing for winter kayak fishing is as simple as combining layers of clothing that can be added or subtracted as conditions warrant. A winter kayak angling outfit is broken into three layers — base, mid-level, and outer garments. When layering clothing, it’s always best to use several thinner layers than one or two thicker ones.

Base layer: The layer closest to the skin should be lightweight, wicking, and made of anything but cotton. Cotton kills, and has been called the “Death Fabric” when worn on the water due to its loss of insulating ability when it gets wet, as well as its absorption of water. Polypropylene or wool undergarments are much better. They retain their insulating qualities when wet, either from sweating or immersion.

Fleece and wool for kayak fishing

Mid-level: Mid layer clothing should be made of fleece or wool garments. Blue jeans are a definite no-no. They are cotton, and lose their insulating qualities when wet. They also hold moisture to the skin, sucking away body heat.

Good choices include products from Patagonia and North Face. A wool sweater also does the trick. Items referred to as “fleece” may be either wool, synthetic, or a blend. Any of these will work.

Dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm and dry on the water. (Picture by Phillip Gentry)

Outer wear: Good outer garments include those with waterproof shells that still allow circulation of air. This lets heat out while paddling. Most paddling dry suits are made for extreme conditions rarely seen in the Carolinas. But some Gore-tex garments fit the bill nicely in our milder climate.

Finally, do not forget the head, hands and feet. Extremities are the most likely to be in the water when paddling. And more heat is lost from the head than the rest of the body combined.

Insulated boots are essential and should have linings of wool or synthetic. Most boots are rated for insulation — 400 for moderate cold and 800 for extreme cold. Calf-length footwear can help when launching whenever briefly stepping in water is necessary. Wool and fleece socks that don’t restrict circulation are also necessary.

Top it all off with a fleece or wool toboggan and you’re all set. Outer garments with integrated hoodies create a solid layer between the chest and head, and often incorporate a lining that can be used as a face shield.

The 100-degree rule

Winter is a great time for kayak fishing. The weather, though colder, is more stable than during the spring and fall. And of course there’s a whole lot less traffic to worry about compared to the summer.

However, a summertime spill in the water isn’t much concern. But it can be a serious event if it occurs during the colder months. To judge how serious a threat, the US Coast Guard has a rule of thumb which is referred to as the 100-degree rule.

Add the water temperature and the air temperature. If the two of them don’t equal at least 100, then there’s a serious threat of exposure to hypothermia if you wind up in the water. You can tack on another 50, by saying if you aren’t wearing a life preserver when this happens, there’s at least a 50/50 chance you won’t make it back out of the water.

PFDs, emergency kits, and float plans are necessities no matter what time of year you paddle, but become mandatory, at least for the sake of safety, when the conditions are below the 100-degree rule.

On the subject of safety, it’s a good idea to pack a waterproof bag with some dry clothes in case the kayak angler does wind up in the water. The bag can be stored below deck to ensure it remains dry and out of the way. In the bag, contents suggestions include a dry fleece hat, wool socks, a spare set of base layer garments, and some hand/body warmers to help restore warmth, along with the usual first aid and safety gear.

Best Bets


WHAT —  Crappie

WHERE — Lake Waccamaw

HOW — Drift live minnows under corks around offshore structure. Crappie may be suspended above structure, so make sure you’re not fishing too deep.

LAUNCH — Lake Waccamaw State Park on the East side or the NCWRC ramp on the West bank.

INSIDER TIP — Lake Waccamaw can get bumpy because of the wide open and flat terrain. Look at the wind direction and launch from the side that offers the best protection on days with wind.


WHAT —  Redfish

WHERE —  Copahee Sound and Gray Bay, near Mt. Pleasant

HOW — Redfish school up tight and hold in extremely shallow water to avoid predation by dolphins. Cast small plastic baits out in front of the schools. Try not to cast directly into the school or you’ll spook the fish. Cast ahead and let them work their way to your bait.

LAUNCH — Kayak access to Copahee Sound is from the public ramp located off Gadsonville Rd. east of Hwy 17.

INSIDER TIP — Winter conditions frequently cause murky water conditions so always fish with scented or scent enhanced baits in murky water.

About Phillip Gentry 823 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Waterloo, S.C., is an avid outdoorsman and said if it swims, flies, hops or crawls, he's usually not too far behind.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply