As fly anglers, maximizing time on the water is a skill we all possess. As long as the water conditions can produce fish, you’ll find us out on the water. This doesn’t mean we’re willing to sacrifice comfort. Summer, winter, fall and spring all have their extreme weather conditions; a set of waders and the right amount of clothes underneath will keep us comfortable for hours.
If you’re willing to be on the water when no one else is, you’ll likely be rewarded. Brave those challenges and you may find yourself tied into that fish you’ve been dreaming of for years.
Believe it or not, you can wear too little under your waders in the summer and make your experience on the water even more uncomfortable as a result. Many anglers run into the trouble of the air temperature being warm, but the water is too cold to wet wade in for a day. There are ways to make you a bit more comfortable in the summer months.
If you don’t want your feet to be extremely cold or unreasonably sweaty, wear socks with your waders. The neoprene socks in waders aren’t always comfortable on bare feet.
They don’t have to be thick, wool socks, but a pair of taller athletic socks will keep your feet in good condition. You won’t blister due to excessive moisture and you won’t freeze if the water is far too cold.
You can also tuck your base layer into your socks to keep them from riding up as you walk and travel throughout the day. Depending on the tightness of your waders, your base layers might start bunching as you travel. A simple tuck into your socks keeps things comfortable.
Lightweight Fishing Pants
If possible, find the most breathable pants you can to wear under your waders during the summer. Leggings or long johns can be a bit too warm depending on the outside temperature. A pair of quick dry pants will keep the wader material off of your legs, but doesn’t add any extra weight or unnecessary discomfort to your outfit.
As you’re traveling from one fishing spot to another, you may experience some sweating, but as soon as you get back in the water, your legs will cool. It’s better to sacrifice for a short amount of time to ensure you’ll be comfortable while you’re in the water.
Guide Recommendation: I bought some off brand quick dry pants from Amazon. They’ve worked great! Wet wading I’ll bushwhack through some thorny brambles and the TBMPOY Lightweight Quick Dry Pants have stood up. Here’s a short cut link to check them out – TBMPOY Lightweight Quick Dry Pants
Depending on the type of waders you are using, your base layer on your legs is going to change. Ideally, you have a set of fly fishing waders that allow you to layer and are a bit more breathable than a set of full neoprene waders.
If you’re fishing at elevation early in the morning, you’ll find that temperatures are cool. A baselayer under your fishing pants may be necessary. Leggings or long johns made up of polyester and spandex are going to be the most comfortable. They’ll keep the sweat off of your legs and keep you warm in the cold water.
Some anglers choose to wear only leggings or long johns underneath their waders on those in-between weather days. It takes some trial and error to determine your preference, but you’ll find a setup that works for you.
If possible, wear a button-down fishing shirt when you’re wearing waders in the summer. Not only are they comfortable, but they provide some nice sun protection as well. Your arms can be fully covered or you can roll up the sleeves on those especially warm days. The high collar keeps the sun off your neck and you can unbutton the buttons if you’re looking for a bit more airflow.
Guide Tip: I’ll tell you straight up – shirt colors matter. Find out what I wear in this article – Finding the best shirt for fly fishing.
The best feature of fishing shirts is that they likely have chest pockets. These chest pockets are great for valuables, fly boxes and snacks. Accessible extra storage while you’re out on the water is underrated. You know the shirt isn’t ever going to be taken off so you can store whatever you need for an entire day on the water.
If you roll your waders down to only be pants, the shirt will still give you some storage as you’re fishing.
Wading boots can make or break your fly fishing setup. First, you want to make sure they’re comfortable. You’re going to be walking along rocks, through brush and forests and along gravel roads. Ideally, they’re as comfortable as a set of hiking boots.
You don’t want your feet failing you halfway through your day! Size up a bit more than you normally would with other shoes so your neoprene socks can fit into the boots.
Consider Wet Wading
If the temperature is too warm for you to wear waders, go ahead and consider wet wading. A good pair of water sandals and quick dry pants are easy to walk in and you won’t get overly cold.
You may not be able to access the usual parts of the water that you normally would if you had waders, but sometimes the temperature is too hot.
Guide Tip: want to learn more Read more about it….What to Wear Wet Wading
Once fall, winter and spring hit, your layers under your waders become extremely important. It’s frustrating to get on the water and know right away that you’re not going to last too long because you’re freezing. It’s best to over prepare and then shed some layers if you find yourself too warm.
Cold feet are the top reason many anglers call the day early. Yes, the neoprene booties on waders do help in keeping you warm, but a late-fall day with freezing water temperatures can freeze your feet in a short time. In the colder months, wear a pair of light socks and then put thicker wool socks over them. Two layers of socks as well as the neoprene booties are plenty to keep you comfortable.
If you know it’s going to be an extremely warm day, you can put “Hot Hands” hand warmers in your boots. These last for several hours and make a significant difference. It’s obviously hard to regulate temperature with these warms in your boots, but feet that are a bit too warm are far more worth it than feet that are too cold. Make sure your feet can still fit comfortably in your waders and boots!
Base Layer Lower Body
You can wear a similar base layer to what you would wear in the summer in the colder months. As long as it has polyester and spandex it will keep the moisture off of your body and help regulate your body temperature. Your legs are going to be exposed to the coldest temperatures due to the fact that you’re standing in water so make sure that you have something else on top of the base layer.
Guide Tip: I love the solitude of winter fly fishing. It gets cold here in Michigan, but if the conditions are right theirs nothing better. I wear breathable waders through the winter, with the right layering I stay comfy. Core to my system is Redington I/O Fleece Pants – link to Amazon for more reviews and prices.
Heavy fleece pants or thick sweatpants will help do the trick. Since they don’t need to be waterproof, a thick pair of sweatpants will trap in the heat and help you fight off the cold feeling that comes from the continual flow of water past your legs. You may feel a bit trapped with two layers under your waders, but you’ll be thankful for the warmth. Check out the video on YOUTUBE I did about the Redington I/O Pants – HERE.
Base Layer Upper Body
A base layer on your upper body is something you should start with. Under Armor or other polyester and spandex material is going to be your best bet. It’ll pull the sweat away from your body and keep your body warm. It doesn’t need to be too thick, but you should at least have something on that will keep the moisture away.
For your shirt, do your best to stay away from cotton. Cotton doesn’t absorb moisture well and doesn’t keep you overly warm when you’re wearing it. A fishing shirt isn’t going to be that thick, but it’ll still help. You can even wear two spandex and polyester shirts to help keep you warm and comfortable.
Guide Tip: Comfort needs to be as important as the fly you select. If you’re not comfy, you’ll quit early and may miss that late afternoon hatch.
Final Upper Layer
Some anglers choose to wear a puffer jacket or even a wool sweater on those extremely cold days. As long as you’re okay with the sleeves getting a bit wet, go ahead and wear a thicker layer. Again, do your best to stay away from all cotton material. Wool is your best option for keeping you warm, but a hardshell puffer jacket is also nice. They’re easy to cast in and repel water quite well.
If it’s one of those extreme weather days, the layers you wear under your waders aren’t the only things you should be focusing on when it comes to comfort.
A quality fishing hat can never get enough appreciation. In those warm months, a nice bucket hat is going to give you the most protection. Depending on who you ask, they may not think they’re the most stylish, but comfort over style is always what you should choose during a long day on the water. Don’t wear anything with too many colors because you aren’t going to want to scare the fish!
In the winter, choose something that’s going to keep you warm. Whether it’s a beanie or a set of earmuffs, you want to still be able to hear your surroundings, but not forced off the water due to extreme discomfort.
Even a facemask can be comfortable for warm or cold days. A buff will keep the wind and sun off of your face regardless of the temperature. For those cold months, you’ll even find that insulated buffs are even more comfortable.
Anglers and gloves don’t always get along. Since we’re constantly using our hands, it can be a challenge to find a pair of gloves that works well for us. Most of us opt for taking off our gloves when we need to replace a fly, land a fish, etc.
Fingerless gloves are a nice option for those days you want a bit of protection. Otherwise, you can purchase fingerless gloves with flaps that fold over for when you’re making your casts or stripping in a fish. While they’re not always the most efficient, they do the job.
Most anglers spend time worrying about their gear and where they’re going to fish when planning for a day on the water. The last thing that’s often considered is what they’re going to wear to keep them comfortable. You’ll find yourself far more willing to take chances and fish more aggressively if you’re in comfortable clothes regardless of the conditions.
Take time to wear the proper attire and you’ll find yourself spending more time on the water and likely landing more fish.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels