Tips and Tricks Eagle Lake in CA
Tips and Tricks
Gearing Up for Fall and Winter Fishing
on Eagle Lake
I have fished every winter for the last twenty years and many times before that. I have fished through blizzards, 30 mph wind with freezing rain, frozen fog with less than 100 ft of visibility and temperatures below zero. I don’t mind the cold weather but there are some tips and tricks to staying comfortable when it comes to gearing up for it. The older I get the more luxury I want.
Let’s start at the base layers first as that is the most important part to get right the first time. Gone are the days of the old cotton thermal long johns…thank God. The best base layer is “expedition weight” capaline or thermax, I have found "polar weight" longjohns are NOT heavier than expedition weight. It feels like a mid weight fleece that wicks moisture from your skin and like wool, stays warm when moist. The jersey outer weave allows your jeans to easily slide over the material when bending or moving and the four-way stretch doesn’t ever bind. When temperatures drop below zero, I will wear a polypropylene or number 1 or 2 “under armor” under the expedition weight. You can buy a name brand for between $80 and $100 but you can find comparable products for a lot less. If you plan on using them a lot consider that you generally get what you pay for in this realm.
Now, what goes next depends on whether you want to stay dry or put on waders. First, let’s discus the “staying dry” layers; Generally the expedition weight long johns will be all you need under a pair of levis but when the temps are low nothing comes in handier than insulated coveralls…unless you are a girl, if you know what I mean. In that case, fleece lined Carhart’s are hard to beat. You can get flannel lined Carhart’s too but I suggest the fleece lined (it’s lightweight fleece). The most important thing beyond that is breaking the icy wind (Levis don’t break wind very well). It’s good to have a pair of wind-breaking pants along just in case (they are light to pack and don’t take up a lot of room in a day pack. Second, waders; the “wet way”: I wear a thermal fleece wading pant over my expedition weight long johns (200 to 400 weight) then my 3.5 mm waders on top and I am ready for just about any condition this lake can throw my way. I use my waders for raingear in fall, winter, but they can get uncomfortable and too warm in spring when the showers are periodic and the temperatures are warmer.
BOOTS AND FEET: The best boots to wear for most all the cold temps we run into up here are “40 below zero” working temperature rating. Once you get to 100 below boots, you feel like you have clubs on your feet and walking is difficult. But, the 40 below sorrels or like boot are just fine. But buy them large enough to wear over two pair of socks. SOCKS: My base layer sock is Marino Wool (light to mid weight). Don’t skim on price of socks, if I have learned one thing that is you get what you pay for in this realm too. A snug articulated fit that does not wrinkle it best. After that layer I use a 2 mil neoprene sock (fleece lined preferably) to keep the heat in, and if I am float tubing or wading I use an additional heavy wool sock over the neoprene. I still find wool socks to be far better than fleece socks. Remember, in waders you are always giving off moisture and the materials next to your skin should wick or retain heat when wet. The trick to getting the most from a pair of neoprene socks is having a good wool layer next to your skin. BOOT TRACTION DEVICES: I have tried a few of the different brands of traction devices and there are good and bad things with all of them. Trax brand that don’t have an over shoe securing strap have a tendency to fall off your boot when walking on an icy trail. You could walk quite a way before you realize that you have lost one. The first “Trax” to come out did not have an over shoe strap to secure them to your boots but the new style does. Putting them on and taking them off is a two step process. The coil wrap over the rubber web leaves a round edge between you and the ice and depending on how hard the ice is they can allow slippage unexpectedly. I typically use traction devices on my boots even when wading and the rounded coil edge seems to work fairly well on gravel and rocks covered with algae. The best traction device I use and keep going back to are literally “boot chains”. They run between $11 and $15 bucks. The chains are linked together and form a X at the toe and the heel of the device. The individual links securely stick to just about any ice/snow/algae you can walk through. The different angles at which the links lay provide traction at many different angles. The chains are easily repairable. Generally there are only two types of failure. One is that after a lot of use I have had a link open up just enough to allow another link to slip through and separate. All you have to do is slip it back together and give a little squeeze to close up the open link. I check the links periodically and since doing so I have been able to prevent this problem. Two is that the “chains” are attached to the rubber “sock” with rivets. I have never had a failure of the rubber but when a rivet breaks it is easily repairable. These are easy to get on and off in one motion and I have NEVER lost one or had it fall off my boot.
WADERS: 5mm neoprene is great and the warmest you can get but it is heavy to pack and walk it. Also it is very buoyant and if you happen to fall in the water it is difficult getting your feet under your body to stand up…been there and done that and I was only in 3 feet of water when it happened. For years I was the first person to swim Pine Creek (long story) and the last person to swim in the lake in December (even longer story)…neither was by choice. It was unbelievable how much floatation my feet had and that was what made it difficult getting them back under me) But, I have dropped down to 3.5 to 4 mm thick neoprene waders and have been able to stay plenty warm. Be sure they have double knees and taped seams which are becoming standard even on cheaper waders. They are light to carry and lighter to walk in. There is still plenty of buoyancy if you fall in the water but they are easier to recover in than 5 mm neoprene. Why have I not mentioned the lightweight breathable waders….? Because you will need three times the layers under them to stay half as warm as neoprene. They are fine for normal early fall or spring conditions but December ambient temperatures can go below zero and the water temperature of the lake drops to 35 F so unless you are layered with extra long-johns they will allow the cold to penetrate and become worthless. Any more you can find a decent pair of boot foot wader's for less than $150 and with proper care will last several years. Proper drying of inside neoprene waders is critical. It is easy to turn stocking foot wader’s inside-out so they dry out very quickly. But boot foot waders only go so far. But, do your best to turn them inside out close to the top of the boot and loosely wad up several single pages of newspaper and loosely place inside the boots (helps air circulation and absorbs moisture). Remove and replace the paper several times. It can take overnight to completely dry the inside of a pair of boot foot waders….always dry the inside first…even if it takes overnight. If you are using your waders back to back IE fishing one evening and then fishing early the next morning, don’t worry about drying the outside….it’s going to get wet again before it dries! Always dry your waders completely before storing and they will last you a good long time.
STOCKING FOOT VS BOOTFOOT WADERS: This is a matter of preference for most people. But, I have both. I use my stocking foot waders before the water temperatures drop into the mid to high 30’s (just short of freezing over). The first thing I do to a new pair of stocking foot waders is to “reseal” every seem on the foot and ankle. I only use “aqua-seal” as it stays flexible in all temperatures. I heat up a new tube in a glass of warm water for about 30 minutes (keeping the water hot) to make it easier to make a thin layer. This also allows it to absorb into the material. I also apply a thin layer on the entire sole of the stocking. Make it thin enough that the material absorbs it, don’t make a shiny sole, it will be slippery inside your boot. But, if you get the right texture you still have traction and you have a lot more protection from gravel between your stocking and boot. I have NEVER worn out the stocking foot waders at the foot and have never had any damage from sand and gravel.
Don’t waste your time or money on chemical foot or toe warmers for inside your waders because they need air circulating to keep them hot. There are newer battery operated insoles that work without air circulation. If you need extra warmth, invest in the electric warmers for your boot foot waders, they don’t work as well inside your stocking foot wader and are hard to adjust. All in all boot foot waders are by far better for keeping your feet warmer during the cold winter months. LUG SOLE OR FELT SOLE: I have used both and I can tell you that the lug sole is the best for up here, especially after the first snow. Once you get the felt sole wet it continues to collect snow and it packs it to ice under your feet. It can build up several inches thick which will only help you twist your ankle. Having to stop and scrape the ice off every 10 steps is difficult as well as annoying. But, the felt does give you much better traction on the slippery algae covered rocks and gravel bars but I compensate for traction when wearing my lug soles by using boot chains or traction devices when wading. But, walking in the snow with wet felt soles is a royal pain in the….well, you get my point.
GLOVES: I have several combinations of gloves for fishing in different conditions but one thing I always make sure of is that I have at least three pairs of glove combinations with me at all times. Which set up I use depends on what I am doing. Generally if I am just bait fishing from shore or in a boat and in dry mode I prefer a polypropylene glove liner under a good old-fashioned military wool glove as long as the wind isn’t blowing too hard. But, if I am float tubing or fly-fishing in which your hands get wet I like neoprene, but not just any neoprene. First, get true fleeced lined neoprene and don’t by cheap ones. Glacier Gloves are by far the best and the articulated fingers don’t cause fatigue that makes your hands tired. I buy a size larger than I need so I can fit a polypropylene or lightweight wool liner inside and still have plenty of room to move. You can buy cheaper gloves than Glacier brand, but once again all I can say is that you get what you pay for. Many neoprene gloves say they are fleece lined but the difference in material is critical and when temperatures drop below zero you will know or learn the difference very quickly. Flip open finger-tips are great for dexterity without removing your gloves but they get wet and cold as well as allow heat to escape. Glomit’s keep your fingers ready to use at all times and do help somewhat at keeping your finger tips warm. Flip open finger-tip and glomit gloves are only practical in ambient temperatures above 40 F. Below that, you will be better off using a full glove and liners and just take them off to tie a knot.
Over the years I have found black to be the best color because it absorbs heat from the sun on a clear winter day and when the temperatures are below 15 degrees anything that absorbs solar heat will keep you warmer. Black coat, gloves and hat will make a difference on a cold sunny winter day.
HATS/HEAD COVERING ANDEAR PROTECTION FROM FROSTBITE: We still have sunshine in the winter months so a brim and sunglasses are still necessary. But, what most people don’t think about is keeping their ears warm. I still have scars from frostbite on my ears so don’t take this section for granted if you plan on fishing this lake in December. I still like a good old ball cap for comfort but I add a fleece or fleece lined neoprene headband/ear protector. There is nothing like the burn of frostbite on your ears…once they are warmed up. So prevent it if you can. Always count on the wind coming up and always be prepared for the worst. There are some new bands that have slots for the chemical hand warmers. These are a good idea but understand that a good air supply to the hand warmers can let them get uncomfortably hot. Basically, just breaking the wind helps a lot. Also, a neoprene or windproof face mask is a good idea if traveling in an open boat or on a quad. And, expect the cold temperatures to make your eyes water and the cold wind to freeze the tears to your face. Goggles on a quad prevent the eye leaks but sunglasses don’t do a whole lot in protecting your eyes from the cold wind while moving…so bring a towel or handkerchief to blot your tears.
WATERPROOF RAIN GEAR: If you don’t use rain gear on a regular basis then don’t invest in expensive Gortex or Dry-Plus garments. Stearns makes a durable PVC coated nylon raingear that works just fine as long as you are not exerting a lot of energy in which you work up a sweat. These do have mesh gussets that allow air flow which is adequate for low or no activity. The Stearns coated raingear breathes well enough for stationary activity but if you are working up a sweat you will need a material that will breathe and let your body moisture out. You can get a Stearns raingear suit for under $40. A Gortex suit will cost you around $200. If you will use it all the time, spend the money for the Gortex, you will not be disappointed. Just remember that when you wash it don’t use a lot of detergent and don’t dry it in the dryer….let it air dry and it will last a long time. In a pinch and when I am packing light and mobile I keep a cheap ($2) plastic hooded poncho available. I take good care of those cheap buggers and they have protected me (and others) and my gear when I least expected rain. Don’t by the ones that look like a clear garbage bag, get the ones that are just a little bit heavier duty. They are neatly folded up in a pouch and are easy to dry, lay out on the floor and fold them to fit back into the pouch they came in. They fit perfectly in a pack or in a pouch on a float tube. My husband laughs at my “cheap tricks” but it never fails that he or others benefit at one time or another…just a little family joke. (they also come in handy for covering up anything you don’t want to get wet…(like that dry set of clothes) or your car seat if you are simply moving to a different spot.
PROPANE HEATERS: Don’t bother with anything but a wind proof propane heater for shore fishing or on an open boat. I have a Mr. Heater for my boat but the slightest breeze blows out the flame so they are not a practical solution to staying warm outside. But if the wind isn’t blowing Mr. Heater is just fine and pumps out enough heat to toast a pop-tart. But, they are a safer product and automatically shut off when tipped or kicked. The wind proof heater is not recommended inside a tent or enclosed canopy (like my boat canopy with the side curtains and back drop) because it pumps out a lot of heat and sucks up a lot of oxygen. It does not shut off if tipped over and you have to be careful not to melt anything too close to the unit, including yourself when you’re so cold you can’t feel that your gloves are about ready to flame up! But, in adult situations they are fine; just watch the kids around them. If the wind is blowing hard enough to blow these out, it’s best you leave anyway. They really take a lot wind and user abuse. Just make sure to let it cool down after turning it off. It doesn’t take long in 20 F to 30 F air. You can buy a small wind proof propane heater that takes the one pound bottles for around $35. They are light weight and easy to pack and there is nothing like having a little heat on a cold blustery morning when fishing on shore or in a boat. A one pound bottle will last a good four hours on high. Generally you use it just to take the chill off when you get a little to cold or uncomfortable. I know my hands begin to ache if they get wet and cold and having a heater can make the day much more enjoyable. The only real weight to carry is the one pound bottle of propane.
As a final note, I always pack an extra set of long johns and extra sweat pants and sweatshirts when fishing from shore or wading and tubing as it only takes one little stumble on a rock and you’re wet all over. I have needed them four times in the last 15 years (not a bad record considering the number of days and hours I spend fishing). Keeping your upper body warm is the most important part of the puzzle to keep from freezing to death or suffering from a severe case of hypothermia. The first sign of hypothermia is feeling warm when you should not be feeling warm….so remember that. If you feel warm when exposed to 20 to 30 degree temperatures and your wet, there is something seriously wrong…don’t think just get bundled up as fast as you can and be sure to let who ever you are fishing with know what happened. Hopefully they will get you back home and in a warm place before you pass out. Trust me, I have suffered that twice and I know how one can think everything is fine…and it is….until your body temperature comes back up to normal and you realize how crappy you actually feel…all you want to do is sleep through it and that isn’t always the best idea.
Always have some sunscreen and chap-stick on hand as well as a small first-aid kit.
If you have anything to add to help others survive don’t be bashful!! Let us know.
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