I was completely unprepared for my first experience with wading in the freezing cold.
I am already a fairly cold person to begin; I always wear plenty of layers and bundle up pretty good when we fish colder weather.
Each year, we take a few trips up five hours north to the Eastern Sierras in CA for trout. It is a stunning, picturesque place, and the hiking and fishing is incredible! On my very first trip, it snowed the first night we arrived as we were setting up camp in the dark. That next morning, we headed out just before sunrise to fish one of the lakes nearby. There’s an awesome area that you can’t access unless you are wearing your waders, so we packed up all of our gear.
That first morning, it was extremely cold (especially for me, a Southern California girl 😛). The temps were ranging from just below freezing to 50s in the peak of the day. I made sure to wear my base layer leggings and top, doubled up with another pair of lined leggings, another long-sleeve, two pairs of socks, a vest, snowboard jacket, and a scarf. I was so bundled up, I felt like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” trying to move around. I was barely able to wedge myself into my waders and boots, and then I headed into the water.
During our early trip in Spring, much of the area is still covered in snow, so as it starts to melt the lakes cool off even more so, and it’s especially noticeable when fishing by the inlets. I quickly learned that even though the water itself was warmer than the surrounding air, it wasn’t long before your feet and legs started to go numb. I also learned the fun fact that when you get cold enough, you can start to lose your balance if there is any sort of current. (I learned that part the hard way this year when I slipped off a deeper rock and a bit of the 40 degree water poured into my waders!)
Being careful when wading in cold temperatures is extremely important. If you don’t have a way to warm up after getting wet, you could be in some major trouble. Luckily I wore my quick-dry base layers, brought an additional top and socks, and was able to find a large flat rock to lie on that had absorbed some heat.
I always have to make sure I exit the water prior to going completely numb so I don’t tumble on my walk back in. I would keep my waders on and stumble back to the shore, venturing off to find a warm rock to lie on or a warm area in the sun, and after I was no longer numb, I would tail it back to the water and fish for another hour before repeating the process again.
The second day I went out, I made sure I had on sock liners, foot warmers, different leggings, multiple long-sleeves, hand warmers, etc. It definitely helped, but I still had to stop periodically to warm up. Immediately after that trip, I made sure to research and invest in some extreme cold weather base layers and have since done well with them!