They say opposites attract. I believe it. My best kayak-fishing buddy, Kevin Whitley, and I are completely different. He listens to death metal, I like jazz. He eats Pop-Tarts and Smarties and I like organic greens and whole wheat pitas. Kevin’s long hair and tattoos are the yin to my clean-cut, white-washed yang, but we’re not totally different. When it comes to winter fishing, we both need to stay warm and safe on the water.
Warm and Comfortable Winter Fishing
I met Kevin the year I started fishing out of a kayak. We fished through the summer, catching red drum, cobia, big flounder, trout, small striper and more while sweating, swatting flies and slathering on sunblock.
As summer turned to fall, and the water temperature dropped, I was looking forward to the crisp wind and brisk water that would bring big striped bass, blackfish and trophy speckled trout within paddle-range. Kevin was not.
I suffered the oppressive heat and humidity of summer in the Old Dominion, while Kevin basked in the sun and sweated profusely. As winter approached, I was anxious to bundle up in a heavy sweatshirt and thermal underwear at the same time Kevin lamented frostbite and nasal congestion.
Choose the Right Layers for You
It was our first year kayak fishing, so we were building the plane while flying it. We experimented with different combinations of clothes, switching out rain jackets, waders, gloves, flannel, wool and fleece until we settled on a system that was both warm and safe. I went for light and comfortable, starting with a base layer of Under Armour ColdGear and SmartWool Mountain socks, adding light fleece pants, a fleece shirt and ending with a heavy Under Armour ColdGear sweatshirt and a pair of neoprene waders. Most outings, I would forego gloves and let my fingers burn, then go numb.
Kevin started with the same layer system, but added a pair of rain pants and a rain jacket to cut the wind and trap the heat. He also pulled a fleece balaclava over his face, a watch cap over his head and protected his hands with a pair of wool-lined mittens on top of a pair of fingerless wool gloves. He looked like the Stay-Puft marshmallow man.
We took special precautions for winter fishing, loading our PFDs with a VHF radio, signal light and whistle for a quick rescue. I even tested my system by jumping in the water and reentering my kayak—wet and cold but alive.
Enjoying a Cold-Weather Catch
The ultimate test came late in December when boaters reported big striped bass hiding in the pilings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. To reach the spot, we would have to launch before dawn, paddle miles and then sit for hours waiting for a bite.
Long story short, we found a place to launch, made the paddle and Kevin pulled a fat 30-pound striper from the cold, grey water. Even 12 layers of clothes couldn’t hide the joy and satisfaction on his wind-blown and frost-bitten face.
Warm Up to Winter Fishing
Since then, we’ve paddled through each winter, catching huge striper, trophy speckled trout and fat blackfish. And we’re not alone, more anglers are joining us in the cold.
I would argue that winter is the best time to go kayak fishing. Kevin would disagree. This winter, try kayak fishing where you live, and find the yin to your yang.
Kayak Kevin, cold but happy with his wintertime catch. | Feature photo: Kevin Whitley