No self-respecting fly fisherman will sit out the entire winter just because of cold weather. Let’s be honest, that’s a long time not to cast a rod.
Most enthusiasts know that tailwaters fish great, especially in the winter when the midge hatch is dependable, and the crowds are way down. Fishing during the cold weather months can be extremely rewarding but it’s important to take the necessary steps to ensure your day is enjoyable when competing with cold weather.
Fly fishing primarily requires two of our six senses; sight and touch. Protecting our sense of touch against the elements is a critical factor in success on the water and not just cold fingers and a runny nose.
Understand the Basics
There are a couple of basic rules when shopping for the best gloves for winter fly fishing. First, remember how important dexterity is while you’re fishing. Again, your sense of touch is an extremely important part of the equation. Whether you’re ripping streamers to aggressive browns or dropping a #20 BWO into an eddy on the far bank, feeling the line as it travels across your fingertips is essential.
The second rule to keep in mind is warmth. That’s the point, right? Wearing gloves while fly fishing in cold weather should help keep your hands warm. The goal is to extend your time out on the water and wearing a pair of sun gloves in 32 degree weather just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Lastly, material used in the manufacturing process should be a key factor in the winter fly fishing gloves you buy. Generally speaking, stick to synthetic materials. Most synthetic materials have faster drying capabilities. The only exception to this is wool.
Whatever you do, just stay away from cotton.
Wool is both warm and naturally deflects water. As soon as your hands get wet, they will be cold and having wet hands while you’re fly fishing is inevitable. Whether you’re landing a fish or simply stripping your line, water gets everywhere. Having a material that either repels water or wicks moisture away from your skin and dries quickly is key. Most fleece is made with at least some type of polyester.
Neoprene is another great material, just be cautions with neoprene as it is not breathable, wicking, or kind to your dexterity. Whatever you do, just stay away from cotton.
Fingerless Gloves for Winter Fly Fishing
Glacier Gloves – Alaska River Series
I’ve been wearing a version of this glove since the mid 90’s. There’s not much to dislike about these gloves.
With all finger tips available, even tying a triple surgeons knot is a piece of cake. Yeah, your finger tips may get a little cold, but at least you won’t have to take off your gloves every time you need to swap your trailing bug.
The other thing I love about these fingerless gloves is the use of material. With neoprene along the palm and underside of the fingers and fleece on top, these gloves are less likely to get soaking wet while handling that fat brown you finally dug out of an overhang with that monstrosity of a wooly-bugger-like steamer that your buddy calls Uncle Taco.
I like fingerless gloves because there isn’t fabric that needs to be moved out of the way to allow for 100% finger usage.
|All fingers available for use||Fingers exposed|
|Use of materials|
Hybrid Gloves for Winter Fly Fishing
When it comes to gloves, mittens give you the most warmth for your buck. Allowing your fingers to share heat makes for a more efficient way to warm those frozen little nubs. This hybrid from Orvis checks all the boxes for a great pair of gloves for fly fishing in the winter. First, there’s not a bit of natural material in these gloves. The exterior softshell is made from water resistant nylon with a 100% polyester fleece. Remember, the wicking we talked about above? Yup, these do that. I like the strap on these gloves that allow you to secure the mitten portion when you need your fingers to tie on a new fly or add tippet to extend a leader. I don’t particularly care for the lack of that same feature in the thumb however. After all, having opposable thumbs is what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom, isn’t it? Set that thumb free, glove engineers!
|Mitten style for max warmth||Thumb use may be awkward|
|100% polyester fleece|
|Stay put strap|
Warm Gloves for Winter Fly Fishing
Speaking of freeing thumbs, FRDM has done just that with their Free Fit Midweight Glove.
It’s the day after Christmas, Boxing Day for our friends on the other side of the Atlantic. Your kids are tucked away in a corner somewhere wrapped up in a new fuzzy blanket and occupied with the latest handheld technology you (or Santa Claus) sprung for.
Your wife wants you out of the house so she can enjoy the massage chair you gave her. You’re out the door quicker than she can get the plastic off that chair. Sounds wonderful but it’s 35 degrees up at your tailwater honey hole.
Not to worry though, thanks to your thoughtful brother, you’re rocking a new pair of FRDM Free Fit Midweight Gloves.
A little cold and wind isn’t going to hold you back. When it comes to ultimate hand warmth out of the water, full coverage is king. Any exposed skin will increase your likelihood of getting cold and decrease your time chasing winter rainbows.
These gloves are the warmest in the bunch and allow for use of your pointer finger and thumbs. Magnetic pieces woven inside the fabric secure the extra material out of the way when your fingers are exposed.
Made with a waterproof and windproof softshell, fleece insulation, and a wicking tricot lining, even a little extra wind coming down the canyon isn’t going to shorten your day flipping a #22 Griffith’s Gnat.
|Lots of great material||Strength of magnets|
Best Gloves for Winter Fly Fishing
My wife and I were fly fishing our local drainage in Northern Colorado on a chilly fall morning. Her fingers were cold so I gave her my pair of Simms Guide Windbloc Flex Gloves. I returned to the pool I had been fishing and continued to flip an assortment of midges to wary trout. I glanced downstream to make sure she wasn’t buried in a tangle or, even better, locked in an epic battle with a monster. Neither was the case.
She was frantically looking all around her in the water, on the bank, and in the brush. After a while my curiosity got the better of me, so I headed downstream to see what was going on. The left glove was MIA, presumably somewhere way down the canyon at this point. Bless her heart, she bought me a new pair, so all is forgiven.
Leave it to Simms to develop a feature rich product made specifically for no one else but fly fishermen. The Simms Guide Windbloc Flex Gloves is everything a cold weather fly fishing glove should be, plus some.
These gloves are made with 100% windproof Polartec ® Windbloc ® fleece which translates to warmth and wicking. Simms didn’t stop there though! They took the time to design these gloves with an anatomical approach giving you maximum flexibility. The thumb and first two fingers can be exposed with ultra-secure snaps to ensure that material doesn’t get in your way while casting, line maintenance or tying on flies.
My favorite feature in these gloves, however, is the handwarmer packet compartment located at the wrist. Here’s the theory; warm the blood as it travels to the fingers providing them warmth from the inside out. Genius! These gloves will definitely keep you out on the water longer during those cold snaps.
|Feature rich||Not cheap|
|Heat-pack Pocket||May cause glove envy|
Warm Hands Pro Tip
Buy a pair of waders that have a large, lined chest pocket. Nothing warms your hands quicker than a warm, dry place.
Check out Patagonia’s Rio Gallegos Waders featured in our April 13, 2019 article Best Waders for Cold Water.
These cold weather waders offer a perfectly designed reach-through, fleece-lined chest pocket when you’re ready for a break and need a little extra warmth to defrost those digits.
Dry Hand Pro Tip
Here are a couple of tricks you can use to keep your hands dryer longer in the winter. Again, exposure to moisture will decrease the amount of time it takes for your hands to get cold. Keeping them dry is paramount to keeping them warm.
Using barbless hooks is good practice anyway but, in the winter, it is especially important. A barbless fly comes out of a fish’s mouth much easier when a barb isn’t prohibiting the removal. The easier the fly dislodges; the less handling of the fish is required.
Using a net to land a fish reduces the need to touch it with bare or gloved hands. Handling a fish will make your hands and your gloves wet.
Forceps & Pliers
These handy little tools allow you to remove that barbless fly with far less wet-fish handling.
BARBLESS HOOK + LANDING NET + FORCEPS = DRY HANDS
Best Gloves for Winter Fly Fishing – Conclusion
The best gloves for winter fly fishing largely depend on your tolerance for pain in the form of cold.
I watched my buddy Ryan spend an entire day floating the San Juan River in February without wearing gloves. My fingers get cold just getting a PBR out of the cooler.
If you’re like me, the best gloves for winter fly fishing are those that reduce skin exposure and prevent hands from getting wet. If they do get wet, the materials used to make the gloves should allow wicking and quick drying.
Leave the ski gloves at home though, you need at least a few finger tips to perform the delicate line work necessary to catch hungry winter fish on a fly rod.