Layering Up for Winter Kayak Fishing

Me paddling in Pointe Aux Chenes in December. Photo Cred: Stephen Outten
Me paddling in Pointe Aux Chenes in December. Photo Cred: Stephen Outten

I’ve always loved living on the Gulf Coast. Our summers are hot, but there’s always a beach or waterway nearby to help beat the heat. Our Springs provide great scenery in the swamps and fields as flowers begin to bring new life and wildlife are back in full force! Autumn brings a crisp, cool relief to the summer heat, along with football, tailgating, and bonfires. And our winters are usually quite mild compared to the northern states. Another great part about living in the south is the year-round fishing!

All year long, kayak anglers chase redfish in the gulf coast marshes, and bass in the freshwater swamps and bayous. In the cooler months of the year, speckled trout can be caught in the deeper canals and inshore lagoons. We truly have a fantastic fishery down here and we like to take advantage of that!

There are always precautions to take when planning to be out on the water and one of those is how to dress. So many anglers in the south love to just jump into an old tee shirt and pair of jeans and head to the water, but in the winter-time especially, slow-drying cotton garments can cause definite problems for kayak anglers. Problems anywhere from mild discomfort to hypothermia!

We love to be on the water, and we want to be safe. And in a kayak, you never know when you might take a plunge, so making sure that if you were to go overboard, you’re not going to freeze to death is important. Hopefully, this article can help to give you an idea to stay warm when kayak fishing in the southern winter.

My friend, Scott, with a nice trout. Photo Cred: Stephen Outten
My friend, Scott, with a nice trout. Photo Cred: Stephen Outten

Layering is a practice that hikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts have been using for a long time. With the sudden growth of kayak fishing, a lot of new anglers are hitting the water in the cold and I believe the layering is something that anyone in that situation should practice. It’s exactly what it sounds like; layering the clothes that are on your body. The idea is that by layering correctly, you’ll be set to be comfortable all day long, no matter most conditions. We’ll start to break it down…


First, you start with a base-layer. This can be anything from long johns, to quick-dry fishing shirts (like you’d wear in the summer), to synthetic or wool thermals. I wear tops and bottoms. Patagonia’s Capilene line and Smartwool’s NTS line are two of my favorites. Capilene is a synthetic thermal that fits loosely (unlike Under Armour) and is quick-drying. NTS by Smartwool stands for “Next to Skin” and is a natural wool thermal. It’s not the itchy wool that most people think of. Instead, it’s merino wool and is super soft. It’s anti-microbial, meaning that it doesn’t retain body-oder, and because it’s wool, it continues to keep you warm, even when wet!


Image 3
The Patagonia NanoPuff Jacket kept me warm on this December day fishing for trout.

The next layer is your mid-layer. Insulating jackets and quick-dry pants are what look for here. Columbia’s PFG pants work well if you already have them or something similar. As far as tops go, I’m a big fan of synthetic down jackets. The Nano-Puff by Patagonia and the Thermo-ball by North Face are both the top two I like. They are both filled with Primaloft insulation, which performs similarly to goose down. They are very lightweight and surprisingly warm (who says you need a heavy jacket?). Another plus with both the Nano-puff and Thermo-ball is that they are water-resistant and highly compressible, which is important for later in the day when it may be too warm to wear. You can take it off, ball it up, and throw it in your crate for later.

Image 4
When it’s chilly enough to need just a light mid-layer, John Williams wears his Patagonia NanoPuff Vest. Photo Cred: Stephen Outten

If it’s not quite cold enough for a full-on jacket as your mid-layer, the Nano-puff and Thermo-ball are both also offered as vests.


Your outer-layer is the last layer we’ll be looking at. What’s important to me with this layer is that it be waterproof and windproof. Nothing meets those requirements for me quite like a rain-shell. Many brands have great rain-shells. I’m a fan of Patagonia so I like their Torrentshell Jacket. Rip-stop material insures it won’t be easy to tear, taped seams keep the water out, and double flaps over the zipper make sure to keep both wind and rain! It also features a two-way adjustable hood and extended sleeves, making sure that they won’t ride up your arms. The Torrentshell makes for a great year-round raincoat as well, but works exceptionally as a top-layer in the winter months!

I also have a matching pair of Torrentshell pants that I wear as the outer-layer over my Columbia PFG pants.Image 5


Just as important as your main clothing are your accessories. As much as 60% of your body heat can be lost through your head and neck. Be sure to wear a warm hat as well as a fleece buff around your neck for a big upgrade in warmth while paddling. Wool socks worn with roomy insulated waterproof boots or shoes is the best combination I’ve found for kayak fishing.

Even when you’re completely covered up, if your hands are exposed it can still cause some pain. I’m a fan of Manzella gloves overall, but also like some of the fingerless gloves offered by other companies. Main thing for me is to make sure they’re either wool or waterproof.Image 6

Hopefully you stuck with me through these tips. The great thing about layering (if you’ve done it right) is that as the temperature heats up during the day, you can remove your heavier layers, letting your lighter layers breathe and keeping you comfortable.

And obviously, the bottom-line goal in this is to continue having great days on the water, even in the winter. Hopefully these tips will help you to do that. Thanks for reading!

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