A bit of welcome sunshine and non-monsoon conditions did make a pleasant change to driving sheets of horizontal rain and waves of depressions, though now, rest assured, the stormy months are coming back and for us anglers, that usually signals a real upturn in our shore fishing.
Many of you, just like me, are waiting in anticipation for that first run of cod and other species which are more prone to feeding as the temperatures drop and the wind tends to get that little more "interesting". So many fish need that life and colour to the sea to really start hanging around inshore and feeding hard. Often we anglers have to get out on the shore when its cold and stormy and that adds up to a set of problems that need to be addressed. From bitter experience, believe me when I say that there is nothing worse than trying to fish effectively when you are freezing cold. All your efforts can add up to nothing if you are uncomfortable and actually want for nothing more than to be back home in the warmth. Prepare properly for difficult conditions though and you will often reap the rewards.
The waterproof garments
You may have noticed that we get a fair bit of rain in this country! and it is daft to even think of going winter fishing without some form of waterproof all-in-one or two piece suit. Thankfully there is a lot of good stuff on the market and, if you are serious about your fishing and intend to fish lots of longish sessions, then look to either floatation or fully thermal suits. These really aid not only in keeping you dry, but warm as toast as well. Shore fishermen often have no choice but to go night fishing and this obviously is when temperatures really plummet, so the warmer your main protective layer is, the better.
I tend to favour a one piece heavy duty Sundridge floatation suit that always seems to serve me well, for the foam lining that may well help save your life one day is in fact a fantastic insulator and really does aid in keeping you warm. The newer models from all companies are increasingly lighter in weight; this means it is far easier than it used to be to retain near-to-full movement for all that we need to do when fishing, such as walking, casting, baiting up etc..
I also have a heavy-duty, thermal bib and brace, together with a thermal, waterproof, smock-type top. Together these provide sufficient warmth and increased versatility. Often you can wear just the bib and brace until it either rains or gets much colder and then on goes the waterproof smock. Both these garments and my one piece floatation suit are easily rolled up tight and put at the bottom of my somewhat cavernous rucksack, but do remember to hang everything up to dry once you get home. Pulling out dripping wet waterproofs on your next fishing session is not one of lifeís finest moments!
Now I do not normally wear tights, lest you think otherwise, but every time I venture out fishing during the colder months, the first thing I put on is a pair of thermal tights; they are strictly for fishing purposes! In all seriousness though, they are invaluable when worn under a pair of jeans or tracksuit bottoms and really serve to keep the cold at bay. Inside my hiking boots I will wear one thin and one thick pair of socks, but by all means wear more if you tend to suffer from cold feet. I have started wearing some Derry boots and find them incredibly warm and comfortable with just one pair of thin socks, plus they have very good grip on rocks, but the downside is the amount your feet sweat in a non-breathable environment!
If I reckon it is going to be extremely cold, then I will put a thermal vest on, but usually I just wear a normal T-shirt, then a sweatshirt, and then wear one of those heavy cotton Titan smocks. I have had mine for years and they really do keep your body temperature up and help to keep wind out if you are just wearing the bib and brace. Lots of people like to wear fleece type tops and they are warm, but unless you get one of those top of the range windproof ones then I reckon they offer about as much windproofing as a sieve! In my rucksack will also go a warm polo-neck top for the times when a bit of cold starts to seep through even all the above layers. It can happen, more often when the fishing is slow and you start to tire both physically and mentally.
We all know how much heat you can lose through your head, so about the first thing that goes in my rucksack when starting to pack for a session is a relatively tight fitting fleece type hat; I wear baseball caps sometimes, but their thermal properties are not exactly good, plus a hat is far easier to wear when using a headlamp. I don't suffer from cold hands, but if you do, make sure you pack a pair of gloves, for having cold hands is hardly fun and it does really restrict your fishing ability.
Apart from when I am fishing fairly short sessions in my very local River Tamar, all my fishing gear goes in a rucksack, so if it rains, I do not want everything inside it getting soaking wet, especially some extremely pricey 35mm camera gear! Some anglers like taking those big boxes that store everything, but I just don't get on with them for long walks and tricky descents down cliffs. I have a waterproof cover for my rucksack that keeps everything dry; you can buy these in camping shops, or just find some big, strong industrial bin-liners and use them. These also serve as useful fish holders if you want to take some cod home, or alternatively put your sopping wet waterproofs in one for the journey home in the car or van.
If you are clever and stay warm and dry, then winter fishing becomes a pleasure and you will be able to remain alert and fish hard through some hopefully productive sessions. A fish like cod will only feed at certain stages of the tide, so to stand the best chance you need to be feeling safe and warm to really take advantage when and if it all happens. If you are approaching the peak time on your mark and you want for nothing more than to pack up and go home then really it has been a wasted trip. For those people who are not able to drop everything and go fishing exactly when they like, this is a crying shame. We are all quite prepared to spend a lot of hard-earned money on the latest rods, reels, technical gizmos and stacks of prime quality bait, but all is wasted if you cannot physically fish to your maximum potential because you have not invested in clothing to keep you warm and dry.
The specimen hunters, for the main part, can only really keep going if they firmly believe that the next few hours, or the next session, will throw up that fish of a lifetime. You may well be one of those people who like to punish themselves with arduous, twelve-hour-plus sessions on the same mark. This can work, but use your head and start to work out that period when the fish are around by a simple process of elimination. Winter is far better spent fishing lots of shorter, sharper sessions when you are fully alert, buzzing and full of anticipation. Lose that hunger during a session and I believe it is better to pack up and go home. The hunger to fish hard and effectively is far better kept if you are almost laughing at the cold and wet because you are dressed to deal with it.
Winter is often an inhospitable time of year to go fishing, but so often this is when it is most productive to go out. Do it enough and do it effectively and you will soon come to look forward to winter almost as soon as summer is over. I grant you that last winter got to a point when most of us had had enough, what with freakish amounts of rain, but hopefully this year will be a little more "normal" and just maybe you will land that cod of a lifetime. I know I will be spending a serious amount of time trying and I will be warm and dry!