Cold Weather Kayak Fishing: Safety Tips & Apparel

Cold Weather Kayak Fishing: Safety Tips & Apparel

We’ve all been there.  You get that itch to go fish but the boating season has long past.  Or maybe you don’t even have access to a fishing boat.  Hey, not very many do.  So, what can you do?  There’s always the pier.  But, you’ve found more success when you go to the fish rather than waiting for the fish to come to you.  Then you have a stroke of genius… what about your kayak?  Well, this is definitely an option.  Just know that it’s going to be a frigid one at this time of the year.  When has that stopped you before though?  Just be sure to follow the following cold weather kayak fishing tips to make sure it’s the fish that are biting and not the frost.

Cold Weather Kayak Fishing Has Risks

Let’s be honest, cold weather fishing is no joke.  Do you think pier fishing at three in the morning in winter is cold?  Imagine being that cold with no windbreak while only being a few inches above the waterline.  Now that’s cold.  Cold enough to have some major risks.  Risks that you must be aware of in order to stay safe.

Safety Tip #1 – Be Aware Of The Weather & Your Limitations

Whether you have the itch to fish or not, make sure that you take the time to look at the weather forecast.  This is such a simple step but unfortunately, a lot of people forget to do it.  And, they miss out on information that would have helped them avoid any danger.  So take the time to look at your weather forecast.  Once you assess the weather, make sure that you only go fishing on days that your skill level can handle.

Speaking of skill level, be real with yourself and know your limitations.  Keep in mind that there will always be other opportunities to fish.  There is no need to put yourself in the risk of danger.  And, the biggest risk of all of them is hypothermia.

Safety Tip #2 – Educate Yourself On The Signs of Hypothermia

There’s no beating around the bush.  Hypothermia is the biggest risk you’ll face while out there on the water.  So, when you’re out there fishing, make sure you know what hypothermia is and it’s common signs.

According to MayoClinic… “hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).1

Doesn’t it sound like fun?  Believe me, it’s not.  It can even be fatal if you don’t know what to look for.  So, here are some common signs to be aware of so you can stay away from danger:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bright red, cold skin (in infants)

NOTE: You don’t even have to touch the water.  The cold air is enough to bring on hypothermia.

Safety Tip #3 – Stay In Familiar Waters Near Dry Land

Cold weather is not the best time to go and try something new.  So, don’t try to push yourself further than you’ve ever gone before.  Instead, you should stick with fishing holes that you are familiar with.  And, make sure you stay close to dry land.  I repeat… make sure you stay close to dry land.

My rule of thumb is to stay close enough to dry land that you can easily reach in a short amount of time.  This is a necessity in case you flip since hypothermia can bring about clumsiness, lack of coordination, drowsiness, and confusion.  All of which would make it a lot harder to get to dry land once hypothermia starts to set in.  So, make sure you stay close enough to dry land so you can reach it as quickly as possible so you can change into dry clothes.

Safety Tip #4 – Have A Float Plan

This might be my final safety tip but it is probably the most important… have a float plan.  If you’re only going out for a few hours, let someone know where you will be and when you expect to be back.  Your float plan should be more detailed if you plan to stay out longer.

Let someone know the description of your kayak, who is on board, where you will be going, when you plan on returning, what safety equipment you have onboard and what supplies you are bringing.  Write all of this down and give it to someone you trust.  Then ask the person holding your float plan to notify the authorities if you do not return when you said you would.  They should allow for a reasonable amount of leeway depending on the weather.

Cold Weather Kayak Fishing Apparel

Knowing the weather and safe fishing spots are only half of the battle.  The other half is being prepared with the right apparel and gear to help keep you warm, dry and safe.  Here’s a list of items you will need to be able to achieve that goal:

Thermal Layer

First off, start with a thermal clothing layer.  This is underwear that consists of a long sleeve shirt and pants.  They are designed to keep you comfortable but more importantly warm.  Some are even made of breathable and moisture-wicking fabric that allows sweat and moisture to dry fast.  And, most are thin enough to fit under all your other layers of clothing without you even noticing.  Seriously, a thermal layer is pretty much a necessity if you want to stay warm in cold weather.

Wetsuits / Neoprene Clothing

Next, plan on wearing a wetsuit (neoprene clothing) over your thermal layer.  They will provide you with extra insulation and protection against the cold.  But, more importantly, it will also help to keep you dry.  This is the reason why wetsuits are the standard clothing for all watersports.  They keep you warm and dry.

Windproof / Water-Resistant Jacket

You should wear a windproof and water-resistant jacket on top of your thermal layer and wetsuit.  Look for one with a fleece lining so you’ll have an additional thermal layer to keep you warm.  Other than that, they are pretty much self-explanatory, they are windproof and they are waterproof.  Having this kind of jacket will allow you to stay active but the breathable nature won’t overheat you.  And since you will be around water… the fact that your jacket will be water-resistant will make your life so much easier.

Quick Drying Trousers

Finally, get yourself a nice pair of quick-drying trousers.  Even though you will be inside the kayak, you’ll find that water will still find it’s way into the boat.  Lots of water.  So having pants that are water-resistant is a plus.  Especially if those pants are designed to dry quickly.

And, that’s pretty much all the apparel you would need while cold weather kayak fishing.  I know, you might be thinking that this list is a little extra.  But, that all depends on how cold it is and for long you expect to be fishing.  Besides, I would rather be safe than sorry one hundred times out of one hundred.

Cold Weather Kayak Fishing Gear

There are just a few more pieces of gear you should strongly think about bringing with you in addition to the apparel that I listed above.  You might not even need them at all.  But, they are a difference-maker if you do need them and you don’t have them.

Waterproof Dry Bag

Get yourself a waterproof dry bag.  Pack a change of clothes, food, drinking water, and a first aid kit inside it.  I guarantee you that this will be the one thing you will be looking for if you end up flipping your kayak over.

Waterproof Case

You’ll also want a waterproof case in addition to your waterproof dry bag.  Most even include one as a bundle.  This is so you can keep your cellular phone 100% dry and in working order.  That way you’ll always have a way to contact home in the event that something happens.

Personal Floatation Device

And always wear your personal floatation device.  There is really no reason you shouldn’t.  This is especially true given that there are many different options to choose from now.  Most of which are small and unobtrusive.

Cold Weather Kayak Fishing Summary

There you have it, everything I know that will help keep you safe while cold weather kayak fishing.  And most of it isn’t hard to do.  First, know the weather.  Second, educate yourself on hypothermia and its signs.  Third, stay in familiar waters near dry land.  Fourth, have a dry plan.  And fifth, have the right apparel and gear to keep you warm, dry and safe.  Not too bad right?  So, go out there and fish to your heart’s content.  Just be sure to catch the big one for me.


MayoClinic.org | Hypothermia Symptoms Causes

Jack Aubrey

I was lucky to grow up as a water fanatic in Oceanside California. Deep-sea fishing... every time. Kayaking... yes, please. Hanging out at the marina... peaceful. I built this site to revisit my youth and share what I've learned (and still learning).