Gearing up for a winter trip

I’ve got a trip to the Snowy Mountains coming up shortly. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, winter trips to this area are always likely to be cold, and I pack accordingly. However, this time, the weather forecast – and there’s no nice way of putting this – looks dire. As one who professes to fish on regardless of what nature throws, perhaps this trip may prove to be some sort of cosmic challenge from the fishing gods.

I’m thinking about this even more than usual, because I recently needed to explain to an overseas guest coming to Millbrook (who’s mental picture of Australian winter weather had so far been framed by visits to Uluru and the Gold Coast) the need to bring warm things for his day. While not quite a Snowy Mountains climate, it’s usually several degrees colder up here than in Melbourne (where he was staying) and it’s easy for someone unfamiliar with the area to wrongly assume the forecast weather will be about the same for both places.

You don’t have to travel to the Snowy Mountains to find cold winter weather – here’s Hepburn Lagoon at just 4C.

Fortunately, James took my advice and arrived kitted out appropriately. He stayed comfortable through a windy day with a 6C maximum – although he did end up borrowing a pair of my gloves. Over lunch, the talk turned to my upcoming visit to the Snowys. James was genuinely surprised that we have snow-covered mountains in Australia, let alone a winter snow cover larger in area than some European countries.

“What else would I need if I went fishing there?” James asked brightly. I should stress here that I wasn’t encouraging the idea of a Snowys trip; at least not until he came back to Australia at a warmer time of year. However, I suspect James thought that, when revealing my upcoming trip, I’d let slip a cunning, known-only-to-guides secret. Despite my insistence that there are many less challenging places to go fishing in Australia in winter, he seemed very interested in the Snowy Mountains.

A useful reminder of likely Snowy Mountains winter conditions.

So I gave in and answered James. This is what I suggested he’d need.

  1. Full length breathable waders are the number one requirement. With these, it’s easy to layer underneath to the required level of warmth…
  2. … starting with long thermal underwear, top and bottom. And fleece trousers. And thick warm socks, a good warm shirt (I wanted to avoid brands here, but I needed to mention the Simms Coldweather shirt) and a fleece jacket.
  3. A decent waterproof, waist-length wading jacket. The key here is the word ‘waterproof’. Many modern breathable jackets claim to be, but few are. I mean REALLY waterproof; torrential 2-degree rain for hours waterproof. Basically, if you get wet where I’ll be next week, at the very least your day is over, and you may even be in danger of hypothermia. Oh, and my jacket must have an attachment on the back for a landing net so I can keep it there with the hood up. A couple of retractor attachment points for clippers etc, and good pockets for a main fly box or two, are handy so you don’t need to unzip to access your vest if you wear it underneath.
  4. Tough, comfortable wading boots are essential in virtually any trout fishing situation. In this case you need a rubber sole with good tread. (Felt is hopelessly slippery on muddy lake shores, and even worse on snow.)
  5. Low light polarised glasses are one of the most useful items I own and never more than for winter fishing, when low light is the norm. It’s not just about spotting fish, but also identifying significant subsurface features like channels, drop-offs, weed-beds, snags, boulders, yabby beds and so on, all of which might be invisible without good glasses.
  6. A combination of buff, beanie and peaked cap will keep your head warm, the rain/snow off your glasses, and everything in place in the wind.
  7. Gloves. Now, gloves are a tricky one. The best gloves for keeping your fingers warm and dry, can deny you the dexterity you need to cast and retrieve effectively. Wool fingerless gloves are one good option but they’re not perfect. I’m shortly going to try a new pair of winter gloves – I’ll keep you posted.

As for fishing gear, a 6 weight 9’6” rod with a floating line is a good bet for fishing that will mix sight fishing with blind searching and probably a fair bit of wind. And have an intermediate tip and sink tip handy for searching in rough weather. A wide arbour reel is even more useful than normal to reduce line coiling in the cold temperatures.

A 9’6″ rod and wide arbour reel are a good team for the Snowys in winter.

As usual, tippet should typically be 3X 8lb high quality fluorocarbon; maybe even 2X if it’s rough and the flies (mainly Woolly Buggers and variations) are big. Some 4X 7lb will be handy to fish smaller midge, nymph and stick caddis patterns – Snowy sight fishing staples. And of course carry a big landing net at all times, because big fish are a decent chance. Even more so than usual, you don’t want to be fluffing around trying to grab a large trout by hand in water that’s likely to be 5C or less.

Big winter fish need a big net – and decent tippet.

Finally, I told James that a shockproof and waterproof camera will be handy if he wanted some snaps. (Looking at the forecast for my trip, keeping a regular camera safely dry would mean leaving it in the cabin!)

Besides lots to eat and drink on hand (I warned James that the going rate for a cup of hot thermos tea or coffee in the Snowys in winter can be at least three of your best Woolly Buggers) I think that’s about it. Wish me luck – and James too if he goes later.