Is Scotland the coldest place on earth? Clearly according to "scientists" it is not. However, if you have stood for hours swinging flies for spring-run Atlantic salmon in February, or worse watched someone else do it, you will know that actually it is. And, despite the many, many letters of fantasy I get from hordes of fly-fishing groupies, it is not true that Scottish guides wear kilts under their waders, we just cant fit it all in there. The kilts that is.
Every spring-run salmon fisherman in Scotland knows only too well the challenging weather conditions we can face. As winter rolls into town it reminds us of the incessant frigid damp we can look forward to if we are mad enough to set ourselves the goal of releasing an early season "springer". A maritime climate fed by the North Atlantic produces a truly chilling cocktail of high humidity, precipitation and near freezing temperatures, never quite low enough to take the bone chilling damp out of the air.
There’s no doubt that if you want to tangle with the most magnificent of Scottish salmon, the physical and mental resolve required will be considerable. You will need to spend many long gloomy February days, each filled with snow, rain and wind, and of course hours and hours and hours spent wading in fast flowing freezing rivers. Once the cold breaches your defences not only is enthusiasm quickly crushed but even the hardiest outdoorsman can be rendered dangerously incapable.
Thanks largely to the innovative staff at SIMMS, Gore-tex wader performance has massively improved in recent years, keeping us dry and comfortable. However, while a huge amount of development has gone into keeping us dry, less has gone into keeping us warm. But it’s not just superhuman fly fishermen that head out in the depths of winter to pursue faint hopes of success and incomprehensible dreams. In Scotland there’s an army of winter climbers plying their trade high on lonely ice covered rock faces, in a game where getting cold and wet can result in much more than an early bath. They too are kept dry by high performing Gore-tex shells, but it’s the technology under the shell that ultimately keeps them warm, functioning and alive. For the last few seasons I have been looking to this world for cross-over gear that could meet the needs of the cold weather fly fishermen. What I found is hard working technical clothing that improved my guiding performance and enhanced my own time on the water.
Designed to be worn under Gore-tex waders, here’s my cold weather kit list:
Base Layer //
The layer worn closest to your skin. Its main purpose is to wick away moisture, very important in keeping warm. Because it's next to your skin find something thats comfortable.
MERINO 250 BASE LAYER CREW
"Invaluable kit for the coldest days. Very comfortable against the skin, no chaffing, drys really quickly after a sweaty hike and just the right amount of insulation. Hard wearing."
MERINO 250 BASE LAYER PANTS
"Light, comfortable, well fitted and they keep their shape with little or no sagging. I wear these as a base under a mid layer in spring/autumn and on their own in a hot summer."
100% Merino Wool - Merino is nature's most technical, high-performance fibre. Its complex structure makes it remarkably soft against your skin and helps regulate your body temperature.
Mid Layer //
Worn over the base layer the mid layer adds warmth but, crucially, gives you the ability to adjust your temperature during different activities.
ARC'TERYX KONSEAL HOODY
"Medium warm layer that can be worn as a base also, really breathable and a great fit with lots of simple and effective features. A long body makes it very tuckable, but also seam free so there's no snagging, rubbing or rising when walking. Thumb loops on cuffs work great under a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm and draughts out. And when the wind blows you'll love the hood and built-in face mask"
RAB POWER STRETCH PANTS
If there's one bit of kit to buy to ensure a comfortable season in waders it's these bottoms. Warm soft fleece in a stretchy fabric that behaves like a second skin. You'll get plenty of use and no sagging. The material holds any moisture away from skin and drys very quickly. For all but the very warmest of days these are my go to under wader gear. Also when the waders are off at lunchtime they are excellent for strolling around town and emphasising your quads and glutes. Highly recommended.
Heat Layer //
The primary purpose of this layer is to keep you warm on the coldest days.
MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT CITADEL JACKET
Awesome bit of kit straight out of the world of Scottish winter climbing. Designed for ice axe wielding psychos this jacket has an active cut around the shoulders and an inner lining that is slick and non binding with other fabrics to ensure complete freedom of movement. And of course, very warm.
Outer Layer //
The Guide's utility belt. It's got to keep you dry, stow your gear and tools, be easy to move around in and tough enough to use every day for a season at least. Also lets be honest, its got to look good!
NORRONA KVINNHERAD PARKA
New for 2018 this is my Guide Jacket for all but the hottest days. In 2017 I worked in another long Norrona jacket and loved it. When I'm guiding rather than fishing I like to feel wrapped up and able to hide from the worst weather. Especially if fishing Loch Style on wild trout lochs. I love the hood on these. Also the long tail keeps my bum warm and protects the seat of my waders when sitting in boats or on the bank. Its not a fly fishing jacket but the features, of which there are many, are perfect for my guiding work in Scotland.
Forget to look after these at your peril. 80% of heat is lost from head, hands and feet.
FOURTH ELEMENT ARCTIC SOCKS
These socks are the last bit of cold weather kit that I absolutely cannot live without. Designed for divers wearing a dry-suit, I tried these socks as a last desperate attempt to stop getting frozen feet and boy do they work. I wear them over a thin pair of under socks. They add a level of cushiony, warm comfort inside my waders that I now can't live without. They will increase your boot size by at least one. But they will keep your feet warm no matter how cold the water. A must have bit of kit.