Yes, it can be uncomfortable but it can also be exhilarating to catch fish this time of year. Even in the low 40s, you can catch fish, particularly rockfish and white perch.
But before you even think of going out, take two precautions.
Do not go out on the water when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
Do not go out alone this time of year. The chief danger, hypothermia, manifests first in clumsiness and confused thinking, neither conditions you should deal with by yourself.
If you go, your keys to success are clothing and tactics.
Layering is the primary consideration, with the innermost layer being key. Always start out with expedition-level undergarments. Fleece is warm and comfortable, but high-tech synthetics excel at wicking moisture away from the body, an important feature if part of your trip involves strenuous exercise, such as kayaking, hiking or flyfishing.
Heavy shirts, sweaters and vests are intermediate layers to give you an added edge against cold temperatures. In this category, wool is excellent. Insulators such as down and down-like synthetics don’t function well when compressed, and almost all are poor to non-performing if they get wet.
A good warm hat, particularly one that covers your ears, is essential. It conserves your body heat and, in the case of flyfishing, can protect your ears against an errant back cast. Carry a backup. Motoring by boat, a hat can easily be lost overboard, and if you have a ways to go to reach home, you will quickly be miserable, if not in pain, without one.
Complete your angling outfit with a waterproof breathable shell or insulated jacket. The Gore Tex models or their clones (the patent for Gore Tex material expired long ago) are the best and will keep you dry and immune to frigid winds and high-speed slipstreams.
Shoes or boots should also be waterproof and, if not insulated, must be roomy enough to allow for a thick pair of wool socks. Neoprene is excellent for waterborne footwear, as is any shoe designed for winter sailing, the only other aquatic sporting activity that has a similar, fanatical following.
Gloves and mittens are a final necessity. Mittens are superior in the warmth department though they sacrifice dexterity. For digital angling activities, I prefer simple fingerless all-wool gloves that can be coupled with air-activated hand warmers such as Hot Hands.
Always place the handwarmers in your gloves or mittens on the back of your hands. They are less likely to get wet there and the back of your hand is where the veins are most exposed. Warming up your blood will warm up the whole hand.
The tactics of the wintertime angler may also require some modifications from traditional techniques.
Fish are cold-blooded, and their metabolisms slow down significantly with low temps. They will feed more tentatively and become much more reliant on their sense of smell/taste to find food, although they will take an artificial bait if presented properly. That generally means low and very slow for everything.
Don’t stay out too long. Don’t give in to that urge to prolong a good bite while suffering extreme discomfort. Extended exposure to cold can produce poor mental functioning and bad decisions. Stay safe, go home early and save some fun for tomorrow.
Filling Your Thermos
Drinks for cold weather angling should definitely exclude alcohol, the only liquid that can give you the impression of warmth while actually reducing your body’s ability to produce it. A large thermos of hot water, tea, coffee or similar beverage (I know of one gentleman who prefers steaming Dr. Pepper) will keep your core temperature up and maintain your hydration.