Fly Fishing,    fly fishing gear,    fly fishing in winter,    fly fishing stuff,    gear review,    patagonia insulator soft shell,    patagonia micro-puff jacket,    patagonia nano puff jacket,    Review

An Underground Look at Winter Fly Fishing Gear: Staying Warm in Micro (and Nano) Increments

By Tom Chandler 2/24/2010 10 minutes

Fly fishing in the winter isn't the Big Secret it once was, and frankly - given the quality of today's winter gear - it's also not the sufferfest it was as little as a decade ago.



(Whether that's good or bad depends entirely on your feelings about impressing other fly fishermen with Jack London fishing stories)

In the "old" days (like upwards of four years ago), cold weather meant a couple base layers, at least one fleece layer (perhaps two), and a wading jacket.



It kept you warm, but was bulky, and god forbid the sun came out or you decided to hike thirty minutes to another spot.

Fleece is wonderful stuff, but it doesn't compress at all, and most wading jackets don't exactly crush down to fist-sized wads.

In other words, those layers are hell to stuff into the back of a vest.



"Warm" when you're standing stock still in a river waving a stick at a BWO hatch is different from "warm" when you're briskly skiing or hiking to the river.

And while layering is a useful concept, it doesn't always adapt well to circumstances where you can peel away a layer, but lack a place to put it once you do.

Like when you're fly fishing.

Read More Strategies for Winter Fly Fishing

First, The Soft Shell Arrives

A truism about being outdoors in the winter is that "way too warm" is almost always worse than "a teensy bit cold."

That's because overheating leads to sweat, which leads to hypothermia, which is why - two winters ago - I expressed my love for Patagonia's Insulator soft shell jacket.

It was a brilliant piece of engineering - one I found desirable for its adaptability and serviceability across a very wide range of temperatures.

To refresh, Patagonia's Insulator soft shell isn't bulky, insulates nicely, repels water and wind, yet moves moisture like the California Aqueduct - so hiking/skiing fly fishermen don't become sweat-soaked hiking/skiing fly fishermen.



It's become my all-around cold-weather fishing jacket - one I wear even when I'm not fly fishing (chicks dig me in it).

On this winter's pair of ski/fish trips, I never really needed anything besides my Insulator soft shell - a startling confession given the difference between standing in 38 degree water and xc-skiing for 50 minutes up a steep hill.

Still, despite my love of the soft shell, they do run run second best when temperatures fall below freezing - especially if you're not hiking, skiing or generating any heat of your own.

When it's real cold and you're simply standing in a river - or in the front of a drift boat - something warmer would make for a happier fly fisherman.

Soft shells don't react well to a lot of base layers, so you can't simply throw a few long-sleeve underlayers on when it gets cold.

In other words, when it's truly cold, it's not your best choice.

Welcome to Nano and Micro territory.

Cue The Happier Fly Fisherman

A while after I sprung for the Patagonia Insulator, I also bought Patagnoia's Micro Puff jacket - a piece of clothing recommend by every mountain guide I spoke to (and mountain guides know from cold).

And yes, I discovered it's everything they said it was - unbelievably light, windproof, water resistant, extremely compressible, warm when wet, and... very warm.

Really warm.

In fact, it's often a little too warm for an active fly fisherman in this part of the country.

I wore it - and loved it when I needed it - but kept bumping against an unfortunate reality; the Micro Puff overheated me within minutes of starting a hike or if the sun came out.

Which is often how my fly fishing goes.

The Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket

I ended up wearing the Micro Puff when I knew I'd be standing in the front of a drift boat, or fishing a single, waist-deep run when it was very cold. And basically loved every second of it.

Lightweight and supple, I hardly knew it was there.

Yet the fly in the ointment is that the Micro Puff was often too warm for this area's above-arctic temperatures, though on a pair of occasions I was damned glad I had it along. And yes, it almost always came "along" - it compresses into a sack about the size of a small lunch bag.

If I lived farther north - like one of those deluded souls who inhabit northern Montana or Idaho - my Micro Puff would probably never leave my body.

My mountain guide friends use the things endlessly; they ski or climb in their soft shells, but once they stop for any length of time, out comes the Micro Puff, which fits over their soft shell, keeping them warm while their disgustingly fit guide bodies stop burning calories.

As I discovered, that works better at 10,000' than it does at 2500'.

This year, looking for a kinder, gentler version of the Micro Puff, I tumbled for Patagonia's Nano Puff pullover (Disclosure: despite being handsome and thrifty and frankly deserving of a lot more free swag than I actually get, I bought my Nano Pullover, though got a "media" discount).

Nano Perfection

In essence, the Nano is an even lighter variation off the Micro Puff jacket; less insulation wrapped in an even smaller package (it stuffs into its own pocket, which is about the size of a small, thick paperback book).



Despite its "floats on air" mass, it's still windproof, still water "resistant" and yes - quite warm.

Just not too warm.

I still wouldn't wear it while skiing, but it's so damned small and light that I can bring it along when I do.

Couple it with a baselayer and a rain jacket (for when it really rains), and I've got something that will work right down to the temperatures where it's really too cold to fish.

The Nano I bought was so well received in the Underground's household that it almost immediately disappeared into the L&&T's cavernous closet.

She found it indispensable for downhill skiing, post-xc-skiing, and just generally wearing around town.

This meant that - when I needed it for fishing - it was usually gone, and while Patagonia still has to answer for almost causing a divorce, I finally broke down and ordered a women's model for the L&&T, reclaiming mine by force when hers arrived.

Who says money can't buy happiness?


The Lightweight Revolution: A Plea For Sanity

Fly fishing tends to lag other (higher-tech) outdoor sports on the clothing front, and why not?

Despite a lot of videos to the contrary, fly fishing is not an "extreme" sport in the climactic sense, and I think we're only experiencing the lightweight/minimalist revolution that has shaped mountaineering and backpacking the past ten years.

In essence, it's no longer considered smart (or fashionable) to carry 65 pound backpacks on weekend trips or lug huge technical daypacks on simple ski trips.

Older Bro Chandler - who once lugged backpacks in the 45 pound range - has embraced backpacking's lightweight revolution, and now routinely finds himself shouldering three-day packs weighing less than 20 pounds.



Materials advances have accounted for some of the weight loss, as has a willingness to cut out the useless crap that was formerly used to conquer the wilderness instead of simply passing through it.

Accounting for most of weight loss is an embrace of minimalism, which means that an ultra lightweight tarp might be prove just as useful as a tent, and that the equipment itself didn't exactly need to be built to resist nuclear attacks.

A case in point is the Older Bro's old Dana backpack, which was state of the art a decade ago. Unloaded, it weighed in at a manly 8.5 pounds, and literally would last forever.

Today, his bare Osprey pack weighs just over three pounds.

One difference is the design philosophy - buying goodies made to last four lifetimes is great, except that hardly anybody backpacks more than a dozen times a year, or needs bombproof straps, or needs all those straps to being with.

And five pounds is five pounds.

Invoking the same design philosophy across every category of gear has resulted in people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with (admittedly extreme) 10 pound packs.

We may be on the verge of seeing the beginnings of that thinking today in fly fishing - wading jackets are getting lighter (and thinner), minimalist chest packs are appearing, and even wading boots seem to be on a diet.

Every time I drag my fly fishing gear to an alpine lake, I couldn't be happier.

My soft shell remains at the center of my winter fly fishing universe, but I can also stuff my Marmot Precip rain jacket (very light) and a Nano Puff in the back pocket of my chest pack (they both fit), and be ready for everything from a frozen downpour to a hard ski out of the river canyon in brilliant sunshine.

The Frozen Upper Sacramento River

If the forecast was for really cold temps - and I was standing on the front of a drift boat or waist deep in a steelhead run all day long - I'd pop for the Micro Puff and my soft shell, and If I had to wear both together and still wasn't warm, I'd know I needed to get the hell out of there.

One caveat to all this lightweight love is this: My Nano Puff pullover is nowhere near as durable as my Filson waxed cotton wading jacket.

If I repaired trucks or trimmed trees for a living, I wouldn't wear a Nano to work.

The Micro and Nano's whisper light fabric has held up so far, but a guide rowing a boat every day might opt for something more durable (and heavier), and that makes sense.

Still, I think the lightweight revolution is peeking out from around the edges of the fly fishing world.

All the major fly fishing manufacturers now offer soft shell jackets, and Orvis is touting its sonic welded seam wader and wading jacket technology for lightweight, packable waders and jackets.

(A report is coming on the Orvis packable waders as soon as they've been put through their paces, though I can say the sonic seam waders may well get a workout whenever I'm away from the Upper Sac's wild blackberries).

Simms offers what appears to be a lightweight insulated jacket in the same vein as Patagonia's Micro/Nano jackets (though Simms doesn't offer weight data), and almost everyone is throwing their hat in the minimalist vest/chest pack/sling bag ring.

In other words, the days of carrying enough gear (and enough overbult gear) to invade Canada - and earning the stooped posture to go with it - may be ending for fly fishermen.

In a day (summer or winter), we can literally cover miles of river and spend hours on our feet - a lot of it spent wading in fast-moving water - and if we bothered to check, I think we'd learn that even a five-pound weight difference would make a big difference at the end of a day (or a couple of them).

Frankly, the less I hurt, the happier I am. (I may not be alone in this.)

(Interesting lightweight side note: My four-day backpack trip up Tennessee's Hazel Creek saw my pack, tent, gear && food come in at 23 pounds, yet my clunky fly fishing gear - waders, boots, two rods, one reel and flies - sadly added almost 15 pounds to the equation. Anyone still wonder why I'm grateful for lighter weight fly fishing gear?)

I'll find out for sure during next year's alpine fishing adventures, but I bet I can shave a good ten pounds off my "let's hike into an alpine lake and fish it today" pack simply by using lighter, more appropriate gear.

And as Older Bro has pointed out (often), when you're hiking, ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.

See you on the river (warm but lightweight), Tom Chandler.

Read More Montana Fly Fishing Trip Planning for Different Seasons
Destinations
 (2)
This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.

Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.

Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Fishing Waters
 (5)
The Madison River is arguably one of the best trout fishing rivers in all of southwest Montana, if not the entire world! It’s certainly the most talked over, written up and frequented ... morein the state of Montana – which is considered by some the capital of fly fishing. Anglers will find plenty of great access sites to wade or float along the Madison’s banks and reservoirs (including Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake). Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and more abound in this majestic fishing stream.

The Madison begins its course almost twenty miles into Yellowstone National Park. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.

Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hebgen Dam releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.

Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintains relatively low water levels and provides wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
Trips
$
385
-
$
525
/ Boat
Capacity:
2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
4 hours - 1 day
The Madison River is our home stream, so we specialize in guiding on this great river. We cater to anglers of all skill levels, from beginner fly fishermen looking to catch that first ... moretrout on a fly, to the seasoned angler seeking a veteran Montana fishing guide who knows these waters like the back of their hand. Our experienced guides will work hard to help you have a first-rate Montana fly fishing experience.
$
495
/ Boat
Capacity:
1 - 2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
1 day
Destination:
Sign up for a day on the Big Hole River and you'll be paired with a guide who knows the tricks for successful fishing in Montana. The Big Hole is an excellent river to float and provides ... morean opportunity for anglers of all skill levels to reel in a nice catch.
$
525
/ Boat
Capacity:
1 - 2 anglers
Days:
Daily
Duration:
1 day
With over 50 combined years of experience fishing the Jefferson River, we have the deep knowledge needed to guide you down this Blue Ribbon River. Located in Ennis, Montana, one of ... morethe top fly fishing towns in the world, Red Mountain Adventures is conveniently located to help you with your fishing experience.

Our guided float trips on the Jefferson River are perfect for:

Anglers looking for less angler traffic yet want to catch bigger fish

First time anglers who come here first to get easy, effective, and mindful instruction on fly fishing

Novices to experts who gain from our deep knowledge and instruction on the Madison River

Book with us today and enjoy the best in Montana fly fishing.
Outfitters
 (1)
Welcome to Southwest Montana's finest fly fishing adventures. Blue ribbon trout water is literally steps away when you visit us in the picturesque town of Ennis, Montana. You may spend ... morethe day on our home river, the world famous Madison or drive to one of our other local rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby or the Jefferson. Whether you are a new angler or an old pro we have the expertise and patience to make your time on the water chasing wild trout a success.
Type:
Fishing

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

24 comments
Winter fishing is some of the best there is. Even with more people getting out in the winter, compared to summer, it is pretty quiet. There is nothing like fishing when there is snow on the ground and in the trees. I am way to much of a gear junkie, especially jackets. I have untold numbers of Patagonia and Simms jackets. My number one item however is my Simms boot foot waders. I can't live without ... more them.
0
0
Sounds like a guide who wants some free stuff. I've got news for you, you ready...news flash, the ambassadors to our fantastic sport of fishing is regular people who have children. The children are the future of our sport. I heard something a long time ago.....We didn't inherit the environment from our fathers, we're borrowing it from our children.
0
0
Yes it is. Still useing mine, even though I've had to repair it some over the years. Still going...mostly strong. Well worth every penny.......bucks bags, just where did they go. Do I hear revival.
0
0
[...] recently read a great article at Trout Underground by Tom Chandler on winter layering. In it, he briefly mentions that the fly fishing industry is not [...]
0
0
Sorry to say, I'm not a guide. Actually a shop owner who inquired about adding Patagonia to our shops line-up after other area shops dropped Patagonia do to the hassle of sizes changing too often. The single shop in the area that does still sell Patagonia, will not carry their fishing line-up. I started switching everything over to Patagonia's items based off Patagonia's Warranty Claims and years ... more back I thought it was the best. I had a pair of ice climbing pants that I sent in for repair, the pants were way over priced when they were new, $450 or so. Instead of repairing the pants Patagonia sent me a refund of which I purchased a newer comparable model and some other gear. I was thrilled and at the time it was great and led to me purchasing tons of items which perform great, and only a few have had issues. Now wish I would have never bothered sending in that first pair of pants or purchased another companies goods with the refund. Sadly, years later now that I have ordered more gear, because I do all the Patagonia sports, which can lead to several returns and we're talking less than a dozen or so, when items are sent in under the warranty, nothing is returned or credited. I have received notice that Patagonia's goods must not be working out for me so they will not honor anything purchased under the Patagonia warranty or ship to me anymore. A lame, business policy if you ask me. Basically, since you order alot of items most of which you keep and only return a few, were no longer going to sell to you. I think Patagonia needs a customer service overhaul. Higher priced goods loose their luster when the warranty fails to live up to it's expectations. Unfortunetly, Patagonia is not the only one this is happening to in the fly fishing industry. Several reel makers are not honoring warranties or not providing parts for reels made in the past.
0
0
Sorry to hear of your troubles. My wife constantly returns Patagonia stuff (purchased for Little M), and we haven't suffered any issues. Nor has Patagonia threatened to cancel their warranty, which is about as bulletproof as any in the industry. As for reps and fishing guides, perhaps we're getting to the root of your complaints. Are you a guide by any chance?
0
0
The problem with Patagonia is if you have more than one issue with their items, say irregular sizing, Patagonia will start to keep your items and put you on their list of those not to sale to. If you live where there is a limited number of stores that will even consider selling Patagonia goods and you have to order items from Patagonia to try them on due to the many shops which have dropped Patagonia ... more will tell you, Patagonia is constantly changing the sizing of items. One year you might wear a large the next a medium and the next it's a large again. The fly shops hate when a guy comes in needing order a pair of regular waders to order them and the waders not be anyting like the waders the guy has been using. You might order a pair of paints in a size you normally wear, maybe try on a pair of Patagonias pants on for sizing, you receive the pants and they are totally different designed for someone with the backside of an elephant. If you take the time to review the reviews on Patagonias website you'll find consistant sizing is one of the biggest complaints. Patagonia also sensors and delays and cancels any negative reviews to keep the star number high. Patagonia has had numerous complaints about their sunshade and lightweight surf hoody's material snagging easily, the inside liner material seperating and becoming unraveled to no end, thus negating the UPF of the shirt. You might find a dozen items that work great. But because you had to return a few items due to the lack of stores that will carry Patagonia's items where you live, Patagonia will say you have issues with their goods and decide not to sell to you and cancel the warranty on the goods you purchased. This is bad business if you ask me. Another issue to look out for is the long term use of CSS welded items. I have a jacket that was made about five years back and the material is degrading where the seams are. Orvis new sonic sealed waders might not be the best choice down the line in this case as well. CSS is great for saving weight on stitching but if the fabric falls apart from the welding it would be better to have a little more weight and be able to re-stitch a seam. Another problem Patagonia needs to overcome is the way Patagonia's Reps put forth their opinions of fishing guides. Patagonias Rep for the mid west, has said, if he had another guide ask about a deal on Patagonia goods he would kick their a-- in a Texas Sunday church. I personally, think Patagonia needs to examine how it values guides. Guides are the ambassadors of the fly fishing industry and a rep should try to help all guides when they can. Maybe Patagonia has lost it's sole to profits? As far as the Patagonia Nano goes, the full zip and hooded versions will be out this fall. There are other companies currently who sell similar products to the Nano, some even have the same insulation.
0
0
Excellent. Down sweater was on the short list - and it's a fave around my little alpine town.
0
0
Tom, I had to leave a follow up to my reply. I had to do a good deed with my lovely Laurie today, and I was rewarded by finding a sale at my local Patagonia retailer. I brought home a Down Sweater (in a darkly handsome brown) for 40% off! Call it Karma, Call it Kismet - there goes my toy allowance for March.
0
0
Yup, complete with disclaimers, links and fashion comment.
0
0
It's about time I opened my own online shop, eh?
0
0
Offered without fashion comment:
0
0
It's $150 - that like a spool of tippet these days. Figure I've got a Lands End work jacket that's better than 20 years old, so when you amortize this stuff over even a few years...
0
0
Thanks for the heads up, Tom. I am computer challenged. But now, I'm also in to Patagonia for twice as much...
0
0
They make a "Human Traffic Cone" mango color? Sweet. Would the fish think you're a giant Power Bait?
0
0
What, you're not drawn to the "Human Traffic Cone" mango color? The blue isn't bad - it really brings out the color of my eyes, and makes my butt look small too.
0
0
Do you mean you can't find the soft shell online? You can find it here: Patagonia Insulator Soft Shell.
0
0
Been using a Puffball vest for the last 7 years or so. Lot's of days skiing, fishing, hiking, working in the woods. Still works well, although it is a little thinner than it used to be. Nylon shell is holding up, but definitely showing the age. Still has some years left though. The Nano is definitely on the short list for me - just waiting for a decent color!
0
0
I don't get any of it. I wear a Richardson's Chest Flybox under my vest. Old school, but it carries lots of flys. I just carry midges in a separate box and the rest of the vest is tools and kit. I think that I've got to pop for the nano, and hey, I couldn't even find the soft shell...
0
0
Ralph C: That said, WHY is the rage to bulk out fishing vests / packs with formed foam pockets? WHY? I'm with you. I wear an Orvis chest pack, and even that seems too damn bulky. Anyone else wonder if the old Bucks Bag chest pack wasn't the pinnacle of stream smart?
0
0
BULK SUCKS. Only the Arnold might disagree. That said, WHY is the rage to bulk out fishing vests / packs with formed foam pockets? WHY? When my pocket is empty I want it to disappear. Go away. Shrink into itself like a cold pecker. I don't need a padded bra or BMX armor. I was given a Fishpond chest/waist pack that is 6 inches thick - when empty. WTF? I gave it back. Nano jacket on the other hand ... more . . . perfection.
0
0
If you like the nano jacket, REI has one called the Spruce Run ($150) that has removable sleeves. All of the other features are similar. Good luck getting a free one!
0
0
I agree the Puffball is a bit warm. Opt for the vest with an R1 pullover and that should cover you for most active situations.
0
0
The Nano Puff is awesome. People balk at the price, as the jacket is so light and simple. But then they use it more than any other piece of clothing they own, and it doesn't seem too overpriced.
0
0

Discover Your Own Fishing and Hunting Adventures

With top destinations, guided trips, outfitters and guides, and river reports, you have everything you need.