As far as I’m concerned, one of the main charms of the Chesapeake is the distinct seasons, marked in ways both obvious and subtle. We witness a changing of the guard, so to speak, when birds and fish come and go. Obviously, I’m not alone in that view, as evidenced by the region’s population growth in the past few decades, as millions of people have also sought to live near the Bay’s shores.
Being on the water fall through early winter often offers a memorable, first-hand view of these seasonal transitions. But any trip on the water this time of year should be done with an abundance of caution and preparation. As a fishing guide, paddler, and waterfowl hunter I’ve earned a very healthy respect for cold water, unexpected weather, and the uncompromising ways of nature.
Science tells us that water draws heat from our bodies 25 times faster than air. A sudden full or partial immersion in cold water—almost always unexpected—can cause a significant loss of coordination and judgment faster than most of us realize. Prolonged exposure to wind, “windchill,” can also be debilitating, sapping your strength and stamina, which can then lead to inattention followed by careless mistakes, or worse. It’s also worth noting that if you sweat too much (those bluebirds days come to mind) without wicking away moisture from your body, that can also become problematic over the course of a day on the water.
I think we can all agree that not only do you stay drier fishing from a boat, but it’s often appreciably more comfortable and easier than kayak, wade, or surf fishing during the colder months. Those activities demand that your first priority is to protect your body’s “core” from frigid water and subsequent rapid heat loss, and as such require a greater level of protection usually found in sport specific gear, which I’ll cover in a future TIO column.
When fishing a style that demands making repeated casts, such as in fly fishing and light tackle, I much prefer a technical fishing jacket over a more bulky PVC-coated jacket, sometimes called “oil skins.” The occasional exception to my rule is when I’m trolling with friends on their boat. So when I’m in the market for a new fishing jacket, I consider the following factors: Is it specifically made for cold water environments, meaning is it waterproof, windproof, and breathable? Not quite as important but still high on the list: is it specifically made for active fishing? Meaning can I effectively cast light tackle lures or flies while wearing it? While there are many choices for fishing jackets, here are a few options—all around $300—to mull over.
Simms’ Challenger Jacket
Fly anglers in particular are devotees of the quality apparel made from this Bozeman, MT, outfit, and the Challenger fishing jacket is no exception. Featuring two-layer Toray fabric with fully taped seams for 100-percent waterproof protection, it’s also breathable and has fleece-lined pockets to keep your paws warm when running to and from the fishing grounds. Add a three-point adjustable storm hood, which rolls up to stow in the collar, and a YKK VISLON center front zipper with a storm flap, and you’re all set for fishing the Chesapeake or coastal striper run. Oh, did I mention it also has dual kill-switch anchor points to give you even more on-the-water safety? If you want get super hi-tech, go with Simms’ Prodry jacket. But get ready to go the ATM beforehand; it’s not cheap.
Orvis Sonic Tailwaters Jacket
Orvis has enjoyed a long and storied history making quality fishing gear with a dedicated following in the angling world. This jacket has welded seams, two zippered water-resistant fly-box pockets, and two zippered water-resistant fleece-lined handwarmer pockets. The hood is adjustable, affording full coverage of your dome, and the redesigned cuff adjuster lies flat to avoid fly line tangles. Cap it all off with the Dolphin skin cuff system for a watertight seal and the same Sonic welded technology and fabric as found on their Silver Sonic waders, and you’re ready to fish from freshwater streams to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Cabela’s Guidewear Angler Jacket
Cabela’s Guidewear line has been popular for years not only for its price point but also for its functionality. This jacket features a fully seam-sealed shell and a waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX laminate. That means when the wind howls off Point Lookout and the gannets are diving on bunker, driving the stripers to frenzy, you’ll stay toasty and dry come rain or sea spray. The jacket is designed with articulated shoulders and elbows so you won’t have to adjust your normal casting motion. As you’d expect, the hood is adjustable to keep weather off of your neck and ears. Safety features include D-ring points to attach your motor’s kill switch and reflective piping.
Frabill I-Float Jacket
Okay, I might concede that perhaps this new jacket designed for ice fishermen—hence the ice picks with holsters—is a little overkill for the Chesapeake. This 2016 ICAST award winner caught my eye, however, because it’s windproof and waterproof and also certified as a Personal Flotation Device by the U.S. Coast Guard. As part of Plano Synergy’s I-Series apparel line, the jacket sports hi-vis USCG Orange accents paired with 3M’s Scotchlite reflective material and mesh self-drainage openings all designed to help you in case of an emergency. Add hand-warmer pockets and a collapsible hood, and you have a jacket that should handle any cold day on the Atlantic or Bay.
by Captain Chris D. Dollar