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It’s that time of year when the seasons are changing. Both air and water temperatures are dropping and the fishing is slowing down. As air temperature drops we bundle up to stay warm. However, that might not be enough to stay warm on a cold winter’s day.

On the Central Coast of California the ocean temperature begins to dip into the low 50’s and can get as cold as 45 degrees F.  However the air temperature doesn’t often dip below the high 50’s during the day. Keeping warm is fairly easy to do when you stay on top of your kayak, but if you take a tumble into the water, staying warm can be challenge.  Most of the kayak fisherman in other parts of the country are paddling in air temps below 40 degrees F and water temps around the same. Staying warm is VITAL to being on the water and making it back to the launch spot.

Many paddlers often dress to keep warm while paddling based on the air temperature. However if they fall in or have their kayak swamped, cold can set in quickly and not only ruin your outing but could be life threating.

Dressing for the water temperature should be a factor when heading out for your next fishing trip. If you were to fall in the water you could be faced with a challenge to keep warm. According to the Minnesota Sea Grant program, as water temperature drops below 60 F so does how long you can survive.

How long can a person survive in cold water?

Most of us never think about falling in, but we do want to stay warm. Often when we head out in the cold we tend to be wearing more clothing and have less flexibility. Falling in the water is the last thing we want to do. I have heard from many people that if they fall in, they can swim. This is often the reason why some people choose to not wear a lifejacket because of this ability. However, when the water temperature drops into the 50”s and you fall in, cold water shock can set in. It’s a similar feeling when you get in the shower and the water is cold. It becomes hard to control your breathing and you jump out of the shower. In cold water shock, you begin to hyperventilate and cannot focus on any purposeful movement like swimming or getting back onto your kayak.

Professor Gordon Giesbrecht (or Professor Popsicle ) from the University of Manitoba has done lots of research on this process. He has come up with a time frame to think about. If you fall in the water you have between 1-3 minutes to get your breathing under control. Have someone dump ice water on you and see for yourself how hard it is. Now think about being fully submerged in the water, not to easy right?  Next you have ten minutes of meaningful movement.  Getting yourself back in the kayak, getting your gear stowed away and then paddling. If you stay in the water because you are too tired or unable to get out, then you have 1 to 3 hours before becoming unconscious or hypothermic. This last time frame depends on the water temperature, your fitness level etc. So his formula looks like 1-10-1 for easy remembering.

As kayak fisherman we often tell ourselves that we are close to shore and if we fall in, we could get easily get to shore. According to his research and data from the USCG, 90% of fatalities occurred when people where not wearing lifejackets and 43% were less than six feet away from safety. So should we stay home and organize our tackle then? Maybe for some but if you want to fish, dress for success and dress for the water temperature.

Here are some ways to dress for the water temperature. Keep in mind that you loose heat 25 times faster when in water than air. I will start with the lower body first. I like to wear layers of fleece which is water wicking versus cotton that holds onto water underneath chest waders with integrated booties or a dry pant with waterproof booties. Keeping my feet dry and warm is a priority for when launching from water rather than a beach or dock. Then layer the top. Once again I choose synthetic fleece that will keep me warm even if wet and then layer a wind proof layer such as a paddle jacket or rain jacket. Here you can either put your PFD under or over your wind layer depending on conditions. Don’t forget your head. You can loose over 10% of you body heat there so wear a beanie, insulated hat etc. Your hands which tend to get the wettest of all , could be put into gloves, or pogies.  Pogies can insulate your hands but attach to the paddle while allowing you to take your hands in and out of them to tie on lures or release your fish. I often like to take chemical warming packs just in case. They don’t work when they are wet but if you keep them dry, they are awesome to warm up your digits.

Lastly don’t forget to stay hydrated!! It is often hard to think about drinking water when it is so cold out but water helps to keep your body warm. Also bring food/snacks with you to keep your internal heater going.

Hope to see you on the water and lets hope for good fishing.

– Tom Reilly