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Kayak Fishing Basics: Hypothermia Prevention

Hi, Jeff Little here. I'm the regional Pro Staff director for the Wilderness Systems Fishing Team.


 In this Paddling.net video, I'm going to cover the right gear to wear if you're coming out here on a day like today. We have snow flurries, 34-degree water temperature, and 28-degree air temperature.


Every season, we lose kayak anglers to hypothermia. Sometimes it happens slowly. Sometimes it happens very fast. And while my head and my hands are cold right now, I don't think I'm at any real risk of immediate hypothermia. That's because of what I'm wearing. My head's wet. My hands are wet. And when I flipped, I had what everyone has when they hit that cold waters. It's called the involuntary gasp. That sort of shock, it's what everyone does. You draw breath. You [gasps] like this, and you have to fight that. We already got a fire started preemptively. If you fall in, you're going to do that. You are going to have less of an involuntary gasp if you're in the wrong clothes.


And what I'm wearing is the right clothes. This is a Kokatat Hydrus SuperNova Angler Suit. It has the latex gaskets there. It has a neoprene gasket here. And when you do get a little bit wet, you got to have your dry bag, and you got to have a full change of clothes. And we got the dry bag right over there.


In case you do submerge and you get good and soaked and cold, the most immediate things that I'll go for is a thermos of hot water. I won't actually use this unless I really need it. The second thing I'm going to do, I actually pour the hot water in the cup and hold on to it. And that's going to restore functionality to my hands. Otherwise, your hands don't perform the way they should.

The second thing I'm doing is getting into this dry bag. I will get something to dry myself off with. I got a towel in there. The next thing I'm doing is going for my. . . Well, I'm getting off anything that is wet. And I got fleece in there. I got all kinds of stuff. I got extra hats. I got extra underwear. I got extra fleece bottoms. I got extra socks, really warm socks, knit caps, this nice little warm neck gaiter, this fleece neck gaiter. I got a couple of those, another knit cap. Of course, I got my fleece fingerless gloves. I got a ton of clothes in here.

And then, I'm getting into my fire-starting materials. The cardboard isn't so much for burning as it is a really nice wind block, so that, when you start to build your spot here, it doesn't get blown out all the time. I got some newsprint. Let's see. I got lighters. I got matches. And I got. . . somewhere, I think I just buried it under my clothing. There it is, fire-starting material. This stuff makes it super easy. This stuff is very flammable. You can get it at the camping section of Walmart or any place, any outdoor store. Fire-starting material makes it really easy. Even the fire-starting sticks you use in your fireplace at home are a real big help. So, I'm going to go ahead and get this started up and warm up here.

When you're starting a fire, you want little stuff like that. If you go right to big stuff or even medium stuff like this, that won't catch as much as a whole lot of these to get you going real quick. So that's the first thing I'm going to go for. Fortunately I got a bunch of it here in the form of some driftwood on this island.

One point I want to make absolutely clear, every year, I get people emailing me, messaging me, asking me at seminars, "Hey, I'd love to get into the cold water kayak fishing. I've got a pair of waders, and I've got a rain jacket. Will that suffice?" Absolutely not. It will not. Those are the people that die. So a pair of waders might keep the splash off your legs, but if you submerge like I just did, you're done. It'll kill you.

All right, I've got some feeling restored in my hand. Let's go ahead and look at what I'm wearing. Obviously, the most important thing is the life vest. That's what you keeps you at the surface. The suit is a Kokatat Hydrus 3L SuperNova Angler Suit. You have the gaskets here at the wrist. I can tell you that my shirt sleeves, my fleece sleeves in there are dry. Up here, at the neoprene gasket, this is a little more comfortable than latex gasket. But I am going to get a little bit of water in here over time. It really just buys you enough time to get to shore so that you're not completely soaked up here. I'm dry here. We'll strip down a little further and take a look.

One thing I'll tell you never to do is to wear cotton. For whatever reason, cotton, when it gets wet, and that goes for blue jeans, hooded sweatshirts, or cotton t-shirts, it's just not a real good material. Now, you want to be thorough in making sure that whatever you have on that is even just a little bit wet comes off. I got a fleece hooded sweatshirt here. And this is a Kokatat. It's the inner core similar to a fleece, but very breathable. And I have other layers as you go deeper. I got fleece pants and then more of the same below.


My feet are dry, so I'm not going to show you, but I got SmartWool socks down there. I actually got two pair. Sometimes, I'll throw one of those hand warmers in there. My hooded sweatshirt, it's barely damp, but I'm not wearing it. This one, this one's dry. So I'll just dig in here, get another fleece garment, and go ahead and put that on.


Then, I'll talk to you a little bit about not so much submersion strategies as just keeping-your-hands-warm strategies so that you can fish, and you can feel the bite. If your hands go numb, you're not going to feel the real subtle bite of these fish in this cold water. One really neat feature about these types of garments, you want to make sure you get one that has this feature in a garment. This is the relief zipper. And what that does is it allows to pee and not pull down many layers. If you're in a pair of waders, the only way you're going to pee is by first taking off your life jacket. That's a problem. Taking off your top layer, you're losing heat. Taking off, pulling something that's holding heat in down, and you're exposing more heat. Whereas, with this, you just do your business and then get back to fishing after you zip it up. Make sure you zip it tight, all right.


Some dry stuff to wear on my head. I don't always wear this, but as cold as I am, I'm going to go ahead and put it on and then a knit cap. And then we'll get into the gloves. I like a pair of gloves that is fingerless just so I can feel what's going on. So I can tie knots, I don't have to take the glove off in order to tie a knot. And I'll take one of these little hand warmers. I actually got two of them here. And you want to shake them up real good. It has a little adhesive patch there. And I'm just going to put that on the backside of my hand. There's a lot of vascular things going on in the back of your hand, blood moving in and out of your fingertips. And that'll do a lot to keep my hands warm while I'm fishing. It's a good strategy for just maintaining that warmth in your fingertips, which gives you that dexterity, which you need to do certain things like tie knots or really anything out here.


The other thing you're going to have to do once you're all warmed up is eat. Your body just used a whole lot of calories in generating heat. It's going to need the calories to restore generating that heat and warming you back up.


This has been Jeff Little with Wilderness Systems Kayaks wishing you more time with your line in the water.


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