Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Gear: Staying Warm Chasing Winter Steel
By FFI Magazine

If you fish during winter you’re going to get cold. Fact of life. Put up or shut up is a way some people say it.

We tend to agree with that rule when it comes to fishing, although we’re not ripping anyone for a quick trip to the truck to blast the heater and drink a toddy, like cider, cocoa or coffee, maybe with a spike of something stronger in the mix.

No matter where you fish winter steelhead the wind, the rain, the sleet and snow are bound to blast in from the big water, meaning the ocean on the coast and the lakes back east. Over time, we’ve learned to wear multiple layers before wading in. And we’ve spent our big money on killer rain jackets and reliable waders.

This winter we’ll be wearing a couple new items that Patagonia just released, the Tough Puff Pants ($199) and the Tough Puff Hoody ($249).

The Tough Puff Pants are billed to be, “So comfortable you’ll wear them around camp.” We tested that theory on a fall fishing and elk-hunting foray and realized they are the only pant you need in camp. Cooking dinner at 8,000 feet as the snow rolls in; taking the hound for a hike and rustling up some grouse; casting a Blue Wing Olive from the bank, to wild and delicate nine-inch long cutthroats; crawling into a tent and winding into a mummy bag . . . these insulated pants kept the wind off and the chill at bay.

They also served well on cold fall days, worn under waders while hiking up several small streams in Montana. If you had to walk three miles without stopping, and you were wearing these under a pair of waders, you’d work up a sweat. But, if fishing in a normal fashion, wading around Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison River, or smacking streamers to the banks while casting from a drift boat on the Bitterroot, or swinging flies on the OP, they would be everything you wanted.

These are a great replacement for Patagonia’s Nano Puff Pants, which predated the Tough Puffs. And there are differences between the two, most notable being that the Tough Puffs have an elastic band at the ankle that prevents the pants from “hiking up” while wearing waders. Not nearly as bad as a wedgie, we know, but the Nano Puff’s had a tendency to crawl up the calf and it drove one of our fishing partners almost mad, much to our amusement.

In the coldest weather you might need a pair of micro-thin long underwear underneath the Tough Puffs, but we doubt it.

Making a one-two punch, Patagonia also came out with the Tough Puff Hoody, which is a mid-layer piece that hosts a bunch of steelheading-centric features, all built for cold-weather fishing.

The Tough Puff Hoody has a stretchy 100 percent polyester face fabric that’s coated with a water repellent finish, and can be worn as an outer layer when the weather cooperates. Its 100 percent recycled polyester capilene interior lining allows for excellent moisture management, making it highly breathable and allowing you to stay warm even when it’s wet. On rainy or snowy days—when being wet isn’t our jam—the Tough Puff works perfectly under a rain jacket.

This could be a versatile piece in your steelheading arsenal and you’ll likely appreciate, as we did, the Tough Puff’s streamlined wrist cuffs, which allow you to slide the sleeve up your arm with ease. That helps when landing and releasing fish, for sure. If you forget to pull up the sleeve, no worries—the fabric inside the arms has the same water resistant DWR coating as the exterior. It’s not impervious to the rain or a dunking in the river, but it helps. Bonus, the Tuff Puff offers two chest pockets, two hand-warming pockets, and a rubber tab that’s tailor-made for hemostats.