Cold Finger Defense

There’s only one thing worse than fishing while wearing gloves and that’s fishing with hands and fingers so cold you can’t grip a zipper tang tight enough to unzip whatever it is needing unzipped.

That happened to me recently when I forgot to bring a pair of “fishing” gloves along on a fishing trip. It was supposed to be 50 degrees. Who needs gloves at 50 degrees? I did when Mother Nature added a steady drizzle to the morning and my constantly wet hands might as well have been dunked in ice water. At least that’s the way they felt.

I’m no stranger to fishing in cold weather. Not just ice fishing. I’m talking about heading out when there’s ice on the boat ramp at dawn and temperatures may peak out a few degrees above freezing when the sun comes up. That’s common when I start and end my Great Lakes boat fishing season each year.

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There’s only one defense to the chill…gloves. Through a process of trial and error I now have a great defense, if I remember to bring it.

Outdoors people have had this problem since forever and companies have been trying to market solutions to the problem almost as long. I remember the hand-warmer I got for Christmas decades ago. It ran on lighter fluid and was encased in a fuzzy metal container. High tech stuff at the time. How could you not keep warm with an actual fire burning in your pocket or hand? It never saved me from near-frostbite when I needed it most, nor have the little packets of chemical heat you shake or rattle into action then hold or shove into your glove.

Fishing is a wet business – obviously. The water is wet, the fish are wet, the lures are wet, the bait is often wet and so are your gloves or bare fingers. Wet cold is ten times worse than dry cold.

There are things you need to do while fishing impossible to do when wearing gloves. Try reaching into a tackle box full of hooks and fish out one hook or lure while wearing gloves. Try to reach down inside a perch’s mouth to remove a hook, or grab a new minnow and re-bait the hook with fingers swaddled inside a warm mitt. Try to tie a good fishing knot, or even a poor fishing knot, while wearing gloves.

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My cold finger defense is three fold. First, there’s no such thing as having nice warm hands (and feet) if the rest of you is cold. Drop your core temperature a fraction of a degree and your body switches to survival mode, warm blood diverts from your extremities to the keep your vitals warm. Dress warmly all over, then give special attention to your hands.

Next, I have two pairs of gloves with me. One pair is my “dry” pair. I wear them when I’m doing non-fishing things, like driving the boat. They are warm and purposely bulky so I’m not tempted to do fishing things while wearing them. They are also waterproof to keep them dry when I forget and try to do wet-work, fishing things.

The third line of defense is a pair of fingertip-less gloves. I was skeptical when I first tried these half-gloves. With regular gloves, the cold always starts at the fingertips and then works it’s way down towards the palm. That didn’t happen! Seemingly working against all natural laws, I was able to do the fishing things I normally did with bare hands and my fingers stayed comfortably warm. I think it’s similar to how keeping your core warm, keeps your hands and feet warm. Keep the palm warm and the finger tips do pretty good fishing, tying lines, snapping swivels, gripping reel handles and freshly caught fish.

My first exposed tip gloves were generic rag-wool models, but I gave up the woolies when I got a pair of Glacier Gloves, built on a neoprene base, much like a wetsuit material and which have a layer of fleece covering all but the palm of the glove. The rubberized palm is textured, helping get a firm grip on flopping fish. The neoprene offers enough stretch my hands never feel bulked up and most important, my hands and fingertips and stay warm. At least when I remember to bring the gloves along.

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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