If you ever spent a fishing trip shivering, sweating or swearing, there’s a good chance you were dressed improperly for the elements. And if there’s one thing we know about fishing, it’s that anglers are exposed to the elements in a big way. We fish in conditions ranging from blowing snow to blazing sun, and if we’re not dressed right, we’ll pay for it. When it comes time to choose fishing garb, look for five prominent features.
Whether for bundling up on a chilly winter day or staying cool on a hot summer day, if your clothing doesn’t breathe you’ll eventually become uncomfortable. If it’s cold out and you’re wearing clothes that don’t breathe, you’ll start sweating while launching the boat and be miserable the rest of the clammy day. And if it’s hot out, obviously letting some air get to your skin is the best way to keep cool.
TIP: Stay away from low-end polyester, Spandex and cotton/lycra blends.
2. Ease of Access
It may sound silly, but wearing the wrong clothing for the situation can temporarily “trap” you in it. Ever tried to pull off a sweatsoaked cotton T-shirt? You know what a struggle it can be. That’s why many anglers prefer buttons or snaps instead of pullovers. This can be a particularly important issue when it comes to fingerless fishing gloves. Biting the fabric to get a grip and slide them off will lead to loose threads and tears. Look for fingerless gloves with finger-pulls, which make removal easy.
TIP: For best layering results on days it’s forecast to start chilly but grow quite warm later, look at one-third-zip fleece tops, which are easy to slide on and off.
No matter how you’re dressed, tugging against a mammoth fish for extended periods of time will cause you to sweat. If such a scenario is a possibility — why else would an angler be out there? — wear a fabric that has wicking properties. Such fabrics combine hydrophobic fibers, which repel water, and hydrophilic fibers, which absorb it, to literally suck the moisture away from your skin and push it out through the fabric. This not only keeps you dry but also boosts the effect of evaporative cooling and can help keep you cool as you cast.
TIP: On very cold days, layer with a wicking fabric against your skin and add warmth barriers over it. This will pull sweat away from your body but still lock in the heat, for when you aren’t exerting yourself.
Many shirts and pants designed specifically for fishing have helpful loops and compartments that can become something of a personal portable tacklebox. Sure, regular old pockets are helpful, but pockets with strong loops at the top or side make it easy to attach clippers on a retractable lanyard. Pliers holders at the hip are a must-have for anglers who rig as they fish, and having a built-in watertight zipper pouch can save a cellphone on a wet fishing trip.
TIP: Pockets that seal with a metal snap are very easy to access and are a great choice for freshwater anglers. But saltwater sharpies will stay away from them, because once a snap becomes rusty it’s impossible to manipulate and can ruin the clothing.
We may not normally think of our clothing as safety gear, but in some ways that’s exactly what it is. The number-one factor here is often sun protection. Fabrics are rated by UPF — a measurement standardized for fabric by the FTC — as opposed to SPF for sunscreen. A regular dry cotton T-shirt has a UPF rating of about five, meaning it allows approximately one-fifth of the sun’s rays to pass through and hit your skin. A wet cotton shirt’s UPF rating can fall even lower as the fabric’s weave gets pulled apart. A well-made fishing tech shirt, on the other hand, usually has a UPF rating of 30 to 50. Only a tiny fraction of UV rays get through, and the weaves are designed to remain more effective at blocking the sun when the shirt is wet. Facemasks and balaclavas are also incredibly important in this regard, to protect your face and neck from the baking sun.
Safety factors at the opposite end of the spectrum are preventing hypothermia and staying afloat. Float coats with built-in PFDs are an option all cold-weather anglers should consider, since they’re incredibly well insulated and will also keep your head above water in case of emergency.
TIP: Stay away from long-sleeve cotton shirts as undergarments. If the cuffs get wet, the water will wick up the sleeve and keep your skin moist and miserable all day, increasing the possibility of hypothermia.