From my time of guiding clients on the water, I’ve witnessed a variety of crazy things. One of the most mind boggling things I see is the attire that people wear when they show up for a charter. Some are extremely over-prepared, while others appear as if they just rolled out of bed. As someone who essentially lives on the water, I’m able to share some helpful tips that can prevent an unpleasant experience. So, what should you wear when fly-fishing?
When fly-fishing, you should wear comfortable clothing that is moisture wicking, provides UV protection, and is suitable for the expected weather conditions. When in between seasons, layering clothing is helpful to stay on top of changing temperatures throughout the day.
While that may seem simple, there are important nuances that must be understood to avoid ruining an upcoming outing. Temperatures on land during your normal day-to-day activities are vastly different than when on the water. Similarly, comfortable clothing when dry may not be nearly as comfortable when wet. In this article, I will get into those specifics, and provide tips on what to watch out for. Additionally, I’ll share some of my favorite clothing that I have battle tested, and wear on the water daily. You can always find my most up to date recommendations on the Recommended Products page.
Consider the weather when choosing attire
Although this may seem like a no brainer, you would be surprised how unprepared people are for the weather they face that day. I often see people wearing too much on summer days and not enough on winter days. Understanding the differences between being outdoors on the water versus taking a casual walk down the street is important for selecting attire.
Here in my home state of Florida the humidity will suck the life out of you. Just walking outdoors in the summer afternoons will make you feel sticky. The heat and the humidity have the ability to dehydrate you quickly, so wearing clothes that wick moisture and that are light and cool is a must. In addition to wicking moisture, the attire should absorb sweat and dry quickly. This will prevent chafing from wet clothing materials rubbing against your skin. This can be especially troublesome when chafing occurs in the armpit region from casting your fly rod all day.
I have had many clients show up in the middle of winter wearing shorts and a t-shirt in 45 degree weather. No matter how tough you think you are or how “used to cold weather” you may be, being on the water exposed to wind in a moving boat will bring you back to reality very quickly. Heat is lost exceptionally quickly through our head and core. Keeping these areas warm, yet dry is the key to surviving these brutal winter months. Although staying warm is the priority, clothing that absorbs sweat is equally as important. Even though it may be freezing out, actively moving around the boat will still cause you to sweat and be prone to chafing.
Be prepared for rain
The second most common situation encountered is not having rain gear for unexpected rainstorms. While being stuck in a shower may seem like a minor inconvenience, the inability to dry off quickly can make for an uncomfortable day on the water. This is especially true when running from spot to spot. When possible, having a permanent set of rain gear in the boat will come in handy more often than not.
All of these situations are easily remedied by checking the weather the day before you hit the water. If using a guide, ask the captain his thoughts on how to dress.
Comfort is key
If I am going to be on the water all day, I want to be as comfortable as possible. Fly-fishing clothing should be lightweight and maximize mobility. Whether you are fishing a remote flat in a tropical paradise, or bundled up swinging flies in a northern creek, you are going to get hot. So, in addition to being mobile, I want it to breathe and wick moisture. Clothing companies have figured this out and have created some incredible options to make us more comfortable on water.
Mobility is a must
Fish can magically appear next to the boat at any time and a quick accurate cast is needed to capture the opportunity. Being bundled up like an Eskimo or wearing stiff clothing is going to make you feel clumsy and constrained. Not only is this important for the angler on the bow, It is even more important for the person on the poling platform of a flats skiff or a rower on a drift boat. Clothing for fly-fishing needs to be cool, light, and flexible.
Consider layering for temperature changes
During transition seasons such as spring or fall, the weather can start out quite chilly but quickly warm up to summer like temperatures. This is especially true in my home state of Florida. The ability to add layers or remove layers keeps me from sacrificing comfort throughout the day. This is a better solution than being committed to clothing that may not be suitable for the changing temperatures.
As mentioned previously, not being prepared for stormy weather can put a damper on your experience on the water. Lightweight waterproof rain gear is expensive, but worth every penny. The absolute best material on the market right now is Gore-Tex. This material is extremely lightweight and dry. Also, be careful not to overlook the pants component to rain gear. Wet pants often require the longest time to dry and can be extremely uncomfortable. Having a wet core will drop your internal body temperature and make you feel cold even when the outside temperature may not be that cold. In addition to making you cold, being wet can make you prone to chafing.
Staying dry is particularly important when fishing in winter months. Wearing clothing that will wick away moisture will extend your fishing time and comfort. Materials such as nylon will tend to repel water better and have quick drying times. Many companies offer clothing that has a water-resistant finish applied to them. This should be considered when purchasing wintertime clothing.
Even when it is hot out, being soaked is no fun. Having a shirt that is stuck to you because of moisture will become old very fast. Although it may not rain, hanging over the boat to release or grab a fish or being sprayed with water while running is going to happen. So plan to get wet. The ability of the modern sun shirts to wick away water and dry extremely fast furthers the case of them being the ideal fishing attire.
Safety considerations when selecting attire
The sun takes no prisoners. It can suck the life out of you in the form of dehydration or sneak up on you in the form of a nasty sunburn even in the cooler months. If you fish regularly, you need to be cognizant of the sun and the long-term effects it will have on your body. Visits to the dermatologist are all too familiar for fishing guides.
Applying sunscreen throughout the day can be cumbersome and even messy. Luckily, we have ways to protect our skin in the form of the clothing we wear. My recommendation is if you are going to fish frequently, cover up where you can.
When I first started fishing, I would purchase cheap pants to wear fishing. I quickly realized this was a mistake as seams would rip and the knees would become worn out quickly. Nice things cost more money because they last longer. Fishing pants from a high-end fly-fishing company are built better for environments we fish. This is because they are tested in the field and held to higher standards. The attention to little details such as durable zippers, double padding the knees or shirts with cross stitching are what makes your investment in expensive clothing worth it. Companies have designed clothing that will withstand the harshest environments. From climbing through rocks along stream edges or stomping through flooded spartina grass, knowing your gear is rated for the environment will give you peace of mind and comfort. The moral of the story is to not skimp on clothing.
There are a handful of specific items that address much of the considerations listed above. I’ll highlight a few, and cover why they are great options. Additionally, I’ll point out some items to steer clear of. As always, be sure to check out my recommended products page for additional recommendations.
Sun shirts: What are they made of? Are they too hot?
The sun shirt is the most popular UV-protectant option for outdoor water-based activities. They can be worn as a main layer or underneath multiple layers for added warmth. Their polyester construction allows these shirts to be thin, flexible, and dry.
Sun shirts are available for men, women, and children and have different features such as built in hoods, and thumbholes to protect your hands from the sun.
Another unique advantage is their SPF capabilities. Most sun shirts boast an SPF rating of 50 and some are even 70. The long sleeves will keep your arms covered, yet the material will keep you comfortable. Some sun shirts also have built-in lightweight hoods that can be worn to
provide additional sun protection. If you are going to fish regularly, long sleeves are a must.
Two of my favorite sun shirts on the market are Free Fly Apparel’s Bamboo Lightweight Long Sleeve and Patagonia’s Capilene Cool Daily Shirt.
Are jackets okay to wear when fly-fishing?
I try to avoid wearing heavy jackets as much as I can and instead will layer multiple shirts with one mid or lightweight jacket. When fly-fishing, the mobility of your arm to make casts is critical. Making casts all day in a giant jacket is restrictive and will affect your accuracy.
However, If I had to wear a jacket while fishing, it would be the Nano Puff jacket by Patagonia. It is extremely warm and lightweight. Additionally, it can be rolled up and stowed to the size of a small bag of chips due to the built in storage pouch. How cool is that?
Should you wear pants when fishing?
I personally always wear pants on the water. Wearing pants allows me to have a little extra warmth and provides sun protection. They also help keep the bugs at bay in the summer months. That being said, many of my guide friends wear shorts regularly.
Whether you choose to wear pants or shorts, comfort and mobility should be your decision maker. Nowadays, pants are made from fabrics that are durable, lightweight, and stretch. Additionally the combination of materials such as nylon and spandex allow these garments to dry exceptionally fast.
The Patagonia Guidewater II pants are my pants of choice. They are very thin, exceptionally durable, dry fast, and have adequate storage for things such as a small box of flies. Most clothing manufacturers design clothing for tall thin individuals. Patagonia is one of the few companies that offers a “short” option, which makes the fit even better if you are under 6’0 tall and keeps the pant heel from dragging on the ground due to excessive length.
UV protectant bottoms
Clothing manufacturers have also created technology that will make your pants and shorts have SPF. For example, Patagonia will use yarn made of titanium dioxide. This is the same ingredient found in many sunscreens. The rating applied to pants and shorts is called UPF versus SPF.
The winter months in Florida can be relatively mild, so I can get away with just wearing a pair of long johns under my normal fishing pants. This is not the case for other parts of the country. Finding a pair of pants that maintains mobility yet provides warmth is necessary. A water resistant shell with warm liner is always a good choice.
The Simms ColdWeather pant saved my butt, literally, when we received an unexpected bout of snow while fishing in Southern Louisiana. The micro fleece liner was warm, yet combatted sweat very well. The pants also have built in hand warmers and adjustable waistband for comfort.
Accessories and shoes for fishing
One of the most important items to wear while fishing is a hat. Not only does this provide protection for your face, but it also helps cut glare from the sun to allow you to see better in the water. Although any hat is better than none, I prefer to avoid using the large sombrero style hats. Sombrero style hats provide exceptional sun protection, but are an absolute nuisance when running from spot to spot. They are also quite bulky and take up quite a bit of space. A better solution is to wear a regular baseball style cap and pair it with the use of buff or face shield.
Buffs are incredible products and provide exceptional sun protection of your face and neck. Another added benefit is the ability to pull the buff over your hat to keep it secured while running the boat at high speeds. There is nothing more annoying than turning around to look for a hat that blew off while running. When I first started using buffs, it took a while to get used to wearing it. My tendency was to continually pull it down off my face. Once I made an effort to ensure I kept it on, it became routine.
When choosing a buff, be sure to select the lightest, thinnest buff material. Choosing a buff with built in breathing holes will make you feel less constrained and keep your glasses from fogging up.
The best buff I have found is the Simms Sungaiter. The laser-cut breathing holes and breathable stretch fabric make it the most comfortable buff on the market.
An often-overlooked component to sun protection is your eyes. Wearing low quality glasses will cause your eyes to strain in the sun and cause damage over time. High quality polarized glasses with full coverage combat looking at harmful sunrays all day and help reduce the amount of light let in on the sides. In addition to sun protection, polarized sunglasses will cut the glare on the water and allow you to have better visibility into the water. Lens colors of glasses should closely match the color of the water. For example, when fishing offshore in the deep blue, a blue lens will work best. If fishing in dark tannic water, a brown or copper lens will be your best bet.
Lastly, if you are fair skinned or plan to fish over long periods, consider wearing gloves when fishing. I have to admit, I am bad about protecting my hands. I often come home with burnt hands while the rest of my body is protected. One of the common places to acquire skin cancer is on your hands. Lightweight, SPF gloves can reduce the susceptibility of sun damage to your hands. A lot of companies offer fingerless gloves that will protect the back of your palms, while still giving you a full range of your digits.
In most cases, special footwear is not required. I typically wear sandals in the summer months and tennis shoes in the winter months here in Florida. In certain circumstances, a more adequate shoe may be required. If you are a stream fisherman who often hikes, a good quality hiking boot will be required.
If you are fishing in extremely cold conditions, such as in the mountains, waders should be worn. This will allow you to stay dry as possible and allow you to enter the water if wading to fish. Waders come in an assortment of different options depending on the intended purpose and climate. Waders are another area where you do not want to skimp on quality to save a buck.
Flats fishing in warmer climates do not require special footwear in most cases. In fact, many clients prefer to go barefoot so they may feel if they are standing on the fly line. If you have foot sensitivities or are susceptible to burning easily, every day fishing shoes are available. I personally recommend the SIMMS FLYWEIGHT WET WADING SHOE. Again, I do not wear fishing shoes, but I have had good luck with these, as they are comfortable and durable.
The situation in warmer climates where a shoe will be required is if you are wading flats. Most flats in tropical settings have coral and other sharp spiny objects on the bottom. In this case, a flats boot will get you by. The best flats boots tend to be made of neoprene with a hard sole that are zipped up above the ankle. I personally wear the SIMMS ZIPIT II FLATS BOOTIES, but I don’t wade much as I prefer to fish from a boat.
Lastly, when considering weather, do not underestimate the amount of warmth lost through your feet. A good pair of thermal quick dry socks will allow you to wear a pair of tennis shoes, but still keep your toes toasty. The best pair of socks I have found thus far are the Simms Guide Wet Wading socks. Although these socks were designed to be worn under waders, they work great for keeping your feet warm and the ability to dry quickly is a game changer.
Things to avoid when deciding what to wear fishing
There are a few things that you should avoid when selecting your attire. These are often overlooked due to convenience or lack of knowledge. Little things such as wearing dark colors on very hot days can slip the mind when preparing to hit the water. Lack of knowledge may cause you to wear things like jeans or other uncomfortable materials.
Always avoid wearing cotton materials. The only time I may wear a cotton shirt is when it is an undershirt when layering in the winter. Cotton will become too hot in the warmer months as it does not breathe very well. Cotton will also absorb and hold moisture making it difficult to dry. This can cause chafing especially when wearing cotton pants. In the winter months, cotton’s inability to dry can end your day quickly and can even lead to hypothermia. No matter the weather, there are way better options than cotton.
Large or bulky accessories
Clothing for fishing should not be bulky. Wear the minimum amount of clothing to be comfortable in the weather. Fly fishing vests and pants with a lot of pockets and straps are unnecessary when fishing from a boat. Less is more when it comes to being comfortable
First and foremost, you need to be comfortable while fishing. It should be a fun and relaxing experience. The clothing we wear can play a big role in our ability to be comfortable. Clothing should also be chosen based on the weather conditions of the day. Use modern materials to reduce the amount of clothing necessary to be comfortable on the water. Never underestimate the power of the sun or the misery that comes with being soaked all day. Technology has come a long way to provide us better options that are lightweight, dry, protective, and comfortable.