Most people who fish a lot have a developed their own set of preferences for fishing apparel. However, if you haven’t fished offshore much, or are coming from another area, there are a few wrinkles in our local weather patterns that might affect what you wear. Or, if you’re mostly a conventional gear fisherman, there are some nuances to fly fishing that could also affect what you decide to wear.
Here, then, are some no-nonsense suggestions for “beyond the breakwater” apparel. If you haven’t fished our coastal waters much, or are new to fly-fishing, you need to check this out.
On Your Body
Whoever coined the term “Sunny Southern California” was not a coastal or offshore fisherman. Despite what you may have heard, the reality is that during our prime fishing months (June – early September), the weather along the coast or offshore can often be downright depressing.
The problem? A phenomenon called the “Marine Layer”, a dense cloud layer that often blankets the coastal and offshore areas much of the day. Caused by the meeting of relatively cold ocean water with warm air, the Marine Layer starts building in the afternoon, as daytime air temperatures cool. It reaches its maximum thickness during the night, then dissipates during the day as the air warms up.
Along the beach, the shoreline landmass warms the air quickly, and the Marine Layer is usually gone by late morning. The skies stay sunny until late afternoon, when the cycle repeats. But move a few miles offshore, and the story changes. The Marine Layer often sticks around until early afternoon, and may clear for less than a hour, if at all. This makes for a gray-sky environment that would do Seattle proud.
So…when you go BTB, be sure to take at least a sweatshirt or light fleece jacket with you. Don’t overdo it – we’re not talking ice-climbing here! We like a jacket with a full front zipper instead of a pullover because it’s easier to adjust the ventilation. And we like Polar Fleece or similar synthetics over cotton fabrics because they don’t readily absorb water and will still insulate when wet.
If you’re a shorts-and-flip-flops kind of guy like us, you may also want to take along a pair of wind pants.
Who Knows Where the Wind Blows?
And what about the cliche’: “It never rains in Southern California”? Well…that’s mostly true! But if you travel offshore much in open boats, you know that a decent set of raingear is a good thing to have anyway. It doesn’t have to be a full-on Grunden commercial rainsuit, but having something to block the wind, and help shed windblown spray can make life a lot more comfortable.
We use a light set of raingear from Cabela’s that packs into it’s own pocket. The jacket and pants each wind up forming a packet about the size of a softball, an easy thing to pack in a gear bag. Similar products are made by most rainwear manufacturers.
What about Gore-Tex® or other breathable waterproof fabrics? By all means, if you’ve got ’em, use ’em! But to be honest, we’ve only had our raingear out maybe a half-dozen times in the last 5 years, so we chose not to invest the money. We have full Gore-Tex® bibs and shell jackets that we used to use for climbing and skiing, but these do not easily stuff down to the size of the packable bibs and jacket mentioned earlier.
On Your Head
Just about everyone that fly-fishes understands the importance of a good hat. Not necessarily for sun protection, but as a safety device. Salt water flies are heavy, have big sharp hooks, and hurt like hell when they hit you, even if you don’t get stuck.
Baseball/golf caps with a long bill are OK, especially if you can find one with a dark underbrim (reduces glare), but something that protects the back of the neck and the ears, like a flats-style hat (with the neck flaps), or a Tilley or bucket hat with a broad brim, are better. You may not feel comfortable with the fashion statement, but wear something!
In the last few years, Spandex® face masks have become quite popular with fishermen in sunny climes. And for good reason: skin cancer is a significant hazard to people who spend a lot of time outdoors, and face masks are one of the best ways to protect your face, ears, and neck. While we were initially skeptical, we’ve started wearing one all the time, or wearing shirts that have an integrated face mask. Our favorites incorporate a skirt around the base – something that can be tucked inside the neckline of our shirt, and protect the front of lower neck, and a bit of the upper chest, even on button-up shirts.
The Eyes Have It
Polarized sunglasses are pretty much a given for most fishermen. Reducing glare helps you to spot fish, and reduces eyestrain. And certainly the reduction in UV light that comes from wearing a good pair of sunglasses has long-term benefits for the health of your eyes.
A good pair of sunglasses has an additional benefit for fly-fishermen – physical eye protection. That 2/0 Clouser flying around can cause some serious damage if it hits you in the eye! You owe it to yourself to wear some sort of eye protection while you’re fishing. We’ve actually popped a contact lens out of our eye with a fly without getting hooked (how’s THAT for luck), so we’ve learned our lesson.
Recommending a lens color is usually a good way to start an argument, so we won’t. We have both gray and brown lenses on board. We like a brown or rose color when kelp paddy fishing, because it tends to make the brown of a paddy stand out a bit more. This pair of sunglasses has light-density lenses, which works out better for us when the Marine Layer is thick and the light level is low. On the other hand, a gray lens is color-neutral, so it renders color more accurately, and our gray lens is higher-density, so we use it under bright sky conditions.
What about fit? This is one of our big beefs – we typically need a fairly flat frame to fit our face, and nose pads because we do not have much of a nose bridge. But trying to find a frame like this in contemporary plastic frames is tough.
The majority of the wraparound plastic frames are designed for people with a nose bridge and a fairly curved face. When we wear these types of frames, the frames sit on our cheeks, and there is a large gap between the frame and our nose bridge. The end result is that the frames are constantly slipping down our face, getting fogged from contact with our cheeks, or they sit so close to our face that our eyelashes touch the lens.
If you are in this situation, DON’T BE A SLAVE TO FASHION, no matter how much you like the frames. Find a frame that sits comfortably on your nose, without contacting your cheeks, that sit far enough away from your eyes so that you can blink without your eyelashes touching the lens.
It’s interesting to note that at least one major sunglass manufacturer is producing a line of sunglasses specifically for people with this shape of face (Oakley’s “Asian Fit”), so hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit.
On Your Feet
Leaving Your Mark…
Or not! Most running shoes and workboots leave ugly black skidmarks on white nonskid boat decks. These take a fair amount of elbow grease to remove, so do the boat owner a favor, and use shoes with non-marking soles.
How do you know if they have non-marking soles? If your shoes are designed for indoor court use, like basketball, volleyball, squash or aerobics, they’re probably OK. Ones to avoid are black-soled running shoes or work boots.
Of course, you can also use traditional boat shoes like the classic Sperry Topsiders (too yuppy for many), and there are a number of boat shoes modeled along the lines of running shoes. Both types of shoes offer non-skid, non-marking soles, toe protection, arch support, and heel padding for a comfortable day on the water. The athletic-shoe models are usually constructed of quick-drying synthetics, and several have anti-microbial footbeds to cut down on odors.
Another option are rubber deck boots, the same as those used on party boats. These have the advantage of offering a little more protection to the ankle or calf area, and are totally waterproof. But in our mind, they are a little heavy for private boat use, and tend to get clammy in warm weather.
Windsurfers and Personal Watercraft (PWC) riders often use slip-on mocassin-style water shoes. We like these a lot from a comfort perspective, but they typically do not have a lot of arch support or heel padding. This is a disadvantage for fishermen, who tend to stand around a lot.
And of course…there are Crocs, or the Croc-lookalikes. Every Crocs owner we have talked to likes them because they are comfortable, dry quickly, and have a good nonslip sole. But some people don’t feel comfortable with their styling…
The last option are boating versions of the performance sandal (as popularized by Teva), or the standard flip-flop (thong) sandals. Sandals have no toe protection, and the flip-flop versions have minimal arch support, but they dry quickly, offer non-slip, non-marking traction, and are very comfortable in warm weather.
What do we use? The majority of time we wear a boating version of the standard flip-flop (thong) sandals. The versions we’ve been wearing are the Scott Hawaii Kamuela 2. They have a non-marking, non-slip sole, some arch support, and are extremely durable. The rest of the time, we wear the Sperry Mako, a traditional boating shoe. If we know it’s going to be extremely cold or raining, we wear regular deck boots.
Fishing is supposed to be fun. But you can’t have fun if you’re cold, wet, or hurt. If you’ve never fished our coastal or offshore waters before, you probably have some misconceptions about the weather and what to expect. If you’re new to fly-fishing, there are probably a few hazards you never thought of. Wearing appropriate clothes, headwear, eyewear, and footwear can help keep you warm, dry and safe.
We hope the information in this article opened your eyes to some issues, and gave you some food for thought. Even if you don’t follow any of our recommendations, at least you know what to expect!