Dressing for Fly Fishing Success

Too bad trout are not brand-savvy; I’d have more reasons to buy more gear and a pair of Simms pants. No, it’s not about the brand. Dressing for success on the river is all about staying comfortable and healthy.

fly fishing success

So here are some essentials to wear to the river:

1. A long-sleeved polyester shirt

I always start with this, whether the air temperature is 40 degrees or 90 degrees.

Why polyester (or some other kind of micro-fiber)?

I want a shirt that wicks moisture away from my body and offers sun protection. I wear long sleeves even on a hot day. I want to avoid the short-term (sunburn) and long-term (skin cancer) effects of the sun’s rays. A long-sleeved shirt also offers protection against mosquitoes.

Now what about a fly-fishing shirt?

Sure, these shirts look cool (and they are cool in the summer). I often wear one over my long-sleeved polyester shirt. A fly fishing shirt is the next layer you want to add to your upper body.

Of course, if you like pockets, a fly-fishing shirt is a fine alternative to a long-sleeved polyester shirt—even on a warm summer day. Simply wear it over a short-sleeved tee-shirt, preferably a polyester one which wicks away moisture.

However, a fly fishing shirt is not indispensable. I sometimes wear a cotton-polyester blend dress shirt that feels as comfortable as any of the fly fishing shirts I own. It’s light-weight, stretchy, and it cost me less than my fly-fishing shirts.

Whatever else you wear over it, start with a long-sleeved polyester shirt. It won’t let you down.

2. Nylon pants

Nylon pants are light-weight, so they dry out more quickly when than jeans and feel less waterlogged. They fit better under waders, too. If the weather turns cold, I’ll wear a pair of long johns under them. Layering is the key rather than a bulky pair of jeans or heavy pants.

Even when I wet-wade, I prefer long pants to a pair of nylon shorts. You can probably guess why — skin protection from the sun and from mosquitoes. The only time I opt for nylon shorts is when I plan to wear my chest-waders or waist-waders on a warm day. You can also purchase nylon pants with removable pant legs. This lets you choose instantly between long pants or shorts. But I don’t like these because the zippers tend to irritate my legs.

I’m not as picky about brand or quality as I am about a long-sleeved shirt. Don’t be fooled by descriptors like “guide pants” or “insect-shield pants.” Nylon pants are nylon pants. I buy the marked-down pair or the off-brand pair at the big box outdoor stores (Bass Pro, Cabela’s, REI, etc.).

3. Neck gaiter

Don’t overlook this little item!

A neck gaiter provides your neck with the same protection from the sun and insects that a shirt does for your arms. Besides, I’ve used one on cool, windy days to keep my face warm.

My neck gaiter is rather bland with its light-tan color. But a lot of fly shops sell these with more colorful fabric which has the same patterns as the body of your favorite species of trout.

Studies have shown that neck gaiters which look like the trout you’re trying to catch — cutthroat, for example — will increase your catch rate by about 23%.

Alight, I’m just kidding. But studies have shown (I think) that you’ll pay more for a neck gaiter in your local fly shop than at an outlet store.

Remember, trout don’t give you style points when it comes to what you wear — although your fly-fishing companions might. Whether it’s bland or colorful, don’t leave home without a neck gaiter.

4. Moisture-shedding hat

I used to wear a blue St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap (the kind the Redbirds used for away games). It was comfortable, but it was made out of cotton. Whenever it rained, it got water-logged. I did have the sense, though, to wear a wool cap (made by Woolrich) on cooler, rainy days. It handled the moisture fine.

Now, I wear either a Simms GORE-TEX lightweight cap on summer days or a Simms GORE-TEX fleece-insulated hat with flaps to cover my ears on colder days. I hope more fly fishing cap manufacturers will offer some with GORE-TEX. The stuff is amazing.

There are other features in a hat you might consider, too. Some fly fishers like hats with a bill all around them (such as a cowboy hat or a sombrero hat) for more sun protection. Others prefer a cap with a long brim and a cape to cover one’s neck and ears (an alternative to a neck gaiter).

There are a lot of options. The key is to choose a hat which is comfortable, sheds moisture, keeps you warm or cool (depending on the conditions), and provides ample protection from the sun. Plus, it shouldn’t cost as much as your fly reel.

5. Lightweight rain jacket

Prepare to spend the money you save on your hat or neck gaiter on a rain jacket. This is an essential, although I don’t wear it unless it’s cool or rainy. Instead, I stuff it into my fly fishing vest.

I have an older, no-frills Simms lightweight rain jacket that is no bulkier than a fly fishing shirt. It has been a life-saver on sunny days when a rain-shower seems to come out of nowhere. It also provides an extra layer of warmth on a cool morning or evening.

Successful fly fishers dress for success. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Nor do you need to look like a model on a fly fishing website. Just make sure you dress for comfort and protection.

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