Dressing for Fly Fishing Success

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.

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.

5 Reasons You Need a Fly Fishing Wading Staff

A year ago, I bought a wading staff for use on the big rivers of the American West — particularly the Yellowstone and the Missouri. I had visions of strapping it to my side only for use in thigh-deep or even waist-deep water. But last week, I discovered that it’s worth wearing on small streams when I’m only wading ankle-deep water.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I were getting ready to fish Willow Creek south of Three Forks, Montana, with a good friend. I was mildly surprised to see our friend strap on his collapsible wading staff. But when he explained to me why he always wears it, I decided to take mine out of my duffel bag and give it a try.

Now I’m a believer. Here are the reasons why it makes sense to use a wading staff even when you’re on a small stream in shallow water.

1. Traction

This is one of the two reasons my friend cited. Even with state-of-the-art wading boots (we both wore Patagonia Foot Tractor boots that day), moss-covered rocks can be slick. I was pleased how my wading staff helped me stay upright when one of my boots slipped.

2. Stability

I’m in reasonably good shape at 54. But my legs are not as strong as they were at 44 or at 34. I found that a “third leg” gave me more stability when I walked on the rock banks as well as the boulders in shallow water.

3. Stamina

I was also surprised how my “third leg” took pressure off of my two legs. We fished three miles up Willow Creek in a canyon which lacked any trails or gentle banks. Then we walked three miles down in and along the creek. My legs were not nearly as tired as I expected after the six-mile trek.

4. Snakes

This is the second reason my friend always carries his wading staff. We were in rattlesnake country, and even though it was mid-October, some fishing buddies of his encountered a rattler a few days before on the stretch of creek we were fishing. I’m no advocate of killing snakes. But I like the idea of packing something that can ward off a rattler when a surprise encounter happens.

5. Climbing

Again, I’m writing as a 54-year old. I found that my wading staff made it easier to scramble up steep banks and rocky inclines. Now I understand why another friend of mine raved about the walking staff he carried in the Swiss Alps a few months ago.

If you’re in the market for a wading staff, check out the ones made by Simms and Orvis. I tried them both, and I give the nod to the Orvis model because it snaps into place almost instantly. Both of these staffs are collapsible, although I kept mine assembled most of the day. It didn’t get in my way when I let it drag behind me (the staff was connected to its sheath via a retractor).

There are more affordable alternatives, too. I know fly fishers who use an old ski pole or even a mountaineer’s staff.

When King David composed the twenty-third psalm, he was not referring to a fly rod nor a wading staff when he wrote, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” But still, I find comfort in taking both a rod and staff with me – even when I walk through quiet waters.

Your Next Pair of Fly Fishing Waders

Are you as confused as I am? In this post, I provide four questions to help you sort through the brand confusion when purchasing your next pair of waders.

I recently Googled the word “waders.” Sponsored ads from Cabela’s appeared at the top of the page with Hodgman waders for $14.99.

Seriously. Waders for $14.99.

I should have Googled “fly fishing waders.”

So I did.

More Cabela’s waders and a few others. The lowest price in this next set of ads was $59.99 (another pair from Cabela’s) and the most expensive was a pair from Orvis ($169).

I refreshed my browser and another pair from Orvis for $398 appeared.

Fly Fishing Waders Galore

A few days later I was trolling for gear and hit upon the Simms web site. I clicked on the “waders” link, and this is what I pulled up:

    G3 Guide – WQM Limited Edition: $549.95
    G4Z Stockingfoot: $549.95
    G4Pro Stockingfoot: $699.95
    G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Lug: $699.95
    G3 Guide Bootfoot Waders – Felt: $699.95
    G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
    G3 Guide Pant: $499.95
    Headwaters Convertible Stockingfoot: $399.95
    Headwaters Stockingfoot: $349.95
    Womens G3 Guide Stockingfoot: $499.95
    Freestone Z Wader: $399.95
    Freestone Wader: $249.95
    Freestone Pant: $229.95
    Womens Freestone Wader: $249.95
    Kids Gore-Tex Stockingfoot: $199.95

I scratched my head. Other than price, the waders all merged together into an expensive blur.

And that’s only the Simms line of waders!

I then visited the Patagonia site. And then looked at the Redington brands, the Orvis brands, and then Dan Bailey brands.

My head was spinning. And that’s not even the entire list of brands. (I apologize for all those I missed.)

How does an average fly fisher make a rational decision about which pair of waders to purchase?

My (Former) Approach to Decision-Making

Here’s how I purchased my current pair of waders.

I was on a fly fishing trip to Montana with Steve, my podcast partner.

It was springtime. And my aging waders sprung a leak. I got cold while standing in the Madison River, with snow and gusts of 20 mph wind.

We decided to fish the Yellowstone the next day.

On the way over to Paradise Valley, we stopped in Livingston, Montana, and I walked into the Dan Bailey fly shop on the main drag through town.

I said to the sales person, “I need a pair of waders.”

“Here’s a pair of Dan Bailey waders on sale.”

“Are they good waders?”

“Yes they are.”

“Okay, I’ll take them.”

I paid about $250 or so, plus or minus. And walked out with new waders.

(Note: I had these waders for almost ten years. I recently purchased a pair of Ultralight waders from Orvis for around $298.)

My Randomness Is Not a Strategy

Am I a shill for Dan Bailey or Orvis waders? Absolutely not.

Is Dan Bailey or Orvis sponsoring our podcast or blog? No. (This is a question that you should ask of every writer who mentions a brand in a post.)

My point has three parts:

1. I made a random, arbitrary decision with the durability of my Dan Bailey waders.

2. I probably got lucky.

3. The unending options of fly fishing waders confuses me about which to purchase next.

Am I saying you should be as random as I was?

Of course not.

4 Questions to Select the Right Waders

So here are four questions that I think you should consider:

1. How many days a year do I fly fish?

Steve and I calculated that we fish between 10 and 20 days a year. That’s not as many as we would like. But we live with 10 million of our closest friends in the Chicago area. We both lived in the West before moving to Chicago, but now it takes a bit more thought and effort to get out on the rivers.

If you are a newbie fly fisher and plan to fish only once or twice while on a summer vacation, you do not need waders, unless you are fishing in an area with lots of ticks. I rarely wear waders in the summertime, except if I’m in rattlesnake country. I wear my wading boots and wading socks, or a pair of wading sandals, and dri-fit shorts or pants.

If you fly fish fewer days a year than Steve and I do, then I would recommend a middle-of-the-road, workhorse brand of waders.

If you fly fish 40 or more days a year or are a professional guide – by all means – purchase the “best,” however you define the word. My guess is you own multiple pairs of fly fishing waders.

2. Will this be my only pair of waders?

I generally keep only one pair of waders in play. I keep it simple. I don’t use wading pants, though I do own a pair of waist waders. I often will use them in winter when I know I won’t be wading with the exception of crossing small spring creeks here and there.

Obviously, I’m not a fly fishing professional. Nor do I fly fish 40 days a year or more.

If you fly fish quite a few days in late fall, winter, and early spring, you may want to purchase a pair of insulated waders. However, I fish maybe two or three days a year in freezing temps, and if I wear layers under my breathable waders, I am fine (though you need to remember I grew up in North Dakota, so cold is my friend!)

Another consideration is the depth and speed of the river. If you are fly fishing shallow creeks in the summer, you definitely don’t need waders.

3. How brand conscious am I?

I am tend to be brand agnostic. At least when it comes to fly fishing waders.

With fly rods and wading boots – I am more persnickety. A fly rod affects how I cast. And wading boots could save my life.

But waders?

Some of you may need to look good on the water. You need to wear the most expensive brand because of how doing so makes you feel about yourself.

Bully for you. Buy. And be blessed. A $700 pair of waders may make perfect sense in your mind, even if you fly fish only once every couple years.

4. What is my budget?

With waders, I tend to be budget conscious, and, as I mentioned, brand agnostic.

I’d rather save a couple hundred bucks and add that to one more fly fishing trip this calendar year. I don’t have unlimited money for fly fishing. I also hunt upland game and waterfowl in North Dakota every fall with my extended family, so fly fishing doesn’t get all my resources for the outdoors.

I paid $298 for my recent pair of Orvis Ultralight waders. I made a conscious decision not to purchase a discount brand. I’ve been down that road, and the saying that you pay for cheap three times is pretty much gospel.

Instead, I try to see value – a durable pair of waders at a reasonable price.

I don’t need my waders to have the latest technology or include wi-fi or sing “You are so beautiful” to me. And since no fly fishing catalog will likely be asking me to model outdoor clothing anytime soon, I simply need the waders to be up for the kind of rugged fishing I do. Yes, the fly zipper would be nice, but I couldn’t justify the extra $200 or so for the convenience.

Waders should last me five to seven years, given how hard I use them and my number of days on the water.

One last comment: I definitely recommend purchasing stockingfoot waders (not waders with boots). That means you’ll need to purchase wading boots, a topic for another time.

Episode 48: Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing brands are everywhere: Sage, Winston, Orvis, Patagonia, Temple Fork Outfitters, Fishpond, Simms, Loomis, and many more. It’s a noisy, cluttered marketplace. It’s hard to make a rational decision. When selecting a fly fishing rod or waders or a sling pack, how do you make the best decision for you? In this episode, we help fly fishers understand how fly fishing brands position their gear and how to make better decisions on your next purchase.

Listen to Episode 48: Fly Fishing Brands and Your Next Purchase

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

When it comes time to buy new gear, how do you go about making your decision? Which brands do you prefer – and why?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

View some of our most recent podcast episodes on iTunes or on Stitcher, if you have an Android.

The 10 Commandments of Wading

10 commandments of wading

Commandments of wading are many, and for good reason. A couple years ago, I decided to cross a side channel in the Yellowstone River to an island which would give me access to a superb run. Dave, my podcast partner, and I were fly fishing in Yellowstone National Park. The side channel was only about 25 yards wide. But the current turned out to be stronger than I anticipated. The side channel was deeper than it looked.

I made it halfway across before I decided to turn around. Even then, I wasn’t sure if I would make it back safe and dry. But I did, thanks to obeying a handful of the “10 commandments of wading” which I was tempted to break that day.

The lawgiver who delivered these to me was not Moses, but Duane Dunham – a veteran fly fisher and friend who used to teach fly fishing at a community college in Oregon. Dave and I have obeyed (most of) these commands over the years because we have no interest in drowning or taking a bath on a 40-degree day in March.

Or, if that unwelcome bath happens (it hasn’t yet), we want to survive it.

1. The faster the river is flowing, the lower the depth level you can wade.

This means wading only mid-thigh in swift water. I’ll go deeper than that in some slower stretches of the Lower Madison or the Wyoming Bighorn. But I stick to shallow stretches when I’m on a stretch of raging river.

2. Keep your strides short.

Panic leads to larger strides which can result in getting “stuck” in the current with your feet about a yard apart. This makes balance difficult. Besides, when you try to take a step, the current assaults the one leg on which you are standing and raises the odds that you will end up making a splash.

3. Make sure you have the right soles.

Felt soles, though controversial, are still the best, especially in fast-moving rivers with smooth-rock bottoms, like the Yellowstone River. They are controversial because for years, it was thought that fly fishers who didn’t fully dry out their soles and then fished in a different stream contributed to the spread of invasive species.

If you take the time to wash your felt soles and to let them dry before going to another river, you eliminate almost any chance of spreading an invasive species. Metal studs work well too – either as an alternative to or (better) in addition to your felt soles.

4. Use a wading staff.

For years, I’ve simply used whatever stout branches I could find along the river’s edge. Finally, last fall, I purchased an Orvis wading staff. Simms make a good wading staff, too. But you can assemble the Orvis in much less time.

5. Angle downstream when crossing a river.

This enables you to work with the current, not against it. The current will actually push you along. Remember command #2 and take short strides.

6. Don’t try to turn around in fast current!

This is where a lot of anglers get into trouble. Either use a sidestep. Or back up carefully. Remember to take short strides and to angle downstream as you back up towards the bank.

7. Wear a wading belt with your chest waders.

Seatbelts save lives (like the time I rolled my truck and landed upside down in a small creek). So do wading belts. They keep your chest waders from filling up with water if you slip and take an unexpected bath.

If you forget your wading belt, forget about wading for the day. I’m serious!

8. If you fall in, don’t try to stand up too quickly.

And keep your feet down river. Stay in a sitting position and wait until you reach knee deep water before you try to stand up.

9. Let your fly rod go.

If you need to use your hands to stroke to shore, give it up. Better to lose your fly rod than your life. You might even recover your fly rod downstream. If not, you now have an excuse to buy the latest and best fly rod you’ve been drooling over in your local fly shop.

10. Don’t wade fish alone!

It’s not worth the risk. At least avoid certain rivers or stretches or runs.

If you’ve rolled your eyes at any of the ten commandments of wading, let me I remind you how shocked your body will be by the cold temperatures of the big freestone rivers in the West.

Let me remind you, too, that one slip can lead to a broken arm or (worse) a head injury that can limit or incapacitate you. So when you break these commandments, you put yourself at risk. Keeping them will protect your life.

Wade safely, my friend. Wade safely.