Poking my head out of the door was enough to confirm that it is now time to bring out the winter clothing. Just like the rest of the country, Devon has just been battered by some of the worst weather in years. So they say! Admittedly it was a bit windy, with some horizontal rain thrown in just to spoil the day. But living next to Dartmoor, it always seems to rain and the wind is often howling off the tops of the tors. So if you want to stay comfortable in such conditions, it pays to protect yourself adequately. Gone are the days when you would have to climb into a mound of thick clothes, and increase your shoe size with about four pairs of socks just to stay warm. Combine all this an inadequate waterproof jacket and you were still usually set up for a damp, cold day.
At Adventure fly fishing UK we spend a fair amount of time in the elements. Experience of getting wet and cold over the years has now thankfully come to an end. There is an old saying, that says "there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing". This is true. As long as you are protected from the weather, then there is no problem. There is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable whilst trying to enjoy your fly fishing. Fishing clothing has taken quite a long time to catch up compared to that of walkers and climbers. Specialist clothing has been around for years to cater for bad weather ramblers. But for many years anglers would trundle around in cumbersome clothing.
Dependant on the weather and the time of year will usual dictate what I will wear to keep me comfortable whilst fishing or guiding. Starting with under layers, or base layers as they are commonly know, these are the items that keep the skin dry and help to keep a steady body temperature. The more you work, the harder the base layers work to keep you dry. Unlike wearing a basic cotton t-shirt that will hold the moisture and chill the body down when you take a breather, most base layers are made from synthetic fibres that wick moisture and dry quickly. This means that after a bit of hard fishing or wading you will still be comfortable and dry on the inside. When things get really nippy, then I will often wear base layer bottoms under my fishing trousers or waders.
Not a pile of washing..... but various base layers and socks to keep me comfortable.
There are two sorts of base layers. Thermal and cool. As the name suggests one type is best worn in cooler weather and the other when it is warm. Thermal base layers are constructed using marino-wool or synthetic thermal fibres. The best out of the two in my opinion is marino-wool. Not only is it warm and comfortable, but marino wool is one of the only natural fibres that allows quick moisture transfer, and retains warmth. During the warmer months then I tend to use coolmax fabrics to help regulate body temperature. Again there is nothing worse than hiking up a stream with sweat dripping off you. Apart from becoming a fly magnet, when the air temperature drops, so does your body temperature. This is where the base layer will help to keep you comfortable.
One important item that is often overlooked are socks. Socks are your comfort. Its quite common for people to buy a decent pair of wading or walking boots and then forget about wearing decent socks. Boots on the whole aren't usually all that comfortable until they are broken in or knackered. But by changing the insoles in the boots to a quality pair like 'superfeet' and wear a decent pair of hiking socks and the miles will feel far less on your feet. Decent socks aren't cheap. They can cost anything from £10-£20 a pair. But well worth the money when your when you five miles down river and you have to make the same journey back.
General fly fishing clothing comes in two ranges. Practical and affordable, or high quality and expensive. A lot may think it is mainly a sales ploy by putting a certain brand logo on a jacket, waders or trousers that is causing the increased price. In reality a lot of the extra money has gone into r&d of the fabrics and it performance. This will be the testing of breath ability of the fabrics, durability, new waterproofing coatings, mixed fabrics and higher breathable membranes. Waterproof jackets have come on leaps and bounds over the years. The key to a decent jacket is it's breath ability. Everyone has heard of Gore-Tex, and associates this with quality. Along with this comes its price tag. One fault with cheaper jackets, and trousers is the lack of breath ability. So as you become more active, the harder the garment has to work to eliminate the moisture from inside, and pass it to the outside of the jacket where it evaporates. If the membrane can't keep up with the pace, then it becomes damp inside, and you become chilled. I'm not saying you must buy a jacket or trousers that uses a Gore-Tex membrane, or it won't do the job. In fact I tend to waterproof clothing that doesn't use a Gore membrane. Over the years, it has been developed to be more breathable and and works even faster. This is ideal for when we are yomping over the moors or tackling the steep coastal paths, as we build up a bit of steam up in search of fish.
Left: Gore-Tex membrane.
Center: Inner lining.
Right: Outer face fabric.
Right: Outer face fabric.
One major factor to maintaining all breathable, waterproof clothing is to make sure it is kept as clean as possible. Not so much to look well kept, but to make sure that the performance of the clothing is still working. Things like dirt, sweat and fish slime and saltwater all take their toll. If the clothing is dirty, then it won't allow the moisture to evaporate from inside the garment. One other problem is when the clothing starts to 'wet-out'. This is when the water doesn't bead off anymore and looks like it it soaking through the fabric. It shouldn't get past the internal membrane, but with the inner moisture getting trapped it often feels like the clothing is leaking. Time for a wash and tumble dry! Always use the proper stuff for cleaning. The best are Grangers or Nik Wax. These are a pure soap, that will clean the garments, but not strip it of the DWR (Durable, water repellent) coating that is either washed into the fabric or sprayed onto the face of it during manufacture. It is always best followed with a tumble dry to activate the water repellent coating again. If it still continues to wet-out after washing, then it simply needs reproofing. Either a wash in or a spray should be applied to help it shed water again. Simple! If I can do it, anybody can.
The main outer layers that take the battering and keep you protected.
Colour of clothing is entirely personal. Nowadays most of my kit is quite subtle in colour which i feel helps when fly fishing the small Devon stream and rivers. Often close up to our quarry, I feel more comfortable blended into the surroundings. On bigger waters and rivers I don't really think it makes a great deal of difference. Awesome Salmon angler and AAPGAI instructor Jim Fearn can often be found wearing an orange wading jacket. Most anglers could only dream about the amount of fish he catches each season, and if a bright orange wading jacket was putting the fish off a bit, I would love to see how he would do wearing green!
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