Being seasonably relevant, Hatch Magazine recently sent links out via social media to the 2014 article Winter Fly Fishing: Leave the Cotton at Home. It is a brief, but sufficient public service announcement that makes a great case for eschewing jeans and sweatshirts in favor of much more efficient materials. As the piece mentions, efficiency is second in importance to safety: certain fabrics, like cotton, can be downright dangerous in winter conditions.
Anyone who has been wet in denim can attest to this. This excludes those who see jorts (the delightful portmanteau of “jeans” and “shorts,” for the cultured or otherwise uninitiated) as appropriate water park wear. I’ve heard that telltale clicking of blue jean rivets against water slide seams from Wisconsin Dells to Myrtle Beach. I have to assume that Gold Bond sees an uptick in sales from those who make the choice to don denim as a swimsuit alternative. Unfortunate fashion and inevitable rashes in the summer aside, jeans are not the article of clothing for winter fishing.
“Another example of fly fishing elitism!”
“You’re too good for Wranglers, huh?”
“Not all of us can drop $200 on Patagonia Nano Puff pants / bifurcated sleeping bags.”
If being elitist means not freezing to death or feeling like I’m wading with crumpled up newspapers from waist to ankle, then yes, I’m elitist. But passing up the bottom half of a Canadian tuxedo in favor of, well, anything else, isn’t that demanding of an operation. My first pair of fleece bottoms came from Old Navy. If they cost more than $15, I’d be surprised. They’re a little short and tight now, and they are so pilled that I could use them as a ghillie suit. But they’re perfect for under-wader wear.
Here’s why I got them. It was a November camping trip, with some reservoir smallmouth fishing as the main draw. There were eight of us, and the temperatures hovering right above freezing couldn’t put a damper on our desire to be on the water. That first morning we hopped into canoes, paddling around the islands and cliffs looking for fish. It was slow going in every respect. I’m being polite when I say that I wasn’t paired up with the most adept oarsman. That being said, the inefficiency of propulsion allowed me to fish a little longer into the day. Others switched from angling to other boating activities. Like jousting.
Certain moments of the event are crystallized in my mind. The sound of hull cracking against hull. John’s lures spinning and fluttering deep into the clear water. The immediate weight of my jeans testing the buoyancy of my life jacket. I can actually attribute the preservation of all my lures to getting into fly fishing months before, as I had filled the pockets of my brand new vest with the contents of my tackle box.
The walk back to the cabin was soggy and cold, both negative aspects seemingly increasing with each step. It felt like I was surely going to slowly freeze to a halt, like Ötzi the iceman… but in Bugle Boys. I think it was that day, inches from a campfire, that I decided all of those claims of quick-drying and water-repellent clothes were worth investigating.
I’m not a brand loyalist. Most of my layers are pretty old, as the stuff is essentially a soft and durable plastic. When I worked at a fly shop, I loaded up on base, mid, and heavy-weight thermals. I buy socks whenever I see good pairs on sale. You can never have too many pairs of good socks. And although I feel like my nicest technical clothing should be reserved for photo shoots and week-long bush excursions, I need to remind myself that A) I don’t do either of those things, and B) the stuff is meant to be worn.
I know that looking like the guy in a Skoal ad from the 1970’s is somewhat desirable. Knee-deep in canvas hip waders, chest hair tufting from a slightly unbuttoned buffalo plaid shirt, hooked up with some angry-looking trout, and wearing some well-faded jeans. In reality, the guy is one fall away from dying of hypothermia and a few cans of dip short of mouth cancer. Grandpa would have worn Capilene if had the option, just like he would have used medicine instead of leaches, air conditioning instead of a block of ice in front of a fan, or a space-age hyper-engineered sling pack instead of a vest.
Breathable water-resistant quick-drying antimicrobial lightweight insulating UV-resistant packable ecofriendly gear might sound a little pretentious. And if you constantly talk about how amazing your t-shirt is, then the shirt is not what’s pretentious. But this clothing is so commonplace now, so affordable, that there isn’t any reason why even the most casual outdoorsman can’t get a few pieces. If for some reason you’re still holding out and holding on to your favorite fishin’ dungarees, hopefully this helps you make the jump.
Meanwhile, I’m in the early design stages of multipolymer ultrawick sustainable denim. The flannel and coozy bros are going to love the waders that look like overalls, and the money the pros on the BASS circuit throw in is going to make the guys on Shark Tank come to me.