One of my favorite comedies is the 1981 film, Zorro the Gay Blade, which stars George Hamilton as Diego de la Vega (aka Zorro) and his twin brother, Ramon.
In the story, Diego leaves Spain for California to help his father and the peasants in their struggle against a corrupt governor and his authoritarian allies. Diego is a humble nobleman by day. By night, he’s a masked avenger named Zorro.
But when Diego is injured after stepping on a turtle, he risks his identity. So he sends off for Ramon.
Problem is, long ago Ramon moved to England where he changed his name to Bunny Wigglesworth and enlisted in the Royal Navy as a fashion designer.
Bunny arrives to a village in colorful, glittering attire. When Bunny sees the plight of the peasants, he tells them to cheer up. One peasant responds that they are sad because they are so poor.
Bunny Zoro responds, “It’s no shame to be poor, only dressing poorly!”
When it comes to fly fishing, dressing poorly is never the problem. It’s dressing improperly.
For example, I know one young man whose primary fishing attire is a tank top, long blue jeans and velcro tennis shoes. Like Zorro, it’s better off if we keep his true identity secret.
His “fly wardrobe” is just right for staying wet, getting sunburned and snagging fly line.
It’s not necessary that he dress like a mannequin in a fly shop, only that his attire meet these four qualities: comfort, protection, stealth and clearance (no snags).
Let’s start from the bottom up.
As a mostly kayak angler, my footwear consists of either neoprene booties or plastic clogs (like Crocs). Unlike tennis shoes, neither one will soak up water or catch fly line.
Friends make fun of me wearing “Crocs with socks.” But fast-drying nylon socks underneath clogs prevent sunburnt spots on feet and calves. Not to mention they keep the gnats off.
I also wear long-legged nylon or polyester pants with a UPF rating of 20 or higher. Nylon and polyester dry fast, but in addition you can spray them with Nikwax or other tent waterproofing material. This also keeps them from getting soaked with fish slime.
Most technical fishing pants and shirts come with velcro pieces or plastic snaps that can snag fly line. I usually remove these. If you do this, take care to avoid damaging the garment.
When it comes to shirts, think long-sleeved nylon or polyester. My favorite is the Louisiana Sportsman Cool Breeze Performance Shirt. These UPF-25 rated shirts work great at wicking moisture from the body.
On cool days, I wear a tech shirt over the tees. If it’s very chilly or there’s a chance of rain, I’ll wear a lightweight, waterproof, breathable jacket over both the shirt and the T.
Layering is the way to go, as opposed to wearing one piece of heavy clothing. I keep a dry bag onboard both boat and kayak. If it gets warm, I take off an item and place it in the dry bag.
Upperwear also needs to be loose. As a flycaster, your arm must have freedom of motion for a wide variety of casts. If any part of the shirt or jacket is too tight, it can affect your casting. Often the solution is going up one size.
Of course, no outfit is complete without a cap and sunglasses. A long-brimmed cap with a dark underside is ideal for sightcasting, as are polarized glasses in either amber, yellow or copper. Caps with stowaway neck and ear shades help shield from sunburn.
If your cap doesn’t have a shade, or even if it does, consider a bandana or Buff. Nearly all have UV protection, some up to 95 percent. They can be worn in a variety of ways; most often I wear mine around the neck, as a facial mask or in the balaclava style.
Your hands can also suffer from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Sun gloves are the answer. There are many types, but for fly fishing, the ones that expose the finger tips are most useful because they don’t impede stripping line or tying on tippets or flies.
Does clothing color make a difference?
In his book, Presentation, professor Gary Borger points out that fish have a very distorted view of the horizon, especially in shallow water, due to the refractive nature of water. This means fish seldom see us from the chest down, especially from 30 feet or more away.
Which means that, unless you’re casting from a platform, color is not too critical.
What you do want to avoid are dark colors, especially in summer. At my “Fly Fishing from a Kayak” seminar, I show a slide measuring the temperature of two kayaks — one dark olive, the other yellow — during midday sun. The dark ’yak measured 18 degrees hotter.
Fly line that sits on that hot plastic softens up fast. Over time, repeated exposure to this amount of heat greatly reduces the line’s life expectancy.
I’m willing to bet that wearing a black shirt and pants in the summer sun will cause you to overheat and lower your life expectancy, as well.