Fly fishing is an American pastime and is one of the most popular forms of recreation in the country. One of the most important decisions someone can make when fishing is their choice of attire.
The proper fishing attire can mean the difference between a comfy, relaxing time on the water and an annoying slog that is too cold or too hot.
The clothes you should wear depend heavily on the specific location you are fishing and the time of year. It also matters whether you are fishing in salt or freshwater.
So to help you out, we put together this comprehensive article on what to wear when fly fishing. We will cover basic attire, options for different seasons, and cover some tips on how to dress smartly when on the water.
Base Layer Shirt
Whether you are fishing during the spring, summer, or fall, the first thing to decide is a light, breathable base layer shirt. You want something that is not too tight so it won’t restrict your motion when casting lines.
Even a warm day can suddenly turn cold, so make sure you choose some durable materials that can be worn in the hot and cold, such as polyester. Polyester fabrics are also better at wicking away water, which is great when you are sweating when it’s hot outside.
The next most important part of the ensemble is long underwear. Despite what you might think, you will want a nice pair of long underwear even if it’s hot outside.
The main reason why is that long underwear can wick away moisture and keep your legs dry from the spray from the water.
Also, long underwear will do a good job keeping your legs warm when they are submerged in water for hours at a time. Another benefit of long underwear is that it wicks away sweat so it doesn’t trickle down your legs and collect in your waders.
Similar to long underwear, thermal socks will keep your feet and lower legs warm when you are knee-deep in the water.
Wool is usually the best material for thermal socks because they are thick, comfortable, and will wick water off your feet, keeping your feet dry and comfortable. Make sure that you purchase long underwear that is fitted well. You don’t want to deal with sagging pants, torn waistbands, and stretched ankles.
No matter the temperature, you will also want a sun shirt to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Even when it’s colder outside, prolonged exposure to sunlight can still cause UV burns. So you will want a hooded sun shirt to protect your neck and ears when spending hours out on the water under the sun.
The best kind of sun shirts are thin, light, and have a hood. Despite what you might think, wearing an extra layer under the sun won’t make you overheat. In fact, a light, comfy shirt should provide just enough airflow while also protecting your neck from sunburns.
In addition to a sun shirt, you should always make sure you wear the proper amounts of sunscreen. Remember to reapply sunscreen at least once every few hours for maximum protection.
Now we reach the outer layer of your clothing options. Your waders are important because they keep the lower half of your body dry while you are standing in the water.
Waders are basically a long pair of overalls that cover your feet and are waterproof. The most common material for waders is a durable neoprene rubber, which is 100% waterproof and puncture-resistant.
We highly recommend shelling out the extra money to get a decent pair of waders. Waders should reach up to about your chest, and you can also look for waders with waterproof zipper technology. Trust us, you will greatly regret buying those budget waders when they spring a leak and your long underwear is totally soaked through.
You can find a high-quality pair of wader for around $200 to $300. We would not recommend spending less than $100 on a pair of waders as they are likely to be low quality at that price point.
In addition to a sun shirt, you should also consider investing in a neck gaiter. There are tons of patterns and designs you can get with a neck gaiter and you can wear them in a variety of ways.
The neck gaiter has two uses: it can protect your neck and ears from sunburn, but it can also act as a scarf if the wind and cold pick up. Best of all, neck gaiters are super inexpensive so you can pick up a few for cheap and switch them out. Trust us, your neck will appreciate having some cover on a sweltering afternoon in June.
In addition to your waders, you will also need wading boots. While you can fish in just waders, we highly recommend getting an additional pair of boots as they are designed to give you a good grip while standing on the edge of the water.
Some pairs of waders have wading boots built into the ankles, but we recommend buying a separate pair of boots as they will probably be of higher quality.
Wading boots typically have either felt or rubber soles. Some pairs of boots will also have a series of studs on the bottom to give you extra traction while wading.
It’s important to find boots that fit snuggly. Some wading boots have a wire-lacing system, but you can also get boots with traditional front-facing laces. You can also look for boots that have built-in arch support if you have foot problems.
Aside from your rod/lures, your fishing pack is probably the most important piece of equipment to bring with you. You have a lot of choices for attire to carry your tools and equipment. In our opinion, a fishing vest is the best option for a pack as you can fit all of your accessories in tools around your body, so you can grab them quickly when you need them.
On the other hand, you can buy a backpack or sling pack if you want to carry more things around your torso.
If you do go with a separate pack, make sure you buy something that is water-resistant and make sure that your pack has an extra clip to keep it anchored to your body.
If you have ever spent a long day out in the sun, you know how important having sunglasses is.
Polarized sunglasses keep the glare of the sun off the water out of your eyes, so you can focus on your fishing spots more readily. A good pair of polarized glasses can essentially eliminate the glare of the sun and keep your vision clear.
Again, we recommend investing in a quality pair of sunglasses. Don’t just buy a cheap pair on the rotating rack. Visiting a more expensive outlet will get you a better quality pair and will last much longer. Also, make sure that you get flotation Croakies to save your glasses in case they fall into the water.
Last but not least is the ever-important hat: a staple of the fly fisher’s attire. Hats come in several shapes and sizes, and for the most part, it doesn’t matter what kind of hat you pick.
You can get away with wearing a simple baseball cap or you can buy a wide-brimmed hat specifically for fishing. Heck, you could even wear a 10-gallon sombrero hat if you wanted to. As long as the hat covers your head from the sun and can handle getting wet, you should be good to go.
Optional Clothing to Bring
- Rainwear. If you go fishing enough, eventually you will get caught in the rain in the middle of a trip. Make sure that you bring some rainwear, such as a waterproof rain jacket with a hood.
- Gloves. While not necessary, you may want to consider buying some gloves for fly fishing. Durable gloves will protect your hands from the sun and water, and also keep your hands safe while you are tying lines, handling ropes, and more. A decent pair of gloves will keep your hands protected.
- Wading belt. Most waders will come with an additional belt to cinch the overalls around your waist. While you strictly speaking do not need a wading belt, it’s recommended as it will make your waders fit more comfortably. Additionally, you can use your wading belt to store your extra equipment like hooks, nets, wading staff, and more.
Fly fishing is a fun time and there is a very good reason why it’s such a popular pastime in the US. If you are going fly fishing, it’s imperative that you bring the right attire.
Being out on the water for hours can be an unpleasant experience if you are not prepared. So do your research, and don’t be afraid to spend a little bit more money on clothing that will last you a long time.
My name is Ruben. I love fishing like most guys I know. Fishing is so much more than just an outdoor activity- its an escape, its therapy and so much more. I put together a team of other professional anglers in order to create the most inclusive fishing resource.