Knowing what to wear fly fishing is very important as it can make or break your day on the water. If you’re too hot, too cold, too wet, or carrying too much weight, you’re not going to enjoy your fly fishing experience.
Picking what to wear for fly fishing depends on the time of year and the environment you’re fishing in. Having guided and fished everywhere from Norway to Seychelles, here are my tips on how to go about it so you enjoy every day of fly fishing to the max.
What to Wear Fly Fishing: Checklists
Whether you’re going fly fishing in the North Pole or on the Equator, there are four things you should always wear or have with you, can you guess what they are? Probably! But just to be sure, here is the list below.
- Polarized Sunglasses
- A fly fishing hat/baseball cap
- A neck gaiter (buff)
- A windproof rain jacket
Fly fishermen are more at risk of skin cancer than most people as when we go fly fishing, we are out in harmful UV rays often from dawn until dusk. A hat, a neck gaiter, and a pair of the best fishing sunglasses not only provide you with protection from the sun on sunny days, but they also help you to see fish and keep water off your sunglasses on rainy days too.
Also, when you’re casting your fly rod in heavy wind, your sunglasses protect your eyes in case a fly hurtles towards it. I have had flies hit my sunglasses before and thank god I was wearing them.
A windproof rain jacket is also something you have to have when fly fishing in the rain, even on the flats. When I was a guide in Seychelles, I would always have 2 in my bag as clients always forgot them. The weather can change quickly, and when it’s wet and windy, even in the tropics, hypothermia is still a risk.
What To Wear Fly Fishing On Saltwater Flats?
You will never fish anywhere quite as hot as on the flats. Think of a warm day on the river and times it by 10 or 100.
When you’re fly fishing saltwater flats, you’re going to be either standing on the bow of a flats boat or wading, and there is no shade so a hat, sunglasses, and neck gaiters are a must to protect your face from nasty sunburn. Some fly fishers also use sun gloves to protect their hands.
You should also wear a fly fishing shirt with long sleeves for sun protection and it should be made from synthetic materials like polyester or nylon. These will actively wick sweat to keep you cool in warm weather.
You can use one of the best fly fishing shirts that are button-down or collarless/pocketless fly fishing shirts, I prefer the latter as they are baggy and leave gaps for airflow but there are several styles to choose from.
A good pair of guide pants, also made from nylon or polyester that are quick-drying will also provide anglers with ample sun protection and keep you cool at the same time. I prefer wearing a pair of shorts personally, especially when wading.
Regarding what footwear to wear on flats, I recommend arriving at the dock in flip-flops with your wading boots in your hands. Then just take your flip-flops off and get on the boat, but don’t put your wading boots on until you start wading, and fish from the bow in bare feet. This allows you to feel as if you’re standing on your line when fishing, instead of not noticing when you’re wearing boots.
How to Dress for Summer Fly Fishing?
When you fly fish a river in the summer heat, you’ll need to wear the exact same fly fishing clothing and gear as you would on the flats. You’ll probably wet wade and not use waders to stay cool but you still need maximum sun protection as you go.
You’ll need some neoprene wading socks so your feet are warm in the cool waters, and it’s best to have gravel guards built-in. Many anglers also use wading boots with interchangeable soles, using felt soles on mossy rocks, and rubber soles when hiking in on gravel.
See our post here on the best fly fishing wading socks, so you can choose what’s the best for you.
Remember to bring some spare socks so change into after as even though it’s summer, your feet might be cold, and bring a rainjacket and baselayer in your fly fishing vests or waist pack in case the summer weather changes.
Some insect repellent is also a good idea for summer fly fishing as there can be a lot of biting insects around.
Early Fall and Spring Fly Fishing
When you’re fly fishing in early fall and late spring, the most popular time of year, it’s not summer anymore, and it’s time to start layering up. Just because it’s not summer doesn’t mean sun protection isn’t needed though, so remember your hat, pair of sunglasses and neck gaiter too.
For fall and spring fly fishing, you should wear base layers. Your cold weather fishing clothing is a good base layer is a merino wool long sleeve shirt or t-shirt, merino wool socks, and even long underwear. You can wear running tights when it’s not too cold instead.
The reason merino is so good is that it keeps you warm, wicks sweat, and it doesn’t get stinky!
On top of that, you want a mid-layer like a traditional button-down fly fishing shirt and other mid-layers like a fleece jacket. Wear a pair of jeans or nylon pants onto the base layer on your legs, go just put a pair of chest waders over the spandex running pants.
One piece of clothing you need to have with you in fall and spring is a windproof and waterproof Gore-Tex wading jacket. This, with your waders, will make you a waterproof and windproof bubble, so no matter what the weather does, you will stay warm and dry.
What to Wear Winter Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing in winter requires a lot of layers and anglers need to take winter fly fishing seriously. It gets very cold and the river is even colder too, so don’t go out there unprepared.
The first step for being prepared for winter fly fishing is base layers. Merino wool in the form of socks, long underwear, and a long-sleeved t-shirt is a must. The next layers need to keep you warm too.
A good pair of thick thermal socks, fleece-lined sweat pants, and fleece is ideal. Now comes the extra layer which is a down jacket. Down is an amazing insulator and will keep you very warm, but it doesn’t work if it gets wet.
If you’re fly fishing in the dead of winter with snow around the river, your usual waders are not going to cut it, and you might want to upgrade to some winter waders that are often fleece lined and have some insulation properties to make sure you don’t freeze.
You’ll then need a Gore-Tex windproof and waterproof hooded jacket to seal up the warmth, especially when there is no sun anywhere to be seen. I then recommend having a fleece-lined cap or woolly hat and a fleece neck gaiter.
The only part we haven’t covered here is your hands. The eyes on your rod freeze over when winter fly fishing, so imagine how cold your hands are going to be when you’re stripping your line in.
Fly shops sell insulated waterproof cold weather fly fishing gloves just for this reason, and you can also find fingerless versions to help with your dexterity, so see what your local fly shop recommends and see if you can test them out.
You also can not forget your sunglasses in winter either, there might be less sun, but you still want to see fish and protect your eyes.
If you’re going to go on night fishing, don’t forget to bring headlamps for fishing.
What should a woman wear fly fishing?
A woman should wear the exact same thing as a man when fly fishing in order to stay warm and comfortable. You can find women’s fly fishing shirts, pants, shorts, waders, and wading boots that are designed for the shape of women, and these a proven to be more comfortable when out on the water.
What colors should you not wear for fly fishing?
When you go fishing, the idea is not to let the fish know you’re there, and believe me they will see you if you let them see you. Bright colors such as luminous orange and yellow are of course, colors you should not wear.
The idea is to blend into your environment and you’ll notice that most waders are either grey or beige to match the rocks around a river or lake. So tan, green, and grey colors are a good choice.
When you get onto the flats, it’s said, and I haven’t seen this personally yet, that if you’re wearing a white shirt, a permit can spot you a mile away, and ever since I heard that, I don’t wear white on the flats any more. On the flats, I stick with soft blues and greens so I look like the water or the sky.