Written by Hans van Klinken
It is not a joke, but most fishermen that I know always went to places where the weather seems to be crazy, and therefore they must travel with a lot of different clothing. Newfoundland & Labrador are places where you can run into extreme weather conditions. I often get questions about what kind of materials and clothing one should select when going to fish in Atlantic Canada, and it is not an easy question. I will give you a little overview in which I will try to complete a clothing list that will be useful for the active fly fisher in Newfoundland or Labrador. Each person is different, and everyone has his or her own wishes and preferences, but I still think a good specification can be helpful for everybody.
The golden rule for selecting materials and equipment for a nice long wilderness trip is clothing and safety first! I am very fortuned that I have been travelled up in arctic regions a great part of my life, which has helped me a lot to survive extremely weather conditions. My biggest outdoor experience I had at age 18, when I stayed 4 months in the arctic tundra of Finland, far away from the nearest road. It was one of my biggest and most exciting life experiences ever! When my wife started fly-fishing in 1991, the first thing that I was looking for was first class clothing. I knew very well that as soon as she did not feel comfortable, she would quit fishing pretty soon thereafter. Used to the unpredictable weather conditions from the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, I was able to advise my wife well. It can be freezing at night, chilly in the early morning and cold in the evening, while at the same time the temperature can be quite warm during the daytime. It can be windy, foggy, raining, snowing but also really hot, and so you need a great variety of clothing. My experiences with clothing for fishing are mainly based on Scandinavian and Canadian weather conditions, but there are many places and countries which have very similar weather as well. Just think about Tasmania, Argentina, Russia and Alaska.
Although we had excellent summer weather most of the time in most places that we fished in Canada, it is not much different from Scandinavia. If the clothing isn't perfect, you better stop fishing right away. When only one person in a group doesn't feel comfortable, it can spoil the fishing for all the other members too! I have seen this many times, especially when people are visiting very wild and unknown places. Many times cold feet, freezing hands and wet clothing causes people to decide to stop fishing, and this is very distressing because it really is not necessary with all the excellent clothing available today. If not prepared well, you surely will experience some nasty problems. I learned my lessons very well, so in my workshops and classes, I put a lot of effort in the Clothing chapter. I am a big fan of "Patagonia" clothing, and after using it for more then 20 years, I know exactly what I really need and must use. Patagonia also has a marvelous reputation when it comes to outdoor clothing.
Nobody likes to fish in pouring rain but sometimes the catches can be unbelievable under heavy rain, so a first-class wind and waterproof jacket must have the highest priority for every fly fisher. We all like to travel light, so the jacket must be able to compress easily. You can then keep it stashed in the back of your fly fishing vest without losing comfort while casting and hiking, or at times when the jacket is not really needed.
A light wind and waterproof jacket prevents you well from getting wet but it doesn't protect you from cold. For example: A lot of people underestimate the use of gortex. It's perfect for rain and wind but doesn't protect you from cold. The most perfect combination will be a light waterproof jacket with a nice fleece pullover, or a jacket underneath. When cold gets deep into your bones, you never will be able to warm yourself, and you will have to return to your camp or make a nice fire to get away from the cold. Unfortunately, a campfire is just a temporarily solution. Your wind and waterproof jacket must be chosen well. You will need a hood on the jacket as well. It will not only prevent rain dropping into your back, but also will keep your neck warm and prevent you from bug attacks! Using a nice cap or hat underneath the hood will be a good solution to keeping the visibility high during fishing. A hood will also prevent the rain dropping on your glasses or into your eyes. A hat or cap will be very useful in sunny conditions too. It will block direct reflections from the sun, and makes it easier to use polarized sun glasses.
There are many people who don't like wind or windy conditions. I come from a country where there is a lot wind, and that makes a lot of things much easier for me. I also fish frequently in Denmark, and lately a lot in Iceland where it can be windier then most of us can imagine. I am used to casting into the wind, but I also know how to protect myself well against the elements of nature.
Fishing in cold windy conditions can easily lead to muscle pain, and can chill you to the bone. That all will reduce comfort and smooth casting, and then a fly fisher can lose his or her concentration easily. There is wonderful clothing for wind protection nowadays. There are even wind protected or windproof fleece jackets, and once you have used one, you surely will be hooked. I love fleece because it keeps you mobile and makes casting easier, and that's exactly what a fly fisher needs. A windproof fleece jacket will be my second personal choice beside a wind and waterproof rain jacket. Good quality fleece still will protect your body well even when it gets wet.
People also underestimate the elements on your body while fishing from a boat or while travelling by boat. When you need a long boat trip to reach your fishing waters, you have to remember that you have to get back too. I have seen people wearing t-shirts only because the weather was just so nice. In this particular group, none of them had taken extra clothing with them. They drove over 10 miles and the weather changed, and before they got back most of them were in freezing cold. In a boat, you always need wind protected clothing because the air levels just above the water, and speed of the boat will make you chilly quicker then you ever would expect!
There is nothing more frustrating then leaving your fishing spot because people are cold. I have done several classes and workshops with women, and they get cold feet and hands much quicker then men. Women are great fly fishers, and when they hit a good fishing spot, they hardly can stop and easily will forget the power of nature. A pair of thermal socks is required if you want to be sure to keep your feet warm. If wading in cold water, good underwear is indispensable. In the north you have daylight almost the whole day, but the sun looses its power quickly when the twilight starts. When you fish high above sea level, the temperature easily can drop to just above freezing. It actually happens rather quickly, too. The sunset can be pretty long, and as soon the sun has faded away, mostly everybody gets chilly quickly. I usually start to change clothes as soon the sky turns into fire.
When the weather is nice, I protect myself too. I always use a long sleeved polo shirt or outdoor shirt. It protects me from sunburn, and also keeps some nasty bugs away.
Be sure your shirt is made from material that protects against mosquito bites. Don't save any money on your shirt and search for a blouse that's made from UV protected material too. Many outdoor shirts are light tan coloured because it keeps mosquitoes longer away and it really works. Just watch people while fishing and you will easily notice that those who wear the darkest colours always have more mosquitoes around them.
Special Fly Fishing Clothing
I prefer wading shoes, especially when long hikes are needed to reach your fishing spots, or searching for fish. Be warned, because there are many poor and weak quality shoes on the market today. Last year, I was testing some real good looking wading shoes and it became a real catastrophe when it turned out that the inside bottom of the shoes just was made from pressed paper and even completely dissolved while being in use during my first trip with them. It is not a joke and really happened.
There are also many brands of waders available nowadays as well. Breathable waders seem to be very popular now, and are very useful during summertime in Newfoundland. However, when I have to advise people about estuary fishing, I still recommend the use of neoprene, because the waters in connection with the sea can be ice cold. Underneath my waders, I always use special underwear. It's not only easier to get into the waders, but also gives you excellent protection against cold water temperatures. I always use thermal socks underneath, and always use a second pair of old socks over my waders. That trick works well, and it really takes longer before the feet get really cold. It also protects the feet of the wader much longer, and keeps the gravel outside longer too.
Article written by Hans van Klinken
All Photos Courtesy of Hans van Klinken