In the beginning, fishing shirts were stodgy, stuffy affairs. Sports took to the water in clothes that were more befitting a Sunday service than a day of fishing. Fortunately, a slew of companies developed fishing-specific clothing that offers better performance out on the water.
There are myriad sun-related maladies that can plague anglers, ranging from sunburn to life-threatening illnesses. Traditionally, anglers relied on sunscreen for protection. But sunscreens have major downsides, including damage to fishing lines, tropical corals and even boats. Now high-tech apparel provides defense without the need to slather yourself in chemicals every few hours.
“Columbia PFG has always focused on keeping anglers on the water,” says Connor Allison, brand manager of Columbia Performance Fishing Gear. PFG has long been known for its iconic fishing shirts that feature vented backs and roll-up sleeves, but “we are constantly adding technologies to create a better on-water experience for anglers,” says Allison. This includes proprietary sun protection used throughout the PFG line. In 2023, Columbia introduced Omni-Shade Broad Spectrum Sun Protection, which blocks both harmful UVA and UVB rays.
High levels of sun protection are not unique to Columbia. Manufacturers of quality fishing apparel, such as AFTCO, Huk and Salt Life, build in sun protection of at least UPF 30 in each of their garments. While the button-up long sleeve is as popular as ever, the full protection that hooded, quick-dry shirts provide has made them crowd favorites recently. Many of these incorporate thumbholes that keep sleeves down and attach gaiters to cover faces.
Cotton was historically used for almost all warm-weather textiles. Lighter in weight and airier than wool, it offered the best qualities for warm-weather wear—at the time. But cotton holds moisture, which can make it uncomfortable. The newest crop of synthetic fabrics helps move moisture away from your body, which aids with cooling while offering a smooth feeling against the skin.
“We worked for two years to make our TropX fabric lighter while maintaining UPF 30 sun protection,” says Jeff Stillwell, president of Salt Life. He explains that Salt Life’s latest shirt tech is designed to let you keep your cool while you cast. “We also developed Nanotex, which pulls moisture from the inside and disperses it. This lets the moisture evaporate evenly and offers a cooling effect.”
Not to be outdone, AFTCO’s Air-O-Mesh fabric delivers unbeatable breathability while still maintaining a UPF 50 sun-protection rating. Columbia updated that iconic vented back with a more modern style that improves airflow for even better cooling, but also incorporates a unique weave called Omni-Freeze Zero that excels at moving moisture. And Huk’s A1A lineup features micro-drilled panels that let air through while keeping damaging sunlight out.
Styles for All
While women’s clothes used to just be downsized versions of men’s favorites, many companies have developed garments specifically for women. “We didn’t just pink and shrink,” says Columbia’s Allison. “We built these clothes with the female angler in mind, so they fit better.”
“We worked alongside Capt. Moe Newman, of Venice, Louisiana, to ensure the women’s line performed up to our standards,” says Jillian Hidalgo, design director at AFTCO. “The entire collection is built using women-specific patterns.”
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“We are performance fishing, so we keep you comfortable while you wet a line, but also [keep you] looking good after,” says Devin Sweeney, vice president of sales and merchandising for Huk. “Everything is built using our pillars of performance: breathability, sun protection and moisture management. And almost everything we make is easy care, which makes it ideal for travel.”
AFTCO’s clothes are also well-suited for adventure. “The Rangle [long-sleeve shirt] only takes up about a 4-inch-by-4-inch square when packed,” says Hidalgo, “but it pops right out of the bag, ready to go.”
Many of Columbia’s garments include the Omni-Shield Blood ’N Guts treatment, which keeps them looking nice by resisting stains created by fish blood.
Salt Life’s line is also built for life on the road. “I spent 43 weeks traveling last year,” Stillwell says. “Low-maintenance fabrics mean they are always ready to go. We call them bait-to-bar button-ups. They have all the performance features in a shirt that you can wear to dinner.”