Fishing doesn’t stop just because the weather turns. Even in the frigid Northeast, intrepid anglers line the rails in pursuit of cod, blackfish and other winter quarry. But to stave off the wind and cold, you need the right garments. There is perhaps no greater staple of cold-weather fishing than foul-weather gear.
In the days of tall ships, anglers often donned outer garments made of used sails waterproofed with various methods, including tar. Around the turn of the 20th century, so-called “oilskin” was developed, utilizing a mixture of linseed oil and wax that proved to be fairly waterproof. This was the standard uniform on fishing vessels for more than a half-century.
Over time, the coated cotton gave way to synthetic fabrics and PVC. This was a much more durable arrangement and didn’t require periodic retreatment. The PVC foul-weather gear set the standard for a half-century or more. Go into port in any cold-weather fishing town and you’re sure to see anglers donning some PVC. I’m still wearing the set of Grundens issued to me by the US Fish & Wildlife Service some 20 years ago, a testament to its durability.
While those PVC garments are sturdy and do an excellent job of repelling fish slime, they are bulky. And the impermeable construction doesn’t breathe at all, which can make them clammy. The next generation of foul-weather gear is built with high-tech fabrics that are lighter, offer more freedom of movement, and let perspiration out so you don’t get damp when exerting yourself.
Just about every manufacturer of fishing clothes has its own take on foul-weather gear. You can still find PVC-coated outerwear, which can’t be beat for its waterproofness and ability to wipe clean. But there are plenty of other options now, and each has its place. Despite the new construction methods, anglers still say they are putting on their “skins” when referring to the garments. Here’s a rundown of some of the best on the market.
Grundens made its name crafting heavy-duty PVC foul-weather gear, but it has jumped into the world of waterproof and breathable fabrics in a big way. Its Downrigger jacket and bibs feature Gore-Tex membranes, which have perforations large enough for water vapor to escape but too small for droplets, letting sweat out but keeping water outside where it belongs. The jacket has a wicking liner that helps move that moisture out, and internal neoprene cuffs prevent water from running down your sleeve. The bibs have lower-leg zippers, making them easy to pull on and off over bulky deck boots, and a center zipper lets you answer the call of nature.
Huk Grand Banks Tidal Map
Huk might be best known for its line of sun-protective clothing, but it has entered the wet-weather arena with a number of excellent garments. Of note is the Grand Banks Tidal Map jacket, which features what the company calls a “2.5-layer construction” of 15K- and 10K-waterproof fabrics, and fully taped seams to stand up to wind-driven rain. (The “K” represents the amount of water in millimeters over a 1-inch area that a fabric can withstand before it leaks, so a 10K fabric can withstand 10,000 mm of water.) The pants go on easily, thanks to waterproof side zippers and an elastic waistband.
AFTCO Barricade Elite
AFTCO has seriously stepped up in the rough-weather clothing category, and the Barricade Elite jacket and bibs are proof. The pieces are built with 30K-waterproof and 7K-breathable sections to move perspiration out while fending off rain. AFTCO’s hood design provides excellent visibility, stays put at speed, and keeps water out. The double cuff does a great job keeping water at bay. The bibs feature waterproof zippers, letting them slip on and off over bulky footwear, reflective logos that add visibility, and a D-ring for kill switches.
Pelagic offers rain gear that stashes on board or in a gear bag easily with the Chubasco collection. Constructed of PVC with stretch properties, these clean up quickly when covered in fish slime or the like. The hood adjusts easily with toggled drawstrings, and cuffs close with hook and loop fasteners. The bibs lack zippers on the legs, but wide openings and ankle snaps let deck boots through. A zippered chest pocket provides an ideal place to stash your phone or camera.
Simms’ ProDry jacket and bibs are built with Gore-Tex for excellent waterproof and breathable performance. The jacket has a number of strategically placed pockets for small items or warming your hands. A well-designed hood provides excellent sightlines. Double cuffs keep water out, even when releasing fish. The bibs feature a well-placed pliers’ pocket and D-ring, ideal for tool or kill-switch lanyards. Leg zippers make the garments easy to put on and take off, and a middle zipper opens from the top and bottom to make relieving yourself simple.