Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. More than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancers annually in the United States alone. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers. One person dies of melanoma every 62 minutes (skincancer.org).
Out on the water, our exposure to ultraviolet rays is multiplied by the reflectivity of the water, and as a result our risk of skin cancers increases. Whether you're in a flats boat in the Keys or wading a small Rocky Mountain stream, the sun threatens your skin.
But sunscreen is often messy and greasy. It can get on your fly line, make the cork grip on your rod hard to handle, and who hasn't had lotion leak or even explode in your tackle bag? More importantly, despite the "sweatproof" and "waterproof" claims, sunscreen needs to be constantly reapplied — especially if you are sweltering on the flats, or wet wading in a river. The solution of course is protective clothing with a UPF rating of 30+ or more. You put it on, and it protects you all day. And with the great new clothes many companies are coming out with, you won't look half bad either.
Columbia Airgill Chill
Some coverups are too hot to actually be effective. Protective clothing isn't helpful if you have to peel it off. Columbia's Airgill Chill ($110, columbia.com
) is a high-performance fishing shirt with a heavily vented back and sides, and Omni-Freeze Ice in the mesh lining. The long-sleeve shirt is UPF 30+, and has mercifully few front pockets — one of them a low-profile zippered pocket so important things like tippet spools and lens caps don't fall out. According to the manufacturer, Omni-Freeze Ice uses the sweat from your body to help cool the shirt fabric. When moisture hits the mesh liner, the temperature drops, cooling things off on a hot day.
Orvis Casting Tee
The least technical, and the most comfortable of all the shirts reviewed here, the Casting Tee ($59, orvis.com
) has no pockets, vents, liner, or other giveaways. Only you'll know this is a fishing shirt. The polyester/cotton blend has a UPF 30+ rating and a loose, casual fit that won't hinder your range of motion while casting. The DriRelease fabric dries four times faster than regular cotton, but it's soft enough that your wife is likely to steal your shirts for pajamas, so buy extras or hide them with your fishing stuff.
Patagonia's long-sleeve UPF 30+ Sunshade shirt ($55, patagonia.com
) is 100% polyester, which means you can get soaked on your ride to the flats, and dry quickly. It's perfect for lightweight travel, as you can wash it in the shower, hang it up at night, and have a clean, dry shirt in the morning. The tall collar gives extra protection to your neck, which can be a problem area for melanoma, and the polyester weave allows it to serve double duty as a wicking base layer in the winter.
The 100% nylon VersiWick fabric in the Redington Clearwater ($65, redington.com
) delivers UPF 30+ sun protection, and keeps you cool with a vented back and mesh lining. Two Velcro front pockets hold necessities like nippers, tippet, or even a small box of bonefish flies. Flip up the collar for additional sun protection.
Sage Keys Crew
Sage's lightweight and packable Keys Crew ($45, sageflyfish.com
) has UPF 30+ sun protection like the other tops covered here, but the material is stretchier and more form-fitting so it doesn't flap in the wind on long boat rides or take up extra space in your carry-on luggage. Elongated sleeves with thumb loops and a raised collar added extra inches of sun protection.
Simms Solar-Flex Hoody
Don't call it a shirt. The Simms Solar-Flex Hoody ($50, simmsfishing.com
) is UPF 30+ but it goes the extra mile in terms of sun protection with an elongated neck gaiter you can extend over your neck, ears, and face. Combined with a hat, you'll be nearly impervious to the sun. Finger loops pull the sleeves down over the backs of your hands and keep them there. Formerly available in ash gray and wasabi only, the hoody is also now available in saltwater camo (shown) and in darker Simms camo for fresh water.
Buff is the company that popularized protective neck tubes for fishing. On the saltwater flats, everyone wears them, especially the guides who are out there every day battling the wind and the sun. They are so necessary yet already so ubiquitous, we decided not to cover them here. Instead, we decided to call attention to your hands, which are constantly wet, and as a result, difficult to protect with sunscreen. Buff Sport-Series Water Gloves ($27, buffusa.com
) have UPF 50+ sun protection in a stretchy, lightweight, nylon blend. Skin coverage starts on the forearm just above the 'wristwatch zone ' and extends to the second knuckle, leaving the fingertips free for tying knots. A silicone patterned palm gives you extra grip — helpful if you're tackling heavy fish like tuna and tarpon.
The gloves are easy to put on wet or dry, with a waterproof suede pull-tab sewn on the wrist. They peel off quickly as well, using a silicone ridge on the back of the middle finger that provides an easy-to-grab handle, letting you pull off the gloves without turning them inside-out at the same time.