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January 25, 2013

Full-Mettle Jackets

Foul-Weather Gear Can Bring Comfort to a Cold, Nasty Day

Here’s a cold hard fact about fishing — it’s often carried out in less-than-stellar weather conditions.

About 15 years ago, I found myself woefully unprepared on a foul day at the sailfish grounds of southeast Florida. This was well before the era of smartphones and weather apps, and I simply hadn’t figured on it being so cold and rainy that January morning. My thin, worn slicker, normally adequate anywhere in the Sunshine State, wasn’t cutting it that morning, and the center-console boat offered little respite from the elements.

Fortunately, my captain friend noticed my angst and pulled out a spare heavy jacket from below. Immediately, I felt much better.

We caught several sails that day, but more than anything, the trip served as a wake-up call to always be prepared for the worst of weather.

It Starts with Layering


bluefin jacket
Bluefin USA’s Tournament Jacket features both sleek Italian design and practical cold-weather protection.

I was actually unprepared on two levels that morning on the Gulf Stream. Not only did I not have an adequate rain jacket, I wasn’t dressed warmly enough. Under that skimpy old slicker, I was wearing nothing more than a long-sleeve tee. The cold went right through me. Chilled me to the bone!

While this article focuses primarily on outerwear — both jackets and pants (or bibs) — apparel experts insist that foul-weather gear starts at your skin. It’s all about the layering system, they say.

There are three primary layers that anglers venturing into cold, wet environments should be familiar with: a base layer, a midlayer and an outer layer (or shell, as they’re more properly called).

“Layering offers great versatility,” says Woody Blackford, vice president of global ­innovation at Columbia Sportswear. “If you’re headed out at 5 a.m., and you’re going to be out all day, the temperature will likely change a lot. So it’s good to have that versatility in how you’re dressed and the ability to shed layers.”

But there’s more to it than that — when the weather stays cold and wet all day long, as it often does in marine environments, these base layers and midlayers help provide lasting warmth and insulation. Think of these layers as a warm cup of cocoa.

The importance of layering has grown dramatically in the past couple of decades. For example, Grundens, a longtime player in marine foul-weather gear, continues to expand its line of Gage technical gear, consisting of base and midlayer apparel, as well as shells.

“We have fishermen covered for any type of climate, from balmy Florida showers to freezing Alaska rain,” says Mike Jackson, president of Grundens USA.

The All-Important Outer Shell


grudens water pants
Grundens Gage Burning Daylight Bib

For all intents and purposes, however, it’s the outer layer that is most visible and therefore most important to anglers. After all, this is the first line of defense against blowing rain, salt spray and biting cold. The shell must stop it all!

“It’s core to enjoying the sport,” says Jackson. “If you’re well protected and comfortable, you can take whatever Mother Nature dishes out and stay focused on catching fish."

Yet while jackets and pants must keep water from penetrating, they also must breathe. Improved technology has made that possible, to the point that today’s top-shelf products are becoming increasingly light and porous, while still keeping out the rain and cold.

For example, Grundens’ new Gage line is made from lighter, more breathable fabrics than the traditional, heavy PVC-coated materials used in the company’s classic foul-weather gear. The ultralight Gage Storm Runner jackets and pants are built from a two-layer nylon material with a water-repellant inner finish. The heavy-duty Gage Deck Boss bibs, meanwhile, are constructed with a 600-denier, three-ply polyester material.

At Bluefin USA, breathability in foul-weather gear is also something the company focuses on “as much as anything,” says chief ­executive Eros Cattaneo.

“When the weather is nasty, and you’re exercising and catching fish, your jackets and pants must breathe,” he says. “Otherwise, you’ll end up soaking wet, which can become very uncomfortable.”

Bluefin launched its line of foul-weather gear four years ago, in conjunction with Italian marine-apparel maker SLAM, and offers a range of stylish products at several different price points.

No doubt that technology in these garments has become somewhat of a science, as Columbia’s Blackford explains: “Our PFG Supercell jacket is made of an ultrathin, high-molecular-weight polyethylene. It’s a super-strong material: Air-filtration products and Dyneema and Spectra ropes and braids are actually made from the same material. It’s so strong that we can put hundreds of microscopic holes in the material, to the point that 50 percent of the fabric is actually open. But the holes are so tiny, it’s impossible for water to get in. It keeps everything out, and allows the jacket and your body to breathe.”