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October 26, 2001

Rain Is No Factor

Picking the right rain gear makes for more comfortable days on the water.

In the early days of my offshore sport-fishing endeavors, a good buddy of mine used to goad me into wet fishing trips with what became some sort of strange mantra for him: "Rain is no factor." His theory: If the wind wasn't blowing, then you could fish no matter how much rain was falling. I have to say I didn't buy into it at first. At that time, the offshore game was new to me, and I didn't have any rain gear other than a Mickey Mouse poncho - don't ask. I soon became envious, however, of the tales of great trips on less-than-perfect days and ponied up the dough for a moderately priced rain suit. It was probably the best money I've ever spent on any fishing accessory.
As a native Floridian, for me there's no more miserable misery than being cold and wet. I still get a certain thrill from being warm and dry in my rain suit when everything around me is getting soaked. Sometimes I even look forward to the cooling drizzles of Florida's daily summer cloudbursts - as long as they're not accompanied by howling winds and lightning.
Because we all fish in different climates, our foul-weather gear has to be tailored to our specific needs. An angler fishing in the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer needs protection that's light enough not to cook him in a light downpour, while a salmon fisherman in Seattle needs gear that can keep him warm during a 28-degree drizzle.

Staying Dry, Yet Comfortable
The perfect material for foul-weather gear would have to be completely waterproof, yet still allow air to circulate through it, allowing moisture and heat to leech back into the atmosphere - a breathable, waterproof fabric. So far, this combination has eluded fabric manufacturers.
According to Angie Dobrowski of Columbia Sportswear, a breathable fabric won't be completely waterproof. "If you're going to be standing in a tremendous amount of rain or water, a breathable fabric will eventually soak through. But if you're going to be physically active in a light rain or spray, you might want to go ahead and use a breathable garment to stay comfortable."
To make any fabric waterproof, you have to apply a coating like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or rubber to seal out the water. Generally speaking, the thicker the coating, the more waterproof the garment will be. Unfortunately, coatings reduce the breath-ability of the fabric, and true waterproof fabrics won't breathe at all. But Dobrowski says that "if your main concern is to just stay dry, with a limited amount of physical activity involved, then you should probably choose a less high-performance (non-breathable) jacket." This can also help your pocketbook, because breathable garments usually cost more due to high-tech fabrics.
Capt. John Beath of Everett, Washington, a freelance writer and instructor at Seattle's Yachting School Inc., agrees with Dobrowski, especially when it comes to dealing with extreme conditions like those found in the Northwest. "You should definitely consider getting the hard-core rain gear - the heavier the better - if you have the chance of encountering severe weather. When it rains hard up here it's like standing in the shower for hours at a time, and breathable products can't stand up to the soaking."
Moisture from the outside isn't your only enemy. According to Mark Manack, the rain-gear guru at Seattle's Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) store, you can get soaked in rain gear without a drop of water falling on you - even in cold temperatures. "When you sweat in unventilated gear, the moisture from your body condenses on the inside of your jacket. And over a period of time, the clothing under your suit will saturate," says Manack.
Beath avoids this dilemma by wearing a special pair of long underwear under his rain gear. "They have to be made of polypropylene or some other high-tech fabric designed to wick moisture away from your skin. Avoid cotton at all costs - it's a killer. If cotton gets wet it will sap the heat right out of you. Wool garments can get wet and still keep you warm."

Tips for Staying Dry
Just because a fabric doesn't breathe doesn't mean you can't be comfortable wearing it. Manufacturers sometimes put vents in strategic places, like the under the arms or in the middle of the back, to increase air circulation. Make sure that the vents it covered with good-sized flaps or you might spring a leak if the water's blowing or splashing on you.
Dobrowski also recommends buying gear one size larger than you'd normally wear in street clothes. "If you are going to be in varying temperatures or cold climates, you're going to want to have the opportunity to wear several layers of clothing under your rain gear for warmth. A larger size also allows for increased air circulation under the suit when it gets warmer in the spring or summer." She warns not to go too large, however, because you don't want a large, bulky garment limiting your mobility in the summer. Best bet: Try on any rain gear you plan to buy before you make the purchase.
Zippers and seams cause most of the leaks in rain gear, so make sure all seams are sealed tightly and all zippers are either waterproof or protected by button-down or Velcro flaps.
Look for gear with a heavy, durable finish. Punctures from sharp hooks, wire or pliers and the like make short work of your suit's waterproofing.
Unless you're fishing in extremely warm environments, stay away from breathable rain gear or bring along another set of heavy stuff just in case.