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April 13, 2007

Helping Hands

Effective protection that fits like a glove

From flats skiffs to offshore battlewagons, danger lurks aboard every fishing boat. Finely honed hooks and knives, braided line and tightly stretched monofilament can easily slice into soft flesh. And all bets are off when releasing or boating fish: sharp fins, razor-edged gill covers and rasp-like bills threaten to cut and shred an angler's hands. Fishing hurts! But does it really have to?

"Specialized fishing gloves give us a measure of protection that we never really thought about in the past," says Greg Stotesbury, sales manager for AFTCO (maker of Bluefever gloves). "Anglers accepted the fact that our hands would get cut, burned and abraded as part of the deal. But now it doesn't have to be part of the deal; we can wear gloves and get complete protection."

All-Purpose Protection
Donning gloves to keep hands out of harm's way represents no new, earthshaking concept, of course. Anglers and deckhands have always used them when    handling billfish and other pelagics. While gardening gloves from the local hardware store may prove perfectly adequate for taking wraps on light monofilament leaders and holding spindlebeaks by the nose, today's market offers a wide selection of options designed specifically for fishermen.

I think I've seen at least one pair of these gloves in the cockpit of every sport-fisher I've boarded in North, Central and South America. You know what I'm talking about: the ubiquitous, brightly colored gloves that seem to grow out of every deckhand's back pocket. Although the Hi-Seas catalog lists the product as Adhesive Plus Non-Slip gloves, Brian Nolan, senior sales executive for the  company, refers to them in angler-speak as "orange gloves."

Made of heavy cotton, the gloves feature a pattern of sticky rubber lines crisscrossing the front and back. In fact, there's no true front or back because the flat design fits either hand - very convenient for mates who don't want to take their eyes off a fish while putting on the gloves. This model owes its international popularity to affordable pricing and extreme versatility.

"That rubber coating gives the orange glove a sure grip on wet objects, so it's perfect for everything from washing the boat to handling sailfish by the bill," Nolan says. "And the high-vis color makes it easy to quickly locate gloves in the cockpit."

When your turn comes up in the chum-cutting department, reach for another model in the Hi-Seas line to protect your hands from the slimy mess. Vinyl Waterproof gloves look kind of like the dishwashing gloves Mom used to wear, but a cloth lining and double-dipped PVC coating make them much heavier duty. Often called "lobster gloves," they keep a fisherman's mitts from suffering when working with cold, wet items for extended periods.

"In 2005 we introduced two styles of puncture- and cut-resistant gloves called the Sea Grip Tooth Proof series," Nolan says. "The Sea Grip Inshore glove features a triple layer of SuperFabric, a material similar to Kevlar, that extends from the cuff to the tip of the index finger. This glove guards against cuts from fins, teeth or leaders in light-tackle fishing. It also provides a sure grip and protects hands when filleting fish."

The Sea Grip Offshore glove steps up protection by surrounding the fingertips with three-ply SuperFabric and adding a fourth layer in the palm, making it the better choice for heavy-duty chores. Both models have Velcro on the cuffs for an adjustable, secure fit.

Offshore Arena
Like many of us, Stotesbury spends his work week sitting at a desk. When he leaves the office behind on a three-day fishing trip, he jumps right into the action and ties knots, tests drags, sharpens hooks, grabs leaders, takes gaff shots and cleans fish. "All those tasks can cause cuts, chafing or abrasion. My hands aren't tough and calloused enough to take that kind of abuse," he says. "Gloves save my skin."

Bluefever gloves are purpose-built for offshore-fishing applications. "These aren't fly-fishing or inshore gloves adapted with a little extra padding. We designed them for the deckhand who does this kind of work every day, and we know serious weekend anglers appreciate the quality as well. High-tech, synthetic materials assure they'll withstand hard offshore use day after day without rotting or growing bacteria," Stotesbury says.

Special materials used in the gloves assure not only protection, but also comfort and greater security when performing cockpit chores. Rubber-coated polyester in the palms has an extremely tacky, micro-fine diamond pattern that delvers a non-slip grip on gaff or reel handles, tower legs, ropes, fillet knives or anything else, even when slimy or wet. Armortex (a Kevlar-type fabric similar to that used in bulletproof vests) is extremely durable and cut-proof, yet light and flexible - perfect for reinforcing areas where braided line rubs on the fingers.

Synthetic materials offer both machine-washable convenience for end-of-trip cleanup and quick drying time should you need to wash them on the boat. "If they get slimed or bloody, just drop them in a bucket of soapy water or hose them off, and they'll dry in an hour," Stotesbury says.

Last Comes First
A glove's style and fit gain importance when anglers engage in "touchy-feely" tasks like tying knots and handling stand-up tackle. "Our gloves come in sizes from medium to XXL, based on standard hand lasts. Making gloves on a last - a 3-D hand model - assures shaping and sewing the fabric for a precise fit, like expensive leather driving gloves," Stotesbury explains. "Bluefever gloves fit the hand closely and cleanly, with no loose edges to catch between reel handles and frame."

Ron Kawaja, president of Pelagic, obviously paid attention to style, fit and functionality when designing the company's line of offshore gloves introduced last year. The open-fingered Battle gloves guarantee sensitivity and dexterity for tying knots or adjusting drags, and at the same time prevent blisters caused by handling rods and reels. Kawaja's philosophy holds that anglers with comfortable hands suffer less fatigue and can go the distance during long fights.

In some situations, the protection gloves afford allows a person to do his job with an extra measure of confidence. "We make our End Game glove not for the angler, but for the guy who wires a fish, grabs it by the bill and removes the hook," Kawaja says. "Sure Grip material in the palm helps secure slippery fish with ease, and Kevlar-reinforced areas protect the hand when wiring fish."

Kawaja once had a fingernail torn off while working the pit, and that lesson convinced him to build full-finger protection into the End Game glove. "Kevlar covers the entire tip of the thumb and index finger, and an extra patch of material on the back of each finger protects the nails," he says.

Whether you fish inshore or offshore, the right gloves will help you enjoy the day in safety and comfort. After all, fishing doesn't have to hurt.