Climbers, cyclists, hikers, and skiers have long known that the performance of what they wear during their sport can be as important as the performance of any other gear they use.
Anglers are also coming to understand that their apparel is just another gear category to consider as they pursue their sport. Whether chasing wild trout in cold mountain rivers or bonefish in sun-drenched salt flats in the Caribbean, wearable gear serves a vital role in keeping fly fishers comfortable and safe, while improving their performance too.
Consider the humble shirt. Modern performance fabrics offer fishers a number of performance benefits. Some fabrics slash exposure to the ravages of UV light from the sun. Others wick moisture or even provide cooling benefits during the heat of the day. Most are fast-drying and lightweight.
We’ve tested a slew of performance shirts and found more than a few worth recommending. Most are versatile enough to be used in a variety of conditions, but we’ve highlighted the best features of each here.
Best for Hot, Sweaty Conditions
The Columbia Force 12 Zero Half-Zip Shirt can be worn alone, or pulled on over a light wicking tee-shirt (Columbia’s Silver Ridge Zero for example). The Force 12 employs Columbia’s Omni-Freeze Zero fabric on the inner face. This material reacts when wet (for instance, when sweat-soaked) to lower temperatures and provide a very noticeable cooling effect. The Force 12 incorporates a durable water repelling outer fabric that also provides a 50 UPF rating for sun protection. This shirt features a comfortable, roomy fit that allows for a good range of motion when casting and rowing. Price: $100
Best for General Purpose Use
If I had to choose just one shirt to use in all fishing situations, it would be the Patagonia Long-Sleeved Sun Stretch Shirt. The polyester/nylon blend (52%/48%) fabric features a bit of natural 4-way stretch. That, combined with a roomy cut, provides great freedom of movement. The fabric is also quick drying and offers 30 UPF sun protection as well. The zippered slash pockets boast all plastic components in the zippers so there’s no risk of corrosion in salt water conditions. Mesh-backed vents across the upper chest and back provide good breathability. Price: $99
Best for Wade Fishing
The tough fabric of the Filson Twin Lakes Sports Shirt resists tears and snags, yet is light enough to be comfortable in typical trout fishing conditions. In its styling, Filson sticks with its core designs — the Twin Lakes looks like a classic flannel sportsman’s shirt. But the durable 2.8-ounce material is a 52/48 blend of polyester and nylon that is fast drying, with 50 UPF sun protection. Vents across the back provide good ventilation while the long classic hem helps keep the shirt in place when tucked in under a wading belt or while scrambling around rocky river-banks. Price: $98
Best for Paddling/Rowing
Working the oars of a drift boat or raft can be a lot of work, requiring a lot of body movement as you maneuver around to the best fishing holes on a swiftly moving river. The short-sleeved Grundéns Flybridge S/S Shirt offers great freedom of movement thanks to articulated sleeves, a generous cut, and a bit of four-way stretch in its fabric (95 percent polyester/5 percent spandex). That material is also incredibly soft and silky, so it feels great and flows smoothly over moving skin. Back vents are positioned vertically along the outside edge to allow airflow even under PFDs and fishing vests. Price: $75
Best for Vacation Fishing
Smart travelers select clothes that can pull double duty, and the Royal Robbins Throwback Fish Shirt does just that. The lightweight cotton material is suitable for light activity, such as fishing from a flats boat or even an off-shore cruiser. It breaths well and dries quickly. But the shirt’s unique fish-pattern gives it enough flair and style to be suitable for dinner and drinks after a long day of fishing. Price: $55