We should be grateful. The maritime weather of this Sceptred Isle allows the damp and warm Gulf Stream to render winters bearable in our northern islands. Without the Gulf Stream balm, we would return to the joys of a Siberian climate – frying eggs on the pavement in summer, and brass monkeys in the winter, with icebreaker ships in the English channel.
Still, the weather here has its moments. We’ve just had flash floods in the South, and the Midlands really copped for some rain earlier this year, with good folks waking to find the swollen rivers at chest height – through their living rooms.
So we’re agreed, if you are hoping to extend your fishing activities beyond the fair weather, you’re going to have to do something to prevent becoming waterlogged. England being England, you really have to plan for rain no matter what the month of the year. And that’s the problem – you end up with rain as the constant, but a range of accompanying temperatures from near freezing to near tropical. It stands to reason that to be equipped for rain throughout the year, you’re ideally going to need more than one outfit, and a range of suitable accessories.
The British angler has a particular problem (several, my wife would say): he sometimes has to walk for miles, carrying his burden of tackle, lunch, and flask of whatever. Up and down dale, over styles and under barbed wire fences he goes. It’s a sweaty business. Having arrived at the waterside, the angler goes into sedentary mode, where he exerts very little energy, and becomes easily cooled. The waterproofs of an angler are capable of keeping an awful lot of wet in, as well as out. There is very little to recommend several hours bathed in cold sweat.
A generation ago, anything that provided real waterproofing was absolutely guaranteed to make you just as wet from contained body moisture. I once had a very up-market Hardy PVC coat that could have withstood a tropical typhoon. Inside the coat the perspiration just poured off me – and trust me, I’m not a very sweaty type. This was replaced with a heavyweight waxed cotton. With a cloth lining and its several ventilation holes in sensible places, this was quite a lot drier inside.
Then came the wonderful Mr. Gore from America. This very clever chap invented a fabric that was able to repel all the nasty raindrops, yet allowed the tiny water droplets of perspiration, sometimes euphemistically referred to as body vapours, to escape to the open air. In honour of himself, Mr. Gore called his excellent new product Gore-Tex. As modest and self effacing as that name might seem to some, it has nevertheless changed the waterproofing game out of recognition. Being a ‘tweedy’ sort of traditionalist I’m rather against anything that hints of plastic and super efficiency, but by golly it’s difficult to find fault with the latest batch of kit that includes the wondrous Gore-Tex breathable fabric in its make-up. These things are positively tasteful. What is even more important is that they can be had incorporated into a range of waterproofs to suit every season.
Our grandfathers would be amazed at how things have moved on. There’s much more to the whole business than a string vest, three huge sweaters, and an oilskin. The name of the game now is layering. Using lightweight layers of breathable clothing that trap the heat of the body, but allow perspiration out. You add or subtract a layer to suit changing conditions throughout the day.
Having re-kitted recently, here is what I selected.
However lyrical the forecasters are waxing about the day’s prospects, it takes a definite act of faith to set off on a summer’s morning without emergency waterproofs. But in the summer heat you certainly don’t want to be hauling a full-weight thornproof outfit around. I used to have a Barbour Durham lightweight jacket, and that was quite packable, but when I inadvertently left that gallant old-timer on a river bank I took some time to choose a replacement. It had to be really light and packable, totally waterproof in the face of a summer storm, and country coloured.
And it was this latter requirement that proved to be the greatest problem. There are some wonderfully-specified waterproofs available, but the vast majority are made for the happy rambler characters, who seem to regard lurid colours as essential country wear. Many of these highly technical products are marketed by American companies, where performance is all. The final choice, chosen for its lightness, performance, and packability, was a Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and overtrousers. This suit practically disappears when it is packed, and it weighs only about 13 oz. Even so, this is a serious performer; totally waterproof, and breathable. Seasoned backpackers, well versed in the nasty habits of tall hills weather, regard this as basic uniform. Despite its naff name, I regard it as the best packable waterproof outfit for the British summer. If a day does chill, or a cold mist wafts off the river, then the Torrentshell is a God-send.
Multi-layering for warmth is clearly not an issue here, so simple lightweight summer clothing is all that is required underneath. If you’re going to fish into the evening, there’s something to be said for thin clothing that is proof against biting bugs. I know they have such things in the States, so I’m looking into that one, and meanwhile applying the deet bug spray.
This is where the British weather becomes capricious. An American writer once said that this is the best possible country to experience all four seasons in one day. This may be something of an exaggeration, but the improvident angler will find himself decidedly uncomfortable on occasions.
As I have said, the answer to varying conditions really is layering, but fundamental to the system is the waterproof outer layer. I chose Musto. Musto’s background is in foul weather wear for yachtsmen. You must believe me when I tell you that nothing tests waterproofing so comprehensively as a sitting on the weather rail of a racing yacht in a force seven south westerly. I know this from long and damp experience. It was a natural progression from yachting wear to fishing wear, and Musto’s technological approach has been a tremendous success in the fishing and field sports world. The FPX Fly Fishing Jacket and matching over-trousers are made from 2 layer Gore-Tex. Being Musto, the weather beating performance and durability can be taken for grated, but what I particularly like about this suit is that the designer has thought hard about the ergonomics, and angler’s cargo carrying requirements. We also find properly-situated ‘D’ rings, and roomy pockets. Don’t worry about the Fly-Fishing designation: this properly designed jacket is ideal for all anglers. The over-trousers have side access to trouser pockets, and Velcro closures to snug up to boots. Over-trousers also provide a second layer to keep out the wind, as well as rain.
The Musto outer shell then, provides all the necessary wind and waterproofing. Additional layers can be changed to suit the day. The essential requirement of those layers will be to wick away body moisture quickly, to enable the Gore-Tex shell to pass it out to the atmosphere. The answer for me is to use Patagonia’s brilliant Capilene underwear next to the skin. This excellent material is non-absorbent, so it always feels dry, but it quickly wicks moisture away from the skin. It isn’t yet cold enough for survival specification underwear, but a midweight Capilene tee-shirt is very comforting on a grey autumn day.
The intermediate layer provides the greatest ability to tune the outfit to the weather. On a warm day a simple cotton shirt will be adequate, but as the temperature drops the angler will need to add a wool sweater, or one of the modern fleeces. Fleeces have become the fashion accessory of the 1990’s, with wild and wacky designs appearing in every high street. But fleeces can be high tech too, with the ability to retain heat, but allow that blasted body moisture out. The variations on this theme are endless, and the keen clothing technician will soon acquire several to suit the seasons. I must admit to a love of smelly old wool sweaters, because they suit my antiquarian angling nature best. But I also have a Prestige fleece made by Snowbee, and it does seem to keep me nicely warm without ever feeling clammy. The Prestige fleece is also windproof, but breathable, so it stops a chill wind better than wool sweaters.
We neglect legs. It’s strange. It’s not at all uncommon to see anglers dressed for the arctic above the waist, but with only a pair of jeans below. This is daft. Apart from the fact that most jeans are hopelessly tight fitting for the athletic gyrations of anglers, they are rough and cold (very, when wet) – not at all what one needs under the vitals. Extravagant as it may seem, I have gone for a pair of Snowbee’s purpose-made fishing trousers. They’re well cut, well supplied with pockets, and they’re the right colour. They also dry pretty quickly when wet. Some jeans are cut so tight that the addition of even regular underpants almost cuts off the circulation. The real fishing trousers are smart, but leave room for negotiation.
Hats are important. They keep the rain from pouring down your neck, the sun off your balding pate, and they retain vital heat in cold conditions. For much of the year I use a good quality Gore-Tex lined wool flat cap that I bought at a Game Fair. That’s excellent when it’s not raining hard. Real rain requires a brim to direct the torrents away. There are any number of options here, but mostly I wear an oiled cotton Barbour of doubtful vintage, but courageous nature.
So we’re left with the extremities to protect. Ah! The extremities. Anglers always seem to feel that they just have to wear Wellington boots. They are, as it were, uniform. Wellies are essential for really sloshy conditions, or for calf-high paddling efforts, but they are nothing like as comfortable as a proper pair of modern country boots. Mine are Brasher’s: the Countrymaster High GTX version, and they are blissfully excellent. They’re proper leather on the outside, and they have a Gore-Tex (them again) lining to ward off the wet. Best of all, because they’re made for the job, I can walk for miles in them without feeling the strain, and my feet don’t get sweaty and wet. When wellies it must be, then I use Snowbee’s top quality neoprene lined Field Boots. They are particularly appropriate on those utterly filthy days of freezing rain, when the neoprene insulation is a blessing. Oh yes, and I wear high loft polypropylene socks, which are super warm, but non absorbent.
They say winters are getting warmer. Maybe, but I can tell you, it will have to get a darn sight warmer before we can put our arctic wear away permanently. It really doesn’t get down to Scandinavian lows here, but the humidity caused by our maritime climate makes a zero degrees day feel utterly bitter. Add some wind chill to the situation and it takes a very keen angler to be out at all. I’m seldom driven from my fishing, but I take a very defensive attitude to such conditions. The layering system works superbly here. The Musto outfit will serve very well with suitable layers. But for cold and dry days I very much prefer the feel of windproof tweed jacket. By this, I don’t mean the poncey sort of thing you would buy in the gentleman’s outfitters, but a purpose-made field coat.
Cloth field coats have become very fashionable in recent years, but I can claim to have been an early convert. I have worn a Fjällraven loden jacket for over twelve years. A warm-hearted and faithful friend that has had many admirers. Its senior team mate this year is a tweed Carnarvon jacket from the Danish firm of Laksen. Now here is a really stunning piece of kit. This is a very dashing jacket, made from a traditional check tweed. Its traditional appearance is not, however, accompanied by traditional heavy weight, because the Laksen Carnarvon is constructed from a light wool and polyester blend that has been Teflon coated to repel dirt. Under this is the wonder Gore-Tex breathable waterproof lining, and inside that, a layer of Du Pont insulating material called Thermastat, made from a high tech fibre which is hollow, to retain heat. It’s all very up-market. You wouldn’t be at all surprised to see HRH. The Prince of Wales wearing one of these. Quite right too. It’s about time we anglers cut a bit more dash. For all its style, this jacket is also a bruiser-weight performer, made for use, and abuse.
Then, we’re back to our layering system. For the torso we have the fleece or a wool sweater under the Laksen jacket, and a Capilene base layer. The legs are treated similarly: Capilene thermal longs, trousers (I wear moleskin in the winter,) and the Musto FPX over-trousers for wind-proofing. If things get really dire, Patagonia make an expedition weight Capilene base layer that’s used in the Arctic. If you’re still cold with that degree of protection, it’s time to say ‘stuff the fishing,’ and to head home for a hot bath.
Of course, this all amounts to a ‘wish list.’ You’re unlikely to go out and blow over a grand on this lot unless you have just aced the lottery. But you can acquire parts of such a system by degrees. For a start, ask you should ask these manufacturers to send you their latest brochures, and a note of your nearest dealer. These addresses will be useful to you.
Brasher Boots White Cross Lancaster LA1 4XY
Laksen A/S Jyllandsvej 17 DK 9500 Hobro Denmark
Musto Ltd. Christy Way Laindon Essex SS15 6TR
Patagonia Ltd. Unit 705 50 Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7QY
Snowbee (UK) Ltd. Unit 2A Parkway Industrial Estate St. Modwen road Plymouth PL6 8LH