Why Guides Dress Like Guides

Why Guides Dress Like Guides


guide and angler
This shot was taken in late July, on a day without rain. Why the long sleeves, broad hat, and neck gaiter?

Any readers who’ve been fishing with guides, or even been fishing in the West, will recognize the standard summer “guide uniform.” Except for a few old salts, we all tend to dress like this:

  • Long-sleeved shirts, whether “tech tees,” lightweight sun hoodies, or button-ups, almost always made of something lightweight, wicking, and synthetic
  • Long pants made of nylon or some other quick-dry lightweight fabric
  • Ball caps or broad-brimmed sun hats
  • Neck gaiters (BUFFs and the like)
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Wading boots rather than light sandals or old sneakers, even when we’re fishing from the boat

Many of us also wear sun gloves.

Why do we dress like this, and why should you, when fly fishing in the West?

Protection from the Sun, Without the Problems of Sunscreen

This is the biggie. The Rockies are a lot closer to the sun than most places in the United States (elevation), the air is clearer, and the sun is usually shining. Beyond that, we’re out in it every day. Most fishing guides have to get some skin zapped from ears, face, or hands at some point in their career, to be on the safe side. We all want to keep this to a minimum, and so cut out as much UV as we can.

Why not wear sunscreen? We mostly do, but keep it to a minimum. I only wear it on the backs of my hands, on my face below my eyes, and on my ears. Why not lather up? Sunscreen is bad for the environment in many cases, which is why Hawaii has banned many brands, and it’s really bad for fly lines. The chemicals in it can degrade fly line coatings and make them collect dirt, hurting their casting and flotation. Sunscreen also probably isn’t great for leaders, and the scents in most sunscreens may deter strikes (because trout do have a sense of smell).

Protection from Other Things in Nature

At Parks’ Fly Shop, we do a lot more hiking than most guide staffs. In Yellowstone Country, this means we’re constantly shoving through brush, rose bushes, and even prickly pear cactus, and climbing over downed trees. Then there’s the steep banks covered in sharp rocks we often traverse, sometimes faster than is prudent when our clients have a good fish hooked and we’ve got the net. Even when guiding in the boat, we often jump out to hold the boat to fish good spots (sharp rocks) or have to scramble along the banks do dig client flies out of bushes (thorns and sharp twigs). Long sleeves keep us from getting too torn up by these various snags and stickers. We’d rather our clothes get torn up, and they do. Most of us don’t get more than a couple years out of any one shirt or pair of pants.

Protection from Clients, Ourselves, and Flopping Fish

Every guide spends from four to seven days a week with flies whizzing by our heads all season long. Sometimes we’re the ones casting these flies, but more often our clients are doing it. Some clients are great casters. Some… aren’t. I get hooked, garroted by errant fly lines, and so on at least once a week, even when I’ve got a run of skilled clients. Sometimes the clients aren’t responsible. A flopping fish I’m trying to release is, and I get stuck with either the fly the fish ate or the other one (since we usually fish two flies at once). Long sleeves and other coverings usually absorb the brunt of such abuse.

Of these, sunglasses are by far the most important. We actually require clients to wear them, or at least some form of eye protection. Richard Parks was once hit in the sunglasses by a heavily-weighted streamer with such force that it shattered the lens. Better the lens than his eye…

Staying Cool

Huh? Long sleeves and extra layers keep you cool?

Yep. Notice that the list above mentions lightweight, quick-dry, synthetic materials. Synthetic materials breathe, and moisture evaporates quickly from them. Southwest Montana is a dry place, and evaporative cooling works great. Many people don’t have air conditioners here, even though daytime highs in the latter half of July and first half of August can flirt with triple digits from time to time. Instead they use “swamp coolers,” fans that blow air across a damp mesh that’s replenished from a reservoir containing water and often ice. Such evaporative coolers can chill a room by 10 degrees. Quick-dry lightweight clothes are like swamp coolers for your body, whether this moisture is sweat or stream water that soaks your clothes during wet wading (or falling in while wet wading) or dipping these clothes in the water (gloves, hats, and BUFFs). Moisture from my sun gloves evaporates so quickly that sometimes my hands get cold, even when it’s 90 degrees out.

Staying Warm

Huh again? Didn’t you just say that lightweight synthetic long sleeves make you stay cool? How do they make you stay warm?

Often the same reasons. Sudden cold showers in summer often catch us out. When we’re rowing, we can tell our clients to throw on their rain coats more easily than we can, since we’re helming the boat. When we’re on foot, it might be hard to get at our raincoats if we’re wading or standing in a bad spot where it’s hard to take off our backpacks. Even if we get our raincoats on, we’ll often be a bit damp. Even if rain isn’t an issue, we often get soaked while retrieving clients’ flies, reviving fish clients have just caught, etc. This is less a problem when clothing dries out fast.

Even if it’s cold out and we’re wearing a lot of layers, or synthetics under waders, the breathability of these fabrics keeps us from getting clammy. Any exertion is going to create sweat, even if it’s below freezing. The faster this sweat dries, the better as far as warmth is concerned.

The Upshot

Maybe you ought to think about dressing like your guide does, when you’re fishing with a guide or when you’re fishing on your own…

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