Dressing For Kayak Fishing Success E-mail
Written by J Cambria   
Tuesday, 21 February 2012 07:54


Wearing a full suit kayak fishing in AlaskaWearing a full suit in Alaska

Kayak fishing provides one of the most challenging outdoor sports environments to dress for. It is an activity where you will go from exerting yourself (from either paddling or pedaling) to being basically stationary while fishing. This along with the nature and severity of the marine environments and having to consider dressings for immersion makes figuring out what to wear very difficult.  I cant count the number of times I was one the water in perfect conditions and being totally comfortable in what I was wearing and then have the clouds come in and the wind pick up and being chilled in a matter of minutes. Extreme swings are not only limited to colder climates, about 12 years ago on a kayak fishing trip to Florida in July, a couple of us left the launch in mid 90 degree weather, of course all we had was shorts and t-shirts on. Well, a nasty thunder and rain storm had us waiting it out on an island for a couple hours, where our body temps got so low that we were shivering and our teeth were chattering – remember this is July in Florida. A simple item like a rain jacket could have made a tremendous difference.

It is amazing how fast weather can turn on the dime while out on the water. One minute the sun is shining and there are light winds, next, the clouds roll in and the winds pick up and then just to make things worse – the rain kicks up. The reverse is also a consideration; you launch at sunup and its 40 digress and by 11 its pushing 70.

All this might seem daunting, but lucky for us we are in time of great advances in clothing technology. Still, I see lots of kayak anglers wearing some old cotton sweatshirt and even worse, people wearing a $700 drysuit over jeans.

For not a lot of money you can build a kayak fishing wardrobe that will take you into any environment, make you more comfortable on the water and extend your fishing season.  There is also a bit of strategy that goes along with dressing for kayak fishing so you wont spend all day stripping off and putting on different layers which sometimes can be a hassle on the water. Lets look at the components of what to wear while kayak fishing.

Base Layer: As the next-to-skin layer, the base layer is extremely important. Base layers transfer sweat away from your skin, and send moisture, in a process known as "wicking", to outer layers where it can evaporate. If you sweat during strenuous activity like a hard paddle. no matter how much warmth in layers you have on, you will get chilled from the inside out when you stop to fish.  Some things to remember on base layers are:

  • It should be worn tighter so it makes contact with skin.
  • Look for polyester and polyester blends.
  • Look for materials that say breathable and moisture wicking.
  • Brands like CoolMax® or Polartec Power Dry® are recognized for this purpose.
  • Nike and Under Armour make products for exactly this purpose.
  • If wearing these high performance base layer bottoms don’t wear your cotton Fruit of Loom underwear under them.
  • Mid Later (Insulation Layer): This layer is one you will use in many conditions and climates, whether you plan to wear more layers above it or wear it alone. It should provide warmth without bulk and be quick drying.  It should be a garment you take along with you even on warmer days where the weather can change on you. Some points to remember;

  • Fleece is the most common material used as it is breathable and even provides warmth when wet.
  • Polartec brand is the most lightweight and breathable form of fleece and comes in full body suits, pants, tops, hats and socks. It also comes in different grades that relate to its weight to warmth ratio.
  • For colder climates mid layers can be doubled up to provide more warmth.
  • Sometimes it comes in with wind stopper liners or coatings which might not be needed of you are wearing an outer shell.
  • Tops with zip top can allow you ventilate and cool off so you don’t overheat.
  • In the Northeast many of us use Mysterioso (polartec fabric), it is the same technology used by the military for its cold weather operations.
  • For budget minded paddlers, department store fleece can do an adequate job - just make sure it is 100% polyester and not a blend.
  • Wind and Water Protection Layer (Outershell): This all-important category includes, rain jackets, splashwear, semi- drytops and pants, drytops and pants and waders.  This is going to be the garment that is your first line of defense from the elements and even offers some protection from immersion.  For the most part you should only use breathable materials and if you want to really up that you can pay more for Gore-Tex.  Lets take a look at some of the options. I always opt for brightly colors fabrics for use on the water with my outer shell layer.

    Rain jackets and pants: Even in warmer climates having a packable jacket can save the day if it gets windy or starts to rain.

  • Jackets should include a hood that has a draw cord.
  • Must be of breathable material
  • Buy a size or two larger so it will be easy on and off while on the water.
  • Frogg Toggs makes a reasonably priced jacket and pants that many fishermen swear by and I have used and think it makes a perfect take along jacket while kayak fishing.
    Frogg Toggs Rain JacketFrogg Toggs Rain Jacket is a great to pull out when the weather changes

  • Rain Jacket and Splash Pants in Texas Rain Jacket and Splash Pants in Texas
  •       Splash Wear: This is just a step up from a rain jacket. It usually is of a thicker material than rain jackets and pants but will only offer limited protection from immersion. I used this type of jacket for years on the water and for many kayak anglers and environments it can get the job done.

  • Look for neoprene gaskets on the wrist (or ankles for pants) and this will prevent water from entering when you stick you hand into the water to release a fish.
  • Stick to breathable waterproof materials and it should say it.
  • Look for “factory sealed seams” in the product description.
  • Look for draw cord waist closures that will gives a better airtight system.
  • Stohlquist SplashDown top is a great buy in this class
  •       Semi Drywear and Drywear: These two terms get thrown around and are interchanged a bunch. What makes outerwear truly a drytop or a drysuit is latex full neck seal gasket that I have never worn, I think it is overkill and uncomfortable – now if I was white water kayaking or kayak surfing, this would be my choice but even in the worst possible incident and you ending up in the water your neck will never be under of the water line if you have a PFD on.  I like a wearing a two-part system of top and pants, this gives you a opportunity to take the top off if you get worm.

    Probably the most popular outerwear system used kayak fisherman is the semi drytop and waders combination. If using this system it is important to have a jacket that will make a good waist seal and this offer protection if you end up in the water and of course always wear your PFD. Semi Dytop and Waders for some January Stripers Semi Dytop and Waders for some January Stripers

  • The top should have a good waist closure system with at least a 3 inch wide Velcro over neoprene closure.
  • Jackets with neck that can be opened will allow you to ventilate on the water.
  • Pants should have socks built in to be one piece.
  • If you decide to use waders don’t use ones with the built in boots as they’re just too heavy and can be dangerous if in the unlikely event you end up in the water.
  • Aquaskinz Phantom jacket is great choice and is made in larger cuts for bigger paddlers – something other kayak clothing companies are not in tune with.
  • Kokatat Tempest Pants is lightweight dry pant that is very popular with kayak fishing crowd.
  •       Drysuits and Paddle Suits: For maximum protection from the air and water temperature, a full outer shell might be the way to go. Again like dry tops and semi dry tops, drysuits and paddlesuits are similar; the difference is that drysuits give you maximum protection from immersion with better (usually latex) wrist and neck seals. I again feel that this is overkill and softer neoprene will be sufficient and much more comfortable. 

    Semi Drytop and Drypants Semi Drytop and Drypants


  • Suits with front entry will make life much easier on you.
  • Make sure you get a suit with built in socks and as opposed to ankle gaskets.
  • A relief zipper is a must.
  • A thinner suit will give you the opportunity to layer accordingly so you can still use in warmer weather.
  • The Kokatat Supernova is a fantastic suit that wont break the bank.

  • Miscellaneous Apparel

    ·         Hats: We all know mom was right on this one; so much heat is lost through your head so I always have a micro fleece hat with me and if I get a bit cold I pull it out of my drybag for an instant warm up. For rainy days a good wide brim waterproof hat is a must have, and even though a jacket with a hood can work, it will never do the same job and be as comfortable as a hat for keeping dry. I have been using the Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero Rain Hat for years and love it. A couple years ago I got turned on to the Buff’s, which are bandana kind off things that are extremely versatile and functional in warm or cold weather, I have included this into my clothing arsenal and use it frequently.

    Got my hat on! Got my hat on!


    ·         Socks: Same base layer rules apply here - stick with synthetic wicking materials. Depending on what footwear and how much insulation its has will determine how thick and how many layers of socks you should wear.

    ·         Gloves:  I find that gloves and fishing is not a great match but the fleece lined-neoprene version will help but dexterity will be compromised. Glacier Gloves makes a split-finger model that at least lets you can hold the line while you case or tie a knot.

    In many places the best kayak fishing takes place when the weather gets nasty, with the right selection of clothing you can be prepared for anything mother nature throws at you. You should always pay attention to what you will wear as it will have a direct effect on your comfort and more importantly your safety on the water.


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