I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that most fishermen have experience with sunburn and sweat. A little sweat is good, especially when it comes to fighting a big fish. However, sunburn isn’t good – even a light sunburn and continued unprotected exposure to the sun isn’t good. Heat goes hand in hand with sun exposure and it’s easy to get overheated, maybe even dehydrated, while fishing, and that isn’t good either. In this piece, I’ll offer a few tips to help you avoid unwanted experiences with sunburn and overheating.
Like many young fellows growing up at the coast, I had several painful experiences with the sun and heat. Surfer dudes can’t use sunscreen, except on their faces, or they’ll slip off their boards and we didn’t have tech shirts and rash guards back in the dark ages. Hydration was usually soft drinks and adult beverages and now we know those don’t really work. I had to get through my twenties – and maybe my thirties too – before I paid any attention to this, but now know it wasn’t right.
My personal experiences and those of my friends led me to realize I needed to adopt better sun and heat preventions. I did a little research to be sure I understood things and this wouldn’t be spreading incorrect information. There is quite a bit of information available and you’ll find plenty if you Google extreme sunburn and dehydration. I’ll try not to be overly technical, but offer this as advice from a friend. First and foremost, understand that I definitely practice what I preach.
The American Cancer Society has a lot of detailed information about skin cancers and information regarding how they may be caused by exposure to the sun. Let’s just say that continued unprotected exposure isn’t good. Our first issue is with sunburns, which can be extremely painful but will eventually go away, but continued overexposure can lead to skin cancer and even small spots aren’t good. The link to the American Cancer Society’s information on skin cancers and their links to the sun is: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/be-safe-in-sun/uv-protection.html.
Knowing we are always in a hurry and want things simplified, the American Cancer Society has developed a short, catchy phrase regarding sun protection. If you are going to be in the sun for an extended time, remember and follow this advice. “Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap” is the American Cancer Society’s catchphrase that can help you remember some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. In its simplest form, this refers to slipping on a shirt, slopping on some sunscreen, slapping on a hat, and wrapping on a pair of sunglasses.
Slip-On A Shirt
A shirt is a shirt is a shirt – Not! Clothing technology has come a long way in the past decade. There are fabrics for almost every purpose and several block UV rays. These new materials are grouped into the category of tech fabrics and there are shirts and pants that are lightweight, cool, and offer UV protection in various degrees.
Pants basically come as shorts, long pants, or those with the ability to zip on and off the lower leg and be both. After that, there are cargo shorts with multiple pockets, board shorts with minimal pockets, fishing shorts with built-in tool pockets and a multitude of combined ideas. Two features of tech materials that are often overlooked when checking out their sun protection and styling are they are lightweight and dry quickly. This is important with shirts and I believe might actually be more important with pants.
There are two basic design approaches to shirts designed for fishing. One has multiple pockets to hold hooks, leaders, and more. Many of these also have vented backs, plus various vents and flaps to allow air to circulate and cool the fisherman. The other follows the simpler approach of T-shirts but made with tech materials. Some of these also have vented areas to allow air to circulate and cool the fisherman.
The number of companies producing these shirts in both styles has grown exponentially during the past decade and all have good features. Some folks prefer one style and some the other and there are many options in both.
I have worn both styles and see the advantages of both. I am a big guy, who tends to sweat pretty well while fishing in the summer heat, so sun protection and keeping cool are both important. I generally prefer the simplicity of the T-shirt design, but often wear the design with many pockets while wading to fish. I can carry hooks, jigs, leaders, a pack or two of soft baits and more, without having to wear a vest that blocks cooling airflow.
More than 10 years ago, I was introduced to a fledgling company named Gillz (www.gillz-gear.com), whose trademark was “Breathe like a fish.” They were making long sleeve tech shirts with mesh panels sewn in down the sides and under the arm on the sleeves. They were available with or without sun hoods. which I thought was a special feature since I often had a small sunburned patch on my neck between my shirt collar and hat.
Capt. C.A. Richardson of Flats Class Charters and TV was wearing one on a fishing trip and I had to ask about it. He was very complimentary and gave me the contact info for the company. A phone call and shipping time later I had my first Gillz shirt. It was impressive and I still wear them! The tech material offers sun protection and the side and underarm vent panels helped keep my cool better than I ever thought possible.
Whatever style and brand of tech clothing you choose to wear, there is a rating system for sun protection. The scale is UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) and the higher numbers provide better sun protection.
Slop On Some Sunscreen
The basic information on sunscreen is that it is protection for skin that is left exposed to the sun. The primary use for sunscreen is for your face, but it could be for your hands if you don’t wear gloves and your arms, if you insist on wearing a short-sleeve shirt, or legs, if you wear shorts. One spot often overlooked for sunscreen is feet. If you fish in sandals, Crocs or other shoes that have vent holes on the top, the sun will find these and cook your feet. This is what causes the strange spotted foot condition common to many fishermen and surfers.
All sunscreens protect your skin from UVB rays and more are adding UVA protection. Sunscreens are rated in SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and like with UPF, the higher numbers offer better UVB protection. Become a label reader and find one that also offers UVA protection. If you have sensitive skin or other issues, ask your dermatologist for a sunscreen recommendation.
Many fishermen don’t like to get sunscreen on their hands for concerns its scent will transfer to their bait and repel fish. I’m with these folks and used to argue with my wife that I would use sunscreen when they made one I didn’t have to use my hands to apply. She took this as a challenge and found sunscreen in sticks, sprays, and other applicators that don’t require putting the sunscreen in your hands to apply. When I first started using hands-free sunscreen, I primarily found it at tennis and golf pro shops but have found it at most drug stores and beach spots for a few years.
Slap On A Hat
Any hat offers better sun protection than none. Visors offer some protection for your face, but you better have a head full of hair or wear sunscreen on a bald head. If you like visors, they can work, but require a little help. There are a few patches on my busy head that are vacant of hair and if I wear a visor, I also wear a sun mask pulled well up over or under the visor.
I prefer to fish in caps with a longer brim, but they can be difficult to find. This isn’t rocket science, the longer brim creates more shade and gives more facial protection and helps see into the water. When choosing a cap, remember that hats that are dark on the underside of the brim reflect less light and help you see better on the water.
Some folks like floppy hats or other hats with a brim all the way around or caps that have fold-down neck covers for ear and neck protection. These definitely help with sun protection. They may also help a little when an errant cast gets a lure a little too close to your head.
I’m going to put sun masks, which are often generically called buffs, but that is a particular brand of sun mask, in with hats as most are large enough to cover most of the head. Numerous companies make these and they come with different materials, which may change their sun protection rating. Fishermen are resourceful and sometimes frugal to a fault and I have noticed many folks, presumably fishermen, making their sun mask pull double duty as a COVID-19 mask.
Wrap On A Pair Of Sunglasses
Sunglasses are very important equipment for fishermen. Eye protection is sometimes an afterthought, but shouldn’t be. The American Cancer Society says protecting your eyes from the sun’s UV rays is paramount. Fishermen already prefer polarized sunglasses as they cut through surface glare and allow seeing into the water. There are many options in sunglasses in standard and prescription lenses. In addition to polarization, lens coloring and mirroring offer additional help cutting through glare and adding clarity in various light conditions.
Like hats, any sunglasses offer better protection than none. Many experts say the molecular composition of plastic lens have inherently better UV protection than glass lens, but polarization can be added to glass lenses. Polarized lens offer the best sun protection and usually the clearest vision, especially when trying to break through the glare on water and look into it.
The sunglasses options for fishermen wearing prescription glasses have expanded in the past decade. One of the simplest is several options for polarized lenses clipping onto prescription glasses or fitting over them. There are also options for manufacturing prescription sunglasses. Polarization can be added to prescription sunglasses lenses during the manufacturing process.
For fishermen wanting more, there are options to have prescription lenses darken as they are exposed to the sun. The first option is Transitions lenses, which are not polarized but darken with exposure to sunlight. A new version of the Transitions style lenses is Vantage lenses, which also increase in polarization as they darken. Vantage and Transition lens are products of Transitions Optical (www.transitionsoptical.com) and are available in several colors. Prescription glasses wearers should check with their eye doctor.
NOTE: I wear prescription glasses and was introduced to Vantage lenses by Dr. Michael Goins of Wilmington, N.C., who is an avid fisherman himself. I prefer them over regular Transitions lenses because as the lenses darken, the polarization also increases and this gives me sun protection, with the benefits of polarization to cut through glare without having to switch glasses.
This isn’t one of the recommendations from the American Cancer Society, but it is still very important. While the proper clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses help keep you cool and protected from the sun while fishing, staying hydrated is a serious health concern. It is imperative to drink plenty of water while doing any exercise.
Water is your friend when trying to stay hydrated. An occasional sports drinks is acceptable if the water is too bland for your palate, but skip soft drinks and adult beverages as both will dehydrate you. Chilled fruit is excellent for on-water snacks as it cools and hydrates, plus gives a little natural energy.
Stay Healthy and Have Fun
That dark tan might look good, but be careful, especially when out fishing or doing any other physical activity. If you’ve got to have a tan, work on another time and don’t risk overexposure while fishing. Remember to Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap. Proper clothing, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and staying hydrated will make for a good day whether you catch fish or not. It will be even better when you’re reeling in lots of big fish. These tips will help you stay cool and healthy and that’s a big part of fishing in the sweltering summer heat and humidity. Another big part of summer fishing is locating hungry fish, but you’re on your own with that!