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What to Wear Fly Fishing: A Complete Guide

If you’re curious what to wear fly fishing, we’ve put together a guide of our picks for proper attire from head to toe. Get our recommended list of must-haves here.

What to wear fly fishing

There is nothing like fly fishing on the river during a warm summer day. The kind of day where your gear bag is a little lighter, and all you need is a pair of quick dry trunks and protective sandals. There is nothing better than those wet wading days. You’re using the river to stay cool while bugs hatch throughout the day around you.

If you’ve become completely addicted to that “tug” (Tug is the Drug), you know those days are going to be sprinkled in with a lot of mixed weather days. In fact, you might even find yourself down the road swinging a spey rod for migratory species in the dead of fall/winter in some of the worst possible weather conditions when fish like to move on up the river (observing river etiquette, of course).

So, what apparel/footwear should you plan to have on hand to be as versatile as possible throughout the calendar year of fishing? We’ve already discussed fly fishing essentials, and now it’s time to discuss your wardrobe. Here are few suggestions. . . if you want to sing along to “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” . . . . you get the idea.

What to Wear for Fly Fishing

Fishing mornings are the best. Maybe it’s the anticipation of the day ahead or the fact that you get to break away and do something you love. What’s not to like about a little chill in the air and YETI full of hot coffee to start things out?

It sounds pretty basic, but try and think of the day in three simple parts: before, during, and “beer-30.” How efficiently can you pack to cover all aspects of the day? Don’t be that person that fills up the boat with unneeded bags, or finds themselves overheating an hour into a full day of stripping steamers a mile away from the car.

Let’s get into what you really need to have.


On Your Head

Fortunately fly fishing is one of those sports where we don’t have to wear a protective helmet, even though there are plenty of stories of folks hooking a guide or themselves in the early days of learning. The biggest issues to address on the water are sun protection and temperature.

A favorite dark or earth toned beanie will get used a lot. Don’t spook the fish with your grandpa’s blaze orange Elmer Fudd hunting hat. A beanie is perfect for those cool mornings getting to the river. Depending on the time of year, you might find yourself spending the day in it with your ears tucked away from the sun.

When it warms up, just tuck the beanie away in your bag. Hopefully you have access to your car or boat and can switch to either a baseball or boonie hat to keep the sun off of your face. Careful with those boonie hats when casting!

Don’t forget that the sun is reflecting off the water too. Having a Buff neck gaiter is great to pull up over the face and ears under a hat for sun protection. It also keeps the bugs hatching off your neck. With the addition of some polarized sunglasses from a brand like SMITH, many people on the water look like they could rob a bank, but it highlights how important head protection is on the river.

Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen for your nose that might be poking out from underneath that bank heist outfit.


On Your Top

People forget how active they are going to be on the water. Casting, stripping (flies, calm down), wading in flowing water, hiking to the next spot . . . it’s actually a very active sport. Just like any active sport, staying comfortable is all about the layers. Having a sport base layer for warmth or wicking (depending on the material) is a great place to start.

From there, it’s definitely a preference game. Some folks like your standard long sleeve quick drying shirts like a PFG from Columbia Sportswear, or a really nice option is a thin hoodie like the SIMMS Solarflex. The hoodies are nice because you can use the thin hood to protect your neck by having it under your hat, possibly in place of a neck gaiter.

Collared fishing shirts seem a little obsolete these days. But what else would you wear on date night or to an SEC football game? Don’t worry, unlike golf courses most post-fishing bars don’t require collared shirts.


Obviously sun isn’t the only consideration when fly fishing. At some point you will dress to stay warm, and maybe to get rained on. You can’t go wrong with a fleece lined softshell jacket. The best part is that you can use the same one you ski in if you didn’t go crazy on the print to be flashy on the hill. The only real difference in a soft shell made by a fishing apparel company is a little quick dry material on the sleeves.

Normally, a good soft shell will keep you dry during a pop-up shower too. However, anyone planning to fish the fall or winter, especially in the Pacific Northwest, should have a great rain shell in their bag or fishing vest. Just remember that when it’s raining hard, make sure the shell is NOT tucked into your waders


On Your Hands

Do our hands count as part of our top? Probably. Don’t underestimate the amount of sun your hands see during a day of fishing. Nothing like a good “lobster claw” sunburn from people holding PBRs all day on the river. Something like the HUK Refraction sun glove will protect the hand and leave you the dexterity you need to cast and change flies.

An “at home hack” is to just cut the fingertips off an old pair of ski glove liners. Unfortunately for the cold, there isn’t a great option for both dexterity and warmth. Some companies make gloves that you can peel back the tip of the thumb and index finger to provide access. In the end, you are most likely going to have to take them off at some point to work on your gear.


On Your Legs

You can’t beat a day on the river where all you need is a pair of dark colored swim trunks or quick-dry light hiking pants. You would probably want to avoid crazy prints on the shorts, but your pearly white legs might do just as much visual damage. A good zip off version of the light hike pant is very versatile and can be nice when having to bushwhack to your favorite spots.

When waders are required, you want to either stay warm underneath them, or keep yourself from getting too clammy with that heavy Gore-Tex lining. A fleece pant will keep you cozy on a cold day. An at home hack is a pair of trusty sweatpants. Many times the air temperature is going to be colder than the river temperature, so you don’t need to go crazy.

On warmer days you might just go with a like running pant under your waders. You can also wear those like hiking pants you use for warm days. Plus, you will be ready to go for whatever comes after you get those waders off at the end of the day.

Fly fisher sitting by the river

On Your Feet

When it comes to what to wear fly fishing, this is one of the most important.

Do you ever think about how beat up our feet get? Poor feet! Fly fishing isn’t especially hard on the feet when we are in our wading boots, but in the warmer wet wading months we do have some choices to make. There is always the option of a protective sandal like the KEEN Newport. But damn that sandal is slippery on wet rocks, and you have pretty much mailed it in if you wear it anywhere after fishing.

You can also buy a wet wading sock like the Neoprene Flyweight Sock from SIMMS to wear with your wading boots. Your feet will be protected, and you won’t have to worry about river debris under foot all day. A great at home hack for wet wading is an old pair of trail running shoes. The typically sticky outsole provides more traction than other options when wet, they are protective enough, and with the right sock you won’t have too many debris issues.

Fisherman's wading boots viewed from under water

On most days you are going to be in your waders with your wading boots on. A good calf-length wool sock is pretty standard between your foot and the neoprene bootie of the waders. It will keep you warm, dry, and can be layered with a thinner liner sock to get the perfect fit with both the waders and wading boots. There is no exact science to getting the fit dialed in. Sock management is the hack to that.

After a long day of fishing, the best feeling in the world is slipping on a pair of your favorite flip-flops. Let those feet breath and recover from being beat up all day. You will look like a real fisherman walking into the bar with your sunglass on Chums around your next, collared shirt for you classy SEC folk, tech pants you had under your waders, and your cozy flip flops! 

For those who have made it this far, let’s summarize in a quick list:

  • Head: Beanie, Baseball Hat, Sun Hat, Neck Gaiter, Sunscreen
  • Face: Sunglasses, Neck Gaiter, Sunscreen
  • Top: Base Layer, Quick Dry Shirt, Thin Hoodie, Soft Shell Jacket, Rain Shell Jacket
  • Hands: Fingerless Sun Gloves, Warm Gloves
  • Legs: Shorts, Quick Dry Pants, Fleece Pants, Running Tights
  • Feet: Warm Mid-Calf Length Socks, Thin Socks, Protective Sandals, Wading Socks, Flip Flops

Now that I’ve gone over what to wear fly fishing, I’d love to hear your “must haves!” What do you consider essentials? What are your favorite brands or finds? Let me know in the comments! Also don’t forget to check out our gear care post!