Yes, when you are fly fishing in environments that include wind, rain, and/or snow, you need a specialized wading shell… better known and described as a wading jacket. You have more than likely spent a small fortune on fly rods, reels, and other fly fishing equipment. Do yourself a favor and purchase a quality wading jacket that will give you many years of comfort and pleasure when chasing fish with your fly rod.
Similar to breathable, stockingfoot waders, a wading jacket is made of three layers… an outer and inner layer of tough nylon plus a waterproof and breathable middle membrane like GORE-TEX (Simms) or H2No (Patagonia). The breathable membrane is the “magic” of a wading shell. This thin membrane, with its microscopic pores, is impervious to wind and water from the outside, while allowing water vapor, better known as sweat produced when you exert yourself, to pass through the membrane to be expelled to the atmosphere.
Some wading jackets will also have a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish on the outer shell that causes water to bead up and roll off the surface.
1. Choose a Roomy Fit.
Make sure you have plenty of room under your wading jacket for layering. Also, the cut of your jacket choice should allow freedom of arm movement for casting. Head to a fly shop to try on different jackets.
2. Layer to Keep Warm.
Wading jackets protect you from wind and water, but most do not have insulation. Layering to stay warm is up to you. When I am heading to the river to chase winter steelhead or driving my drift boat targeting late-season browns, I start with polyester or polypropylene socks, wading pants, and a light pullover. Then, after putting on my waders, I throw on a fleece. Sometimes, I also put on a polyester/polypro “puffy vest” before finally putting on my wading jacket. An insulated “Buff” to pull over my face and protect my neck completes the ensemble. During the day, if conditions warm up, I can remove some layers from my core.
Notice all the layers named above are made of moisture-wicking polypropylene or polyester. Never wear cotton garments under your waders or wading jacket… not even your cotton underoos. Cotton does not wick moisture away from your body. If you wear cotton “sweat pants”, pajamas, jeans, etc. you will feel clammy and cold.
3. Look for Fly Fishing Features.
- Neoprene Cuffs – When you reach into the river to grab the wrist of that metalhead, you don’t want water seeping up your sleeves only to make you cold later. Tight-fitting neoprene cuffs provide an impassible barrier to icy-cold water.
- Zippers and Drawstrings – All zippers and snaps must be corrosion-resistant and have pull tabs large enough to be manipulated with gloved fingers. Front zipper must go all the way to your chin. You can always unzip it a few inches for ventilation. A drawstring on the bottom of the jacket will allow you to keep your wading jacket snug around your waist.
- Hood – The hood on your wading jacket needs to be large enough to cover your favorite fishing hat. When conditions warrant, the hood should be able to cinch down on your head with draw cords to keep it in place. Extra points if your hood has a visor to keep rain off your sunglasses.
- Pockets – You are not likely to wear a fishing vest over your wading jacket. You need integrated pockets to store the fishing gear you need on the water. Substantial, billowed chest pockets, able to handle large fly boxes, are an absolute necessity. (Personally, I carry two Tacky streamer boxes in one chest pocket and a bottle of water/snacks in the other). Fleece-lined handwarmer pockets on the side are welcome. A couple of zippered pockets on inside of jacket can store tippet spools, small accessories, and a flask of good scotch. A large, zippered pocket on the back can hold spare layers and a couple of sammiches.
- Nice Extras for Bonus Points –
- Built-in zingers on each side of chest for attaching forceps and tools
- A waterproof, inside pocket for keys and cell phone
- D-rings on chest pockets to attach tippet spools
- D-ring high on back to attach net
- Pit-zips to assist ventilation on warmer days
A quality wading jacket that keeps you dry and comfortable is essential during cold, wet weather. It is well worth the expense for many years of service.