Summer is the most popular time of year to fly fish for good reason. Warm temperatures and water from spring runoff entice the larger insects to become active and the fish follow suit, resulting in some incredible fly fishing. Long, hot sunny days are best spent in the cool waters of Utah’s fisheries, but the same elements that make summer fly fishing so appealing can also present some challenges to anglers. Luckily, knowing how to dress for summer fly fishing can lead to more comfortable and productive days on the water.
Hat and Sunglasses Required
An angler’s vision is key to a successful day of fly fishing, which makes a hat and sunglasses paramount. A wide brim hat or ball cap can both help keep the sun out of your eyes, but they can also leave gaps and give you a nasty sunburn. For that reason, many anglers opt to wear a Buff to cover areas missed by a hat. The advantages of wearing a buff are two-fold—it can act as a personal swamp cooler just by dipping it in the water, and it provides protection from harmful UV rays for some added peace of mind after a long day spent under the summer sun.
Sunglasses should be considered as essential to fly fishing as the fly rod and reel. First and foremost, they protect your eyes from errant hooks. Polarized sunglasses also provide added protection and enhance your vision by cutting the glare reflecting off the water’s surface. Choosing the right lens color can help the angler see the river bottom, fish holding structures, and even the fish themselves. Matching the lens color to the water color provides the best contrast for seeing structures and silhouettes.
When Utah waters are not full of silt and mud from runoff, the deeper pools will appear an emerald green color. When the waters are running off color, they can be milky, muddy brown, or even red. Smith optics offers a couple of lens colors that are excellent choices for fly fishing in Utah rivers and lakes. Green mirror lenses are great for clear water, while copper-colored mirror lenses are good for all around or muddy water conditions. The copper mirror lens is also offered in a polarchromic version. This technology changes the amount of light transmitted through the lens, making it ideal for the angler who expects to encounter shady spots during the day. It is also particularly helpful when fishing during low-light conditions in the late evening or early morning.
Pants vs. Shorts
Wet wading is the best way to beat the summer heat when you’re fly fishing. No question. However, shorts and flip flops are not the best option for protecting yourself against sun, wind, brush and biting flies. Instead, opt for a durable, quick-drying pair of nylon fly fishing pants. Look for something that is lightweight enough to keep you cool, but also made of durable weave to keep your legs protected from streamside brush and UV rays.
Avoid Soggy Feet
Flip flops are best left for the bar or beach. Aside from the horrible traction they provide, flip flops offer no protection or support for the uneven and slippery conditions encountered on the river. Stick with your wading boots and substitute a neoprene guide guard wading sock for the stocking foot of your waders. Wading boots with interchangeable soles allow the angler to match the appropriate sole for the traction needed on any given day. Choose rubber soles for hiking to an alpine lake on a rocky trail or felt soles for the mossy rocks of the riverbed.
The problem with wearing neoprene wading socks is that they can feel like buckets once you are out of the river. This, combined with wet cotton or underneath, can make it feel like you’re walking around with sponges on your feet. Select a pair of lightweight socks to wear under your neoprene wading socks to avoid weighing you down, and to keep the swamp foot feeling to a minimum. If you simply can’t live without waders, waist-high waders can be a great alternative to a full-chest wader.
Fly Fishing Shirts
The button-down, vented back, linen fishing shirts worn by anglers on the saltwater flats have become mainstays in the wardrobe of fly fishermen and travelers for some time. Recent updates to these fly fishing shirts include the addition of solar/UV light protection ratings (UFP) and insect repellent woven into the fibers of the garment. Baselayer style polyester tops are also becoming popular as an alternative to these traditional button downs. A shop favorite is a fly fishing shirt which features UPF 30 sun protection and an anti-odor treatment, along with exceptional wicking properties. A refreshing way to cool off is to dip this style of shirt into the water and put it back on. The dry summer air of Park City will cause the water to evaporate quickly, bringing your body temperature down in the process.
Following these simple clothing tips can make fly fishing in the summer that much more enjoyable, not to mention productive. After all, fly fishing by nature is supposed to give you a chance to get away from it all—sunburns and swamp foot included.
By: Dan Bell, Fly Fishing Guide
This post was updated on July 5, 2022.