As anglers, we’re subjected to a number of potential hazards in our daily routine. Without question, the most common threat originates from prolonged exposure to the sun.
Now, before we begin, I don’t want to convey the message that I’m one of these UV haters, destined to live a pasty-white life indoors. On the contrary, I firmly believe moderate sun exposure is healthy and we continue to see proof of such in scientific study.
But there’s also real reason to be concerned. Consider this: UV exposure is actually magnified when it reflects off of water - as much as 20 percent. For that reason alone, anglers find themselves in rare territory in terms of sun exposure.
In addition to the known harmful effects of UV exposure ¬– specifically heightened cancer risks – we must safeguard against overheating and take precautions to stay comfortable on the water. Modern apparel makes that easier than ever … sometimes.
First and foremost, let’s talk UV. Ultraviolet rays are produced by the sun in three different wavelengths, two of which make it to earth: UVA and UVB. In addition, UV exposure on the earth’s surface is greater now than it was a few generations ago due to a changing atmosphere.
Luckily, skin care products (i.e. sunscreen) protect against both UVA and UVB. They work by both reflecting some UV and absorbing and dissipating a great deal more.
The level of protection offered by individual sunscreen is measured in SPF and can be misleading. To help dispel the myth, think of it this way: SPF 10 allows 1/10th of the available UV radiation to reach your skin, meaning it blocks about 90 percent. Therefore, SPF 15 blocks 93.3 percent of UV, SPF 30 blocks 96.7 percent.
If you get my drift, you realize that any medium-level sunscreen does an acceptable job; SPF 70 and the like are more marketing ploys than anything.
Moving on, it’s also important to apply sunscreen properly. Evidence suggests that regular, repeated application is more important than anything, especially in sweaty environments (who wants to crank some ledges?) In most angling scenarios, it’s recommended that sunscreen be applied about every four hours.
While sunscreen plays a big role in protection, it shouldn’t be your only defense. In fact, it should be a distant second.
To back up, prior to moving to Florida, I thought I knew a lot about the sun’s hazards and how to safeguard against them. As an avid Midwest outdoorsman, spending 300 days a year outside, I dealt with the sun more than anyone I knew.
Well, let me tell you, until you spend significant time on the earth’s oceans, you don’t know jack.
Here, exposure to both sun and heat are at such extreme levels that anglers must safeguard against them at all times if they want a fishing day to last past 10 a.m. The most important choice comes in terms of clothing.
Today’s angling apparel is light-years ahead of where it was just 10 years ago; it’s lightweight and comfortable and blocks as much UV radiation as the highest sunblock. In fact, clothing advancements are some of the greatest in any sector of fishing.
In terms of comfort, it’s important to remember one key principle: shading your skin will always be the best way to keep cool, bar none. By that, I mean an angler in effective clothing – long sleeves, pants, hat and face shield – will maintain a much lower skin and body temperature than an angler in the same environment wearing a T-shirt and sunblock. It’s not even close.
In this case, we can take a lesson from the cultures living in the hottest deserts on earth: all wear long, loose-fitting clothing. Most wear some sort of headdress. The key is to block the sun, yet allow airflow, for perspiration to occur.
A number of companies make fantastic gear for this purpose. Columbia, Huk, AFTCO and Patagonia come to mind, although dozens now exist. Don’t be afraid to include shoes on your shopping list; I’ve got a couple pairs that weigh just ounces and are a welcomed UV break from flip-flops.
A word of caution when deciding on shirts: beware of the look-a-likes. A few years ago, warm-weather apparel became trendy. With that trend came imposters. Manufacturers began placing their logos on long-sleeve polyester T-shirts, pawning them off as “sun shirts” to unknowing fans. And 99.9 percent of them are pure garbage due to the elimination of airflow through the material.
Sure, there are exceptions – Native Outfitters has produced some nice gear for a few brands. But for the most part, stay away from discounts and freebies when it comes to apparel and stick to the companies that produce clothing for a living.
Finally, a couple more considerations. We’ve all heard how important quality sunglasses are to protecting our eyes; I was recently surprised to learn of my development of something called a pinguecula – an actual growth on the eye from sun and wind exposure. Sounds scary, and it is, so keep your glasses on.
Also, a wide-brimmed hat is worth its weight in gold out there. However, like the rest of our gear, it must be functional and breathe easily. Straw hats are out, as they’re impossible to store without destroying, and baseball-style caps protect nothing but the forehead. Try to find a wide-brimmed hat labeled as “crushable” or “packable” and you’ll actually get some use out of it.
Last, don’t think that afternoons are the only time to worry. In terms of fishing, morning sun – say, 9 to 11 a.m. – is often the hottest part of the day as the lower sun angle reflects directly off the water and onto the angler. Start your regimen early and cover up. You’ll thank yourself around noon.
It ain’t over yet, folks; get out and enjoy what’s left of summer.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)