(Robert Hamilton, a former Bassmaster Classic champion, is a full-time BASS tour pro and industry consultant with over 30 years of on-the-water experience. He's not sponsored by any tackle or gear manufacturers, so he's uniquely qualified to deliver unbiased, behind-the-scenes reports on specific types of fishing products. An avid outdoorsman himself, he understands your need to buy the best product available within your budget.)
Do you ever wonder how pro anglers stay dry even in the harshest conditions? Today I want to talk about rainwear. Not just any rainwear, but rainwear designed to protect you when other products fail. Anglers face different conditions than most other outdoor enthusiasts.
Not only do we fish in harsh conditions, but we drive our boats 60 mph through those harsh conditions. If we're using inferior rainwear, we're certainly in for a long, wet day of fishing.
As a pro angler, I've had co-angler partners show up with umbrellas, ponchos, disposable rain suits and even no rain suits at all. I'll never forget the young man who fished with me at the Hudson River one year. He showed up at 5:00 a.m. in the pouring rain wearing a plastic poncho, got in the boat and we ran about 40 miles south to my fishing area.
Needless to say, he had a really tough day of fishing. Being wet and cold is a miserable feeling and really affects your concentration during the day.
So how do you avoid this situation? First remember, even the most expensive rain suit will not necessarily assure you of a dry day in a bass boat. Second, understand the different materials available today.
There are three major types of materials used in today's rain suits. The oldest and still one of the driest is PVC (or poly-vinyl chloride). These suits have been used for years by commercial fishermen, linemen and others who work outdoors because they offer 100% waterproof protection
To make the rainwear, PVC is coated over heavy cotton to become a waterproof material. Usually the seams are folded over and sealed with heat or glue. There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of suit. One of the advantages is 100% waterproof coverage. Another is durability. Some of the negatives include weight. Plus, they become stiff and crack over time and are extremely hot when worn in the warmer climates.
The second type of material is a patented polypropylene material sold under the name Frogg Toggs. This is three layers of polypropylene with a center layer of micro-porous film to help wick away water vapor generated by body heat.
I've used these for years and there are very few negatives. The suit weighs only 11 1/2 ounces and feels like paper to the touch. The appearance is deceiving because I've never been wet in a Frogg Toggs suit. They're extremely durable in the boat. The only negatives I've found are: They don't offer much warmth in the cooler climates, and fish hooks have a tendency to snag and cause them to leak.
I highly recommend them, especially in the warmer months of the year.
The third type of material I want to talk about is Gore-Tex. This is a space-age material that's built with an outer layer of nylon, a layer of windstopper laminate, then some type of lining. Gore-Tex is designed to let out water vapor generated by the body.
I always wondered why it let vapor out but didn't let moisture in. The simple answer is the water vapor inside is molecularly smaller than the water on the outside. Science is cool.
There are many types of suits featuring Gore-Tex, but the consensus among pro fishermen is that Cabela's' Guidewear is the best of the best.
I would estimate that between 60% and 70% of pro anglers use this product. Why? Because it works. Several years ago we were at Smith Lake in Alabama. Over 11 inches of rain fell the first day of the tournament. I've never encountered rain as steady and hard as that, but at the end of the day I was still dry. That's a testimonial to a good product.
Now, how do you choose a rain suit? One of the most frequently asked questions at my seminars is "How much money should I spend on a piece of equipment?" My answer to that is always: as much as you can afford after researching the product.
This column is to help you, the angler, get straight answers and facts about outdoor equipment and tackle. All of the items talked about here can be found at www.cabelas.com. Listed below are my choices for good, better and best. I hope this helps you, a BassFan, decide what's best for you. I'm Robert Hamilton. See you next time in Hamilton's Lab.
Final Lab Report
BEST: Cabela's GORE-TEX Guidewear Systems ($169.95-$319.95).
BETTER: Frogg Toggs ($39.95$89.95)
GOOD: Helly Hansen Commercial Rainwear ($69.95$84.95)
(Editor's note: For practical reasons, Hamilton reviews a limited number products for each column. Of course, comparable products exist. For example, the Bass Pro Shops 100 MPH Gore-Tex Parka ($229.95$249.95) and Bibs ($199.95$219.95) offer similar if not identical performance to the Cabela's product reviewed above.)
Tennessee's Robert Hamilton Jr. is a former Bassmaster Classic champ and, like all fishermen, can't get enough gear. To suggest equipment to be tested in Hamilton's Lab, click here to send him an email.