Wet-weather clothing is armour to an angler: the first sight of a chink therein a cause for genuine dismay. I'm in the market for wellies...
Jeff Prest describes his journey to find the ultimate wet weather gear – with hilarious consequences!
IKNEW the time had come when my right wellington smiled at me. The crack in the rubber upper that I’d covered with Storm sure a year ago, had reopened and was grinning broader than ever, as if we’d bumped into each other at a school reunion. At the back of this widening, rubbery mouth, I saw a dirty cream sliver of the boot’s inner lining. Instinctively, I took a step back from the water, vulnerable once more. I thought of all those miles we’ve covered together, all those puddles and frosts that their nice fur lining had laughed at, all the grassy crevices their soles had somehow gripped when I seemed doomed to fall. And now here we were, at the end of the line. At least wellingtons don’t make you feel worse by wagging a tail and resting their head on your knee. Nonetheless, it was a reminder that there’s nothing like outdoor pursuits to transform the way you view outdoor clothing.
“Wardrobe malfunctions threaten entire days of deepening misery, as a moist feeling works its way up your casting arm.”
For the townie, it involves nothing more than what our mothers called “a sensible coat”; something that spares you when you’re caught out, midway between home and Tesco Express. When it’s part of your hobby to be in the rain while everyone else flees it, however, then a coat is just the beginning. And like America’s Secret Service, it will be called upon to be way more than just ‘sensible’. While metropolitan living involves brushes with the weather, the outdoorsman engages it head-on, grappling with it frequently for hours on end, because there’s nowhere to run. So it’s no surprise that the likes of anglers see weather-appropriate clothing not in terms of individual garments, but as a dour collective that is required to close around us from head to toe, like Spartan shields, at the first hint of damp. Wardrobe malfunctions in our world don’t just entail a mental note to swing by Marks & Spencer next Saturday; they threaten entire days of deepening misery as a moist feeling works its way up your casting arm. That wasn’t just a torn welly I recoiled from on the banks of a reservoir; it was a breach in my southern flank through which the old enemy could soon pour, laying a cold, morale-sapping siege to my foot. If townies get caught in the rain, anglers get caught, interrogated and beaten up by it, and it makes us very sensitive to inclemency. Whenever I’m asked about memorable days’ fishing, some mental twitch means it’s the Biblically-wet ones that spring to mind. Loch na Bo, in Moray; Lough Glennoo in Co Tyrone; slanting seas on the wrong side of the harbour wall in Cardiff Bay (“I would put the kettle on,” said the skipper, “but it would probably fall off…”) Inevitably, your defences against such maelstroms become an ancillary obsession. That doorway or bus shelter that the urbanite dives into when the heavens open? We’re wearing it; it’s all we have and no-one in MI6 is more sensitive to the word ‘compromised’ than we are. This paranoia isn’t helped if, like me, you’re one of those unlucky people who effectively rain from the inside out. ‘Hyperhidrosis’, to give it its technical name, or excessive sweating. I don’t pong, I hasten to add, but no matter how gentle my walking pace, after 200 yards, I’m gushing more than Joanna Lumley. Being advised of the absorbent virtues of the cotton undershirt, 20 years ago, was a genuinely life-changing moment.
Unfortunately, the body heat causing this wretched condition makes me the worst nightmare of breathable fabric manufacturers. Back when golf was my thing rather than fishing, my mother bought me a top-of-the range, breathable, all-weather jacket. When I showed the club pro its sodden interior after 18 holes, he looked at me in horror, as if beholding a swamp monster. If the Trout-Fisherman gig ever goes south, I could hire myself out as a sort of crash test dummy for the makers of Gore-Tex. In the short-term, though, I’m effectively sandwiched between an inner and outer storm front, the moment it starts to rain, with little solace to be had from endless racks of angling apparel. In despair after yet another damp drive home recently, I decided I’d look beyond the fishing world and go straight to the final frontier. Who, after all, must endure even greater downpours, and more stoically, than the wild water fisherman? The military. My new poncho is green, ex-German army, makes me look like someone from an abattoir and from the pervasive pong it emits, may well have enshrouded more than one combat fatality in its time. Sadly, the plan – that rain would just drip harmlessly off its shin-level hem without even reaching the garments beneath – was dismissed by an ex-soldier before I’d even tried it. “First item of kit I got rid of,” he assured me, harking back to his days defending the realm. Testing it en route to the bus station one morning, I discovered why. Rain has no way in but body heat no way out. Keeping an equilibrium whereby condensation<rain means wearing it only when I am very, very still, but then that may have applied just as much to the men for whom it was first designed. Which is why I call it my sniper’s coat. And while we’re talking labels; we really need to re-assess our use of the prefix ‘fair-weather...’ as a mild insult. If there’s one thing that hyperhidrosis and a leaking welly teach you, it’s that those people who work with Nature may not be the dumb ones.
That worrisome juxtaposition – hoping fish bite and praying that rising damp doesn’t...
Jeffrey Prest: The TF Features Editor on what’s caught his attention this month.