I took the commission without really thinking it through. I’ve never had to justify my extreme utilitarian sense of wardrobe, designed mostly to remove any fun out of shopping, with notes of Johnny Cash Black, and preference for solid colors so you can’t tell how many days I’ve worn it, or what that stain really is …
Columbia Sportswear had asked me to try a fishing/outdoors shirt, and as they were the maker of my prior shorty vest, worn some twenty years and recently retired, I agreed without thinking.
A few years spent guiding in hot weather had framed a pretty solid idea of what makes a good fishing shirt. It had to be long sleeved, as a long sleeved shirt can be rolled up for cooling, or down for additional SPF rating, there would be a tee shirt under – so the exterior fabric wouldn’t stick to flesh if its owner was wet or sweating, and it would be a light neutral color – partly to blend in with surroundings, and partly to reflect sunlight.
Columbia’s latest iteration in outdoors fashion being the “Airgill” shirt, designed to keep the angler well ventilated and cool via numerous “gills” crafted in panels on both sides and rear of the garment.
The idea is sound, given how we move – and the nature of a light synthetic fabric worn loosely, but in practice what we do and how we do it prevents the shirt from achieving that goal with consistency.
Most anglers fish wet, with waders up to their chest and a fishing vest containing their flies and terminal tackle, and while I’d like it to be otherwise, in that configuration the Airgill shirt is pressed tight to the body and has no ability to ventilate.
If worn in a tucked in and belted configuration, one-third of the rib gills are obscured by pants and belt, and offer no ventilation at all.
In all I wore the shirt six times in three configurations; loose with nothing over the top, with fishing vest over the top, and the hot weather configuration – loose with vest and hydration pack.
You can guess the outcome.
Loose and unfettered was the coolest configuration, as it allowed all those technical panels to let in breeze and pass it across vast expanses of sweaty flesh.
Bound with a vest, or sealed at shoulder and mid chest with the straps of a hydration pack, removed almost all the cooling qualities of the gill areas in sides and the back, and made the shirt an ordinary long sleeve shirt.
It’s difficult to suggest the design is flawed, but ignoring the presence of waders, nets, lunches, and all the connective straps of waders and belts, suggests the designer was enamored of his technical vision, and ignored entirely what it is that fishermen do.
Perhaps if I had my tackle lying in the boat, and was stalking a fish on salt flats in an effort to get closer, with some guide whispering encouragement – this may be the shirt needed. If I’m looking to cut a rakish and technical figure in my flip-flops while embracing a pre-dinner cocktail, this may be the shirt … but if I want my monies worth on all that carefully crafted stitchery, I don’t see how that’s possible given the way we fish.
There were a number of issues with the product that I liked:
The fabric was light and absorbed almost no water. If an angler was to get the garment wet, a simple hand-wringing and the shirt would be dry to the touch. Really excellent choice of fabric, given how frequently an angler takes a bath unbidden.
Nice technical touch on the arms, allowing a rolled up sleeve to be secured to the arm in the rolled-up position. A small loop and a eyed segment of cloth inside the sleeve allows the sleeve to roll up and be secured in that position. Useful if you dip the arm in water (wading deep)and all that rolled up sleeve loses its integrity, flopping wetly against the arm while casting.
Tight weave on the cloth ensures a high SPF rating. If you feel you’ve had your limit of sun and roll the sleeve down, the dense weave ensures you won’t bake further. Manufacturer claims the weave to be SPF 50 (see commercial).
Size of the garment was true to label. With most garment manufacturers off-shoring most of their business you can sometimes get different ideas of what Large, Medium, and Small, can be – especially so given the prevalence of the metric system in many of the manufacturing countries, despite the wearing public living in foot-inches. The sizes were accurate and matched with other quality clothing.
Shortcomings of the shirt are limited to price and function.
Obligatory Vendor Sermon …
With the uncertainty of the economy, an unreliable body politic more interested in posing than accomplishing anything, with 10% of homeowners either underwater or mailing in the keys to their homes, and with 10% of the workforce idle, now is not the time to buy extraneous $80 shirts …
Why? Because clothing is always the bastard child of the fishing industry, with big city stores stocking great gouts of stylish fabrics and colors, and destination shops limited to tee shirts – the only constant being that after Christmas you can buy all of it for 70% off …
If my luggage didn’t follow me to Bogota, I’ve got an issue … but saving that, I’m not buying “fishing” shirts because with all the austerity measures I’ve taken, the pending Christmas sale coming, and my spouse’s ever-present worry about whether we’ll have jobs tomorrow, there’s no reason to purchase anything not absolutely critical to the success of the trip.
In the meantime, I’ll buy some nice long sleeved cotton shirts that lack all the technical functionality, yet just .. simply .. work. I’ll save a few bucks for the Christmas sale, but likely I’ll be sidetracked by a reel, or extra line.
Without the garment being designed for fishermen, by a fisherman, it loses much of the technical functionality it boasts – making it just an expensive long sleeve shirt for me – and a technical statement for the fellow that growls by in a bass boat, flanked by bulging tackle boxes and bigger ice chests.
Summary: I actually liked the shirt when worn outside of fishing. It was light, comfortable, and worked well in the blistering 105 degree temperatures. It’s not a “fishing shirt” however, as once you expose it to fishing conditions with vests, waders and everything else – it’s just a normal shirt.
Full Disclosure: Columbia Sportswear graciously provided me with sample shirts to wear, and has been a good sport about the endeavor given the prior article I wrote (link above) and my initial reactions to the color provided.
I have since turned down another clothing vendor as my lack of fashion sense and my inability to make small talk at cocktail parties, coupled with the fact that I really do fish in water and muck, wear waders, and fall in – makes me a poor judge of clothing.