For most us, it’s unthinkable to ride in a vehicle without wearing a seatbelt. However, as ubiquitous as the practice may seem, it’s only become that way in recent times. In fact, it was only 30 years ago that the first laws requiring all passengers to wear a safety belt went into effect. How things have changed. Even in our own little world of bass fishing safety measures have been adopted into tournament rules to ensure competitors safety that now seem commonplace. Kill switches and life vests are now required to be used by each competitor and they’ve proven their worth time and time again when put to the test. The implementation of these rules serves to protect the anglers themselves and also acts as a conduit to educate the general public on the importance of such precautions. Simply put, the rule has saved many lives of those influenced by the sports professionals. The evolution of our sport is tremendous and certainly deserves to be recognized, but so do the shortcomings. Despite 1 in 5 Americans being affected during their lifetime, we’ve failed to address the invisible killer lurking among us: the Sun.
Before I delve into the topic completely, let me just say, this article is one I’m deeply passionate about due to the intersection of my educational background and personal pursuits. During my time working towards my Bachelor’s Degree in Textiles and Clothing I presented a number of projects that focused on sun protective clothing. Much of my work identified fisherman as the group that could most benefit from improvements in sun protection apparel and the group with the greatest market potential. Unfortunately, that also meant they were the most at risk for harm. It should be noted, since that time, many outdoor apparel companies have made tremendous strides in their offerings and, while not perfect, they are certainly working towards it.
What’s the real danger in getting a little burnt right? You hear it all the time, “I burn before I tan,” or “Yeah I got a little sun today.” It’s misconceptions like these that are the most dangerous and most misinformed. So let’s get some science about the Sun and it’s harmful rays out of the way before I discuss the measures one must take to avoid those damaging effects.
The Sun emits more than just the visible light that brings us our daylight among the electromagnetic spectrum that reaches the earth is visible light, but also invisible UV Radiation. Within UV radiation are three wavelength ranges classified as UVA, UVB and UVC – let’s make it simple and forget about UVC which is absorbed by our ozone. We’re left with UVA and UVB – which reach our atmosphere and have direct effects on us as human beings. For the sake of this article, let’s just say both are dangerous, but we are more knowledgeable about the effects of UVB and are still learning just how dangerous UVA rays are. UVA penetrates deeper into the body and causes damage to the DNA of our cells, it is responsible for wrinkles, premature aging and is currently the focus of much research on just how much of a role it plays in skin cancer. UVB on the other hand is the cause of sunburns and is the primary factor in skin cancers. It should be noted, skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States with over 2 million people diagnosed annually.
Fishermen are among the most at-risk groups for damage from the sun due to the unique position of both overhead UV radiation and reflected rays from the water’s surface. In fact, studies indicate water to be nearly 100% reflective of UV radiation, whereas snow only reflects up to 85% and concrete or sand a mere 25%. Furthermore, we participate in our sport during the times with the greatest UV factor – warm weather months during the peak hours of sunlight throughout the day. Now that we’ve got our background on the Sun’s dangers, lets discuss how we can prevent them.
Sunscreen for Fishermen
Sunscreen is of course the first line of defense against harm from the Sun’s UV rays. Your standard sunscreen is formulated to block only UVB rays and is actually quite effective when used correctly. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing a 15 SPF sunscreen as part of your daily routine, but for those planning to stay outside longer than 30 minutes, they recommend upgrading to a 45 SPF which blocks approximately 98% of UVB rays. Any higher SPF is simply not necessary as the percentage gains of blockage are miniscule and never reach 99% despite the SPF rating they list. Correct application is another very important part of the equation and should be done with care. It takes about 1oz of sunscreen to apply a full thin layer to the body. It is suggested to use a white, chalky sunscreen for the simple purpose of visibly confirming complete coverage. Although, this sounds re-assuring, sunscreen is simply not an effective method of coverage for anglers for a whole host of reasons. First and foremost, sunscreen must be re-applied at least every two hours given perfect coverage and conditions. That period shortens with sweat, water contact and movement; all things anglers are unable to avoid as they fish. Furthermore, sunscreen contains unnatural scents that may discourage fish from biting or reduce the amount of time they hold on to lures, so continuous re-application is simply a poor practice when it comes to fishing efficiency.
For all its flaws, sunscreen is still an important part of sun protection and should be at least applied once over the body under clothes. If you do wish to wear sunscreen as your primary line of defense, choose one that offers broad spectrum protection like the Sun Bum product line. Broad spectrum is a relatively new science, but it claims to block both UVB and UVA rays. Be certain to select one with active ingredients which include Zinc Oxide – as it’s perhaps the most effective of all components in sunscreen. It will however, wear quite heavy and will be particularly thick as sweat interacts with it. Also, as a means of reducing the unnatural scents of the sunscreen, wash your hands with a specialized fishing soap or outdoorsmen soap that will mask those scents more effectively.
UPF Clothing for Fishing
According to the American Cancer Society, UPF Fishing Clothing is the single most effective method of protecting one’s self from the harmful effects of UV radiation. UPF, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is a scale that runs from 0 to 50+ indicating what fraction of the Sun’s UV rays it allows to reach the skin. For example, a garment rated UPF50 allows only 1/50th of the UV radiation the skin would otherwise be exposed to if left uncovered. All clothing falls somewhere within the UPF scale whether its specifically labeled as sun protective clothing or not. For instance, a plain white cotton T-shirt is somewhere around 3 to 5 UPF which means it allows 1/5 to 1/3 of the UV radiation through the fabric – not good.
Highly rated UPF clothing is by far the better choice when out on the water as it excels where sunscreen renders inefficient. First and foremost, clothing blocks both UVA and UVB rays in contrast to sunscreens which for the most part are limited to protection from UVB. Moreover, clothing will retain its qualities throughout and isn’t subject to the same diminishing factors as sunscreen. No need to re-apply, no fish-deterring scents and no sticky feeling on the body.
So why don’t more anglers cover up? From a number of studies, the most oft cited answer to that question is comfort; specifically, concerns over the additional heat of clothing. Certainly, it seems logical that adding layers will increase the heat of the body, but in actuality the opposite is true. The effects of direct contact with UV rays include an increased body temperature among the previously mentioned harms. This is especially true now that outdoor clothing companies have made significant changes to the designs of their offerings to directly combat heat building up between the wearer and the garment. Companies such as Columbia, Simms and Under Armour have lines of UPF clothing and accessories that provide more than just sun protection. In just the last 10 years, UPF clothing has gone from outdated stuffy and heavy to highly technical with design features specifically focused on increasing comfort.
What to wear
Short of never exposing one’s self to the outdoors, there’s really always going to be the risk of developing skin cancer. However, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it is the most preventable form of cancer as long as proper precautions are taken. As mentioned, fisherman are arguably the most at risk group of anyone. In addition to the more severe dangers of UV radiation, there’s also the simple superficial effects of premature aging, dark spots, vision issues and simply the discomfort that comes from a bad sun burn. Everyone can agree that avoiding a bad sun burn can be reason enough to properly cover up, it certainly makes the next few days of fishing easier if you can eliminate that annoyance. The optimal precautions one can take are as follows.
- Start by applying a complete layer of sunscreen over the body. Select a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 and make sure it includes Zinc as an active ingredient. For your own sake, wash your hands thoroughly using a de-odor or sportsman’s soap that masks any unnatural scents.
- Wear a long sleeve, UPF 50+ rated shirt. This is perhaps the most important piece of clothing as the type of fabric, its density and color all play a major role in its effectiveness. Sun protection shirts from outdoor apparel companies are recommended as many are designed with fishermen specifically in mind and include considerations that reduce heat, wick moisture from the body and utilize seams that are less restrictive for the activity. The darker the color the better and the fit should be somewhat lose, more or less draping over the body. As an added bonus, most of these shirts look more professional than a t-shirt would.
- Pants are actually one piece of clothing where the best protection comes right from your own closet. Denim is actually the most effective UV blocking fabric we currently have available to us. If you’re not a big jeans person, look for pants with rayon or polyester as a the primary fabric used.
- Most of us already wear hats for the shade they provide our eyes. A ball cap while very common, isn’t necessarily the most effective choice. Look for a sunblocking sombrero or bucket style that offers a 3” brim around the entirety of the hat. With that said, the best sun blocking hat is one you’ll wear, so a ball cap is better than nothing.
- As mentioned on several occasions throughout the article, UV rays reflected off the water pose a significant danger. Those reflected rays shine right back to the face from below. In order to combat this a UV buff is an excellent choice. It not only covers the face, but also the neck and back of the head. The face is especially important to cover up because it shows aging and is one of the most common locations for skin cancer.
- Sunglasses are another important piece of coverage. Surprisingly, one of the most at-risk areas for skin cancer is the area around the eye and eyelid. Furthermore, many eye issues are preventable simply by taking care and shielding your eyes from direct contact with UV rays. A high quality pair of sunglasses will significantly reduce any chance of damage.
- The final piece of clothing for complete coverage is a pair of sun gloves. The hands are by far the least covered part of our body both on and off the water. They are constantly in contact with UV rays and consequently are the area where skin cancer is most commonly detected. Simms is one of the leaders in this field and constantly seeks to improve their offerings to better suit anglers needs. Invest in a good pair and you’ll be able to wear them for years to come.
While the point of this article isn’t to scare anyone, it’s certainly a topic which we can no longer ignore. Skin cancer is a real threat to those who spend time outdoors and poses a specific threat to us fishermen. We’ve come so far in terms of fish care, resource management and boat operating precautions, yet we are just now starting to realize the omni-present danger posed by the Sun’s UV rays. Before you get out and enjoy a beautiful day on the water participating in the sport you love, please take proper safety precautions and cover up. At the very least, you’ll avoid a painful sunburn, and leave the water with only your fish stories to take home with you.