Look at most any picture of me during my childhood holding onto a fish or frog and I’ll have some sort of cap or hat on my noggin. It usually was paired with a set of sunglasses, so that it really could be a picture of most anyone!
For most of the men in my family, a good fishing hat was a must. Due to their genetic makeup, my dad, grandpa and uncles ended up bald early in their 20s! Somehow, I never picked up the skinhead gene, but there are a lot of other reasons to get a good cover for your scalp.
I’ve probably had more than a hundred fishing hats over the years. Some wore out, others were left in various bars and restaurants as I spaced out and forgot them, and several dozen were blown off my head as the wind kicked up, and they sank or hid in the whitecaps before they could be retrieved. But all were certainly missed. Not having a hat can be nearly as bad as forgetting your fishing gear.
Fishing in the sun without a bill is a great way to get headaches and sore eyes. I also sunburn something awful and trying to sleep, especially in a small tent, is tough enough without blistered ears! For those who care how they look, a few days of fishing on a lake“sans toupee” can bring out some great wrinkles and turn your skin into old leather. That’s a look I tend to favor, but for many, “baseball glove face” is not a good thing.
Unless something blocks the glare from the water, your fishing will suffer. Watching your line is critical to good fishing, as is looking beneath the current for movement of fish and bait. If you are half-blinded, the bobber tends to get lost in the ripples. I have enough trouble with dozing off anyway, let alone losing the red and white orb in the middle of a yellow reflection.
A lot of my buddies like to collect fishing hats from places they visit. It’s a good conversation starter to ask where someone got their “Welcome to Cabo” hat. You’ll probably end up hearing a lot of good fish stories; a few may even be true.
A good hat can also protect your head from gnats, mosquitoes, bird droppings or worse. During one ill-fated sturgeon trip, I managed to take my boss’s fedora right off his head and send it down to the muddy bottom! I did lose a few points for the maneuver, but it would have been worse if I’d hooked his ear or eyeball! Even a master caster such as myself slips up now and then, so a hat, or maybe even a helmet, is something I recommend when you fish next to me!
As my hair has thinned a bit over the years, I find I prefer a hat that can keep me a bit warmer. My favorite, my trusty Filson, is a wool model, much in the style that my Grandpa used to wear. Even if I’m trying to get in the last few casts on a cold steelhead evening, it keeps me warm. Another nice feature of wool is its ability to absorb quite a bit of drizzle, keeping you warm if not completely dry!
A hat also needs to fit pretty snugly. At least a few times a year, I lean over a riverbank, or out of my boat, to fix my line and my hat falls into the water. Too aggressive an attempt to retrieve your top gear can put the rest of you into the freezing briny! I try to get a hat that will hold on even as I lunge or slip!
Finally, you’ll have a lot better response when you go and visit the dermatologist. I always cringe when they say something like, “You must spend a lot of time outdoors.” But so far, my “safe fishing” techniques have kept me away from skin cancer and other problems. So the next time you go out to the river, or especially, the first time you take your grandkids fishing, be sure and drop by the store and let them pick out a favorite fishing hat. It’s a piece of equipment that will grow on them!
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Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and rvlife.com.