Outdoors: Fishing in style -- Anglers' wear goes high tech

Sep. 11—For the longest time, "fishing shirts" were usually faded and grungy, with the word "style" never spoken in their presence.

There were beer labels, stock cars, or silly sayings draped across the chest, and many of these garments looked like they were a couple of rounds of laundry away from the rag bag.

That is no longer the case. Fishing wear has gone high-tech, practical, functional, and downright sartorial. Anglers are fishing more than ever, and they are fishing in style.

"These are truly performance shirts that keep the sun off of you, keep you cool on the hot days, and they also look really nice," said Bob Barnhart, owner of Maumee-based fishing tackle supplier Netcraft.

Barnhart recently renovated his Briarfield Boulevard showroom to make room for a large floor-to-ceiling display of fishing shirts, hoodies, hats, shorts, and gloves from Huk Gear, an industry leader in performance fishing wear, AFTCO, which has a full line of high-tech wear, and clothing with the Netcraft label.

"And a lot of this stuff has an SPF rating — something we wouldn't have talked about years ago," he said. "Wearing the long sleeve shirts is like having double sunscreen on, and the way these shirts are made so lightweight and breathable, you won't be uncomfortable, even on a hot day."

Huk (pronounced hook) burst onto the scene a half dozen years ago, aggressively marketed its brand, and the name and distinct logo now are a common sight out on Lake Erie in recent summers.

Pete Angle, chief marketing officer for Marolina Outdoor, the parent company of Huk and hunting wear supplier Nomad, said Huk is geared toward creating fishing gear that allows anglers to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of the weather.

"It is important that there is SPF protection in a lot of their apparel and what they offer — shirts, gaiters, hats," he said. "Even their hoodies cover the back of the neck for additional protection. They are made to wear in full sun, in hot and humid conditions. With the technology, you stay cool, and stay dry. This is very technical fishing apparel."

Fishing guide Corneilus Harris, whose Guru Outfitters company leads fishing treks for huge largemouth bass in the reclaimed strip mine lands in southeastern Ohio, said the new, high-tech wear combines style and functionality.

"I absolutely love my Huk gear for the comfort it provides throughout full days fishing on the water," Harris said. "I prefer the breathable long sleeves to help protect my arms from the sun, especially during mid-day treks when the sun is at its highest point. Not only is it a great look, but it's also serving a purpose at the same time."

BlacktipH, a niche enterprise known for its prolific production of extreme fishing videos, has a contemporary line of clothing and accessories, and much of its innovative wear features moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabric, and also carries substantial sun protection.

Barnhart said some of the younger guys on his Netcraft staff played a big role in bringing the newer brands of fishing wear to the store, and to the large online side of the business.

"They've helped me evolve and recognize these brands as a lifestyle thing," he said.

"It is more than a clothing style. They like to be trending and wear the newer brands. You want to put things in your store that people like, and these brands are readily available. The brands are well-established and they've done such a good job of marketing themselves that they generate a lot of consumer interest."

Angle from Marolina Outdoor said the goal with the Huk line has been to not just make fishing shirts, but develop what anglers and others recognize as something that has its usefulness stretch beyond the water.

"These are high quality and much more of a lifestyle brand," Angle said. "We feature contemporary designs, with a much sleeker feeling and look than traditional fishing wear. Huk is made to create a direct connection to anglers, and it does what it says it was going to do. Anglers understand and appreciate that."

Barnhart said that although the new high-tech fishing apparel costs more than what would be classified as traditional fishing wear, the benefits of the comfort and built-in sun protection more than justifies the difference. Huk's long-sleeved high-tech fishing shirts average $40 to $50.

"There is a lot more awareness now among fishermen about sun exposure and the dangers that can be involved," he said. "So when you start talking about the health of your skin and the built-in sun protection that comes with these labels, they are not so pricey. These shirts look really nice and that performance aspect — sun protection, keep you cool, easily washable — all of the factors are pointing in the right direction."

Marolina's Angle said the target market for these more stylish lines of fishing wear goes well beyond the water.

"We see the Huk brand catching on to a much larger market than fishing," he said. "I see kids wearing this Huk clothing around town, going out on dates, going to the mall. They identify with that brand, and they know that it looks good and looks cool."