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Dry lower unit: a good jacket is only half of the equation for winter comfort.

No boater worth his salt leaves the dock without a rain jacket. Unfortunately, that jacket covers only half your body, leaving you vulnerable to two of the most-dreaded afflictions in boating: itchy butt, and soggy shoes.

Fishing offshore, I consider bib and boots required gear, from December through March.

A chest-high bib with adjustable suspenders is a great comfort not only as a secondary layer beneath a rain jacket, but as an all-day spray deflector. Doesn't matter how "dry" your boat is; running in a rough winter sea, you're bound to take some spray. You might have the best jacket made, but if you swamp your blue jeans on a chilly winter day, you'll regret it.

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The medium-weight Grundens or Go Fish bibs ($60-$99.95) are worn by many Florida charterboat mates and tournament guys. They're durable and easy to clean--hose off the slurry at the end of the day, hang 'em to dry and you're done. The waterproofing here is an external PVC coating over cotton or nylon cloth.

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Foul-weather gear built on microporous, breathable membranes such as Gore-Tex are more expensive--generally two to three times that of the PVC products. But, they add a measure of comfort and convenience. Some come with pockets; I have a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier bib ($189.95) in which I frequently keep rubber bands, a few sinkers, a fishing glove, a utility knife, perhaps my cell phone. It fits well and is hardly noticeable as long as the air temp is below 70.

Gore-Tex is interesting stuff. The proprietary membrane is sandwiched between nylon or other fabrics. It actually thrives on laundering, so long as you follow the care instructions (no bleach, light on the detergent, tumble dry warm). It's chemically inert, which means DEET or other bug sprays won't ruin it.

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Gore-Tex keeps water out, but releases body moisture, avoiding that clammy feeling you get in non-breathable foul weather gear. This benefit becomes more and more appreciated as your physical workload, and hence perspiration, increases.

An important consideration, if you choose Gore-Tex or other breathable gear: Accumulation of dirt and oil restricts the outflow of moisture, which means your sweat will build up inside, leaving wet patches. Unhappy is the boater who drops $200 on a pair of rain pants, only to find them wet.

Well, what I learned at the factory and repair facility for one of the largest domestic users of Gore-Tex, Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman, Montana, is that "faulty" Gore-Tex is rarely leaking. Usually it just needs to be thrown in the laundry. Periodic applications of the manufacturer's recommended Durable Water Repellent spray helps shed water, but here again, external "wetting" is not a sign that the Gore membrane is leaking; it's only an indication that perspiration may eventually build up inside.

What all this means is, if you're cast-netting pogies or filleting reef fish, the PVC bibs are probably the best bet--easy immediate cleanup, zero maintenance.

If, on the other hand, you're more concerned with total comfort or involved in vigorous physical activities, such as all-day casting or poling, breathable foul-weather gear is certainly worth the investment.

New foul weather gear gallery, visit www.floridasportsman.com/xtra

By Jeff Weakley, Editor

RELATED ARTICLE: Bailing Out

Waders in Florida? You bet. When water temps dip into the 50s, you'll want 'em. Neoprene is warm and inexpensive. Breathables, such as the Gore-Tex waders shown, are lightweight and comfortable, good for getting in and out of boats and kayaks. Wear lightweight sweats or fishing pants underneath; long johns, too, if it's really cold.

Another great thing about a pair of waders: They can serve cross-duty for waterfowling and summer trout trips to the mountains. Waders are available with integrated boots or neoprene stockings which you slip into special wading boots. Shown here are the new Vibram StreamTread soles from Simms. Felt is on its way out in freshwater trout fishing waders, and the substitute treads being developed are useful in Florida bays and marshes, as they're designed to provide positive footing while shedding mud and marl.

RELATED ARTICLE: Happy Feet

When cold front winds are ripping and the deck's awash, you'll appreciate waterproof boots. Just make sure they have a non-slip, non-marking sole designed for boating.

At most tackle shops you can buy the ubiquitous "white boots" for $20-$30.

The next step up, if you will, in terms of comfort and non-slip is the Servus B101 deck boot, for around $30.

If you're susceptible to plantar fasciitis or back pain, the Rugged Shark Great White, $60 (above) or Shimano Evair, $69 (left) are good budget choices. I've worn both the Servus and Rugged Shark boots over the years. I slipped a pair of running shoe insoles into the Servus boots, but I still think the Sharks have better arch support. At any rate they're all much better than bare feet or flip flops on a busy deck, and less slippery than some of the popular soft open shoes.

Sperry has the attractive Fathom ($180) and Figawi ($80) boots. Gill offers a Short Yachting Boot for $55.

Prefer to wear tennis shoes or deck shoes? Invest in a thermal shoe dryer, such as the Original Peet shoe dryer. For about $40 you can dry your shoes overnight, keeping away the stinkies. I think it's a must-have for boaters.
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Title Annotation:BOATMANSHIP
Author:Weakley, Jeff
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:897
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