You've Got Skins in this Game

| July 8, 2009

NOTES – On the photography; I wanted to show my skin and face in the worst possible light, so I used a ring light and extreme wide angle lens for distortion. That said, the black & white image is not for the weak and is at the bottom of the page to give you the opportunity NOT to look at it. I believe it is fairly close to reality, but it may be extreme. It was created using the “infra red” filter in the “black & white” drop down in Adobe Photoshop, and was a simple attempt to emulate images that show skin damage. If you are a local, make an appointment with me, and we can photograph your skin as well. There is one image of a spot that is not included, but available through personal request – of a skin spot under the hairline.

On this post; This is not a scientific entry. It is an attempt to bring skin care information to fly fishers who are exposed to extreme sun conditions. I imagine the higher latitudes have less concerns about this than we do in the salt and closer to the equator. If you have skin concerns, spots, blotches, or anything – find a dermatologist and make an appointment. I will be seeing “my” dermatologist in the not too distant future.

Ok, I am guilty as the next fly fisher when it comes to abusing my skin. Nowadays, it is never done intentionally, but inadvertently when some article of clothing is accidentally forgotten or some opening unknowingly lets damaging sun rays do their dirty work.

Observations about skin, tan, and the earth – often start for me when I think back to when I was a little kid running the beach at South Padre Island with my dog Toby. In my mind it seems like I could run all day – ALL DAY – and not get burned to a crisp. The segue is always, “It’s just hotter now … global warming”, and all the other anecdotal evidence that things have changed or are different. As I got older, I do remember burning, blistering and pealing. Cure for all of us cousins were found in the cactus under the steps of the beach house. We were slathering on Aloe Vera before it was an ingredient in anything. Grandma would cut off a piece and filet it so that all the gooey sticky juice could be slopped on cool, stinky and sticky. I don’t know if it worked, but it’s not like we had a choice in the matter. Grandma had a way of … threatening us if we didn’t cooperate.

As I got older, the bond to the sun became even greater as I discovered surfing on South Padre Island (we lived 60 miles away and had a house on the island), and I would head to the beach almost every Saturday to flail around at the Jetties. There were a few years rest from the sun while at school and living her in North Texas, and then new exposure while living in San Diego County, California, where I tried to surf every day before going to work at the newspaper.

Virtually all of the 1990’s after ’92 were back in Texas, and out of the sun.

Then came fly fishing. I realized early on that this was a different kind of exposure. Not only does the sun come down, it goes up – bouncing damaging rays off the water and up into an unsuspecting fishers face as well as whatever else is exposed. And with aging, knowing someone personally that had a small melanoma removed, accepting my own mortality, hounding by family members, and simply looking in the mirror and saying out loud, “Dude, you’re getting old!”, I knew it was time to take control of the situation and avoid bits and pieces getting chopped off little-by-little along life’s journey.

The message still hasn’t really gotten out (in the fishing world) about what the sun can do, and what happens to folks who do not heed the warnings. That is never more obvious than when watching the World Fishing Network (WFN) where viewers see baked, no fried, bass pros with goggly white eye sockets being interviewed. Their faces are the color of raw hamburger as they go on about this rig, that worm, or some rattle. Admittedly, that’s mildly more exciting than listening to them discuss the latest sun screen, or latest thing they had burned off their face. It’s going to take a loss, of Dale Earnhardt proportions, in the largemouth bass kingdom, before these guys get on board, look at each other and say, what were we thinking?

Typical freshwater fly fishers are probably less exposed to the sun than saltwater fishers, and arguably less exposed than their non-fly freshwater counterparts. One reason is that there is a probability that fly folks will be fishing from the banks and narrow waters and streams that may not give the 360-degree basting the sun delivers to bass busters on boats. However, the lower expense of bank fishing, the obsessive nature of fly fishers, the extended hours they spend in pursuit, all could be argued to balance the fly fisher’s face fry with any other type of fisherman out there.

It is not even debatable that the saltwater guys and gals are exposed with more intensity than any other fly fishers anywhere. Fishing closer to the equator, with no cover, and extreme reflectivity, typically on flats boats, makes for the most challenging skin conditions in the fly world. Virtually all innovation in awareness and sun protection comes from the salt.


I was staying with the parents and family on South Padre Island last summer (fishing), and after one particularly harsh solar day, my Ma’ ratcheted up the rhetoric to genuine concern about the kind of sun damage I was doing to uncovered skin. It was unintentional, I was wearing a hat glasses and long sleeves, but didn’t have any face cover. Lesson 1: reflected light is just as bad as direct light because you think you’re ok.

That, along with the prospect of losing bits and pieces at a time, was just enough to change my sun forecast. From that day forward, I began to pay serious attention to what I was wearing on the water, and what the gurus like Lefty Kreh wear. I have been around Lefty twice in the past two years, and he is covered – head to toe. Head, a Lefty Kreh TFO nun-flap hat, long sleeves, gloves and long pants – without exception.

The patient, me, is going on 48 and has been lucky to be skinned with an olive complexion (thanks Grandpa), darker eyes and no history of skin problems since squeezing through puberty. Currently, there are mild spots on my arms, very few on my lower legs, and a huge number on my shoulders (surfing without a shirt magnifies those droplets I think). I have a spot in my scalp that is “interesting”, as well as one on my left cheekbone. After fishing, there is typically extreme redness were sunglasses come in close proximity to my cheeks, but think that may be more heat than light.

flyfishing skin protection

A typical day on the water includes a fresh straw hat, long sleeves, gloves and a BUFF.


A protective hat, like this one is good too, but hotter than straw hat option.

What is goofy today, can be GQ tomorrow. As the research continued, and since I love the salt so much, I decided BUFFs would be the way to go for real tangible protection. Long sleeve shirts with a SPF of 30 to 50 have always been a part of the coverage, and during the hottest days I have started wearing Simms and knockoffs of Simms made by Gander Mountain. These shirts lack all the pockets of typical Columbia or Ex-Officio fishing shirts, but make up for that inconvenience by keeping you much cooler. The only problem with baseball style caps, if you aren’t wearing a Buff, is there is no coverage on the sides of your cabeza. If I am going out for a short time and not literally on the water, I will wear caps with the fold down back or even Lefty’s TFO short winged cap. That TFO cap is well thought out – the sweatband, black under the bill and the fabric a wider longer bill – all together create a superior hat. If you know me, you know I am a hat person, so when this May came around I knew our local western wear stores would get their summer supply of straw hats in and knew I only had a window of a couple of days before sizes started disappearing. This time, I went with a cheap huge brim – AND MOST IMPORTANTLY – bought a size that would also hug my head while wearing a Buff. I don’t care what hat you buy, a hat alone will not keep you safe from rays reflected off the water. Yes, if you are mowing the lawn, or away from reflective surfaces, the coverage of a Buff is probably not necessary. (Remember to factor shrinkage into straw hat purchases!)

Before moving on to gloves be sure, if you are wearing a button-up shirt, to button it as high as possible, or in cooler weather wear a wicking layer underneath that covers all the way up to your neck. I made the mistake of wearing a new shirt last weekend, and I left the top button undone. That was enough to allow rays through, under my Buff, and in between collar openings, and leave a blazing red triangle just below my neck.

In conclusion, I believe the only saving grace was an early affinity for typical skin care products offered by brand names like Clinique and more recently the European brand Biotherm. If you want to go further along the path to skin preservation, I strongly suggest these products on a regular daily routine of skin maintenance. After all, the skin is the largest organ in / on your body.

Images below can be considered SHOCKING! Don’t scroll down unless you are of sound mind and body.

skin in color

Closeup of ME, using a harsh ring light and extreme wide angle lens. This is a simple color correct image.

skin damage

The same image with filter applied (IR filter in Photoshop) to try and emulate images showing skin damage. This may be better or worse than actual skin damage.

Again, if you are really strong and want to see what a spot under the hairline looks like, send me a PM and I will show you a spot of interest.

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Category: Causes, Life Observed, TIPS

About the Author () is where to find my other day job. I write and photograph fish stories professionally, and for free here! Journalist by training. This site is for telling true fishing news stories, unless otherwise noted.

Comments (3)

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  1. Cindy says:

    sweet. you should take a picture of that too. who needs a roof anyways? haha

  2. shannon says:

    Photo update coming tomorrow. Working like a crazy person trying to get it finished in this heat. Need tin! Did you see – camo shirt worked great! SD

  3. Cindy says:

    update on the fly bar please?

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