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Late winter and spring in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho offer world-class fishing and as harsh a testing environment for gear as one could ask for. I’m obsessed with steelhead, and every year I’m on one river or another most days from mid-February to mid-April. This season I was determined to find out just how good the latest gear on the market really is. My reviews are based on the performance of the gear I tested while making thousands of casts and fighting dozens of fish in a wide variety of weather conditions.
I’ve read reviews of wading jackets that were performed in a bathroom shower. That’s cute. Real fishing conditions tend to be a bit more raw than those found in a shower stall. My evaluation took place on the water from Valentine’s Day to Tax Day. I tested three top wading jackets from Simms, Eddie Bauer, and Aquaz, with prices ranging from $250 to $550, to see what anglers can expect when they lay their hard-earned money on the counter.
Each jacket was tested in conditions that ranged from standing in sunshine to hiking in the rain along muddy trails so overgrown I started to wonder if there was still a trail under my feet. Tough brush and briars were a good test of material durability. The driving rain smacking me in the face at 30 miles per hour gave me an idea about the integrity of the seams.
Gripping steelhead and trout tails under water while reaching for pliers to pull the hook told me whether the pockets were in the right places and roomy enough to handle my gear. With water up to my elbows while reviving fish I considered the cuff gaskets (and considered them further as I raised my arms to cast again and hoped that no water ran down into my armpit).
I wore the jackets while cooking hot dogs and ramen noodles for dinner in the dark as rain continued to pour. The sunny days proved valuable, too, because they allowed me to focus on the jackets’ functionality and range of motion they allowed, rather than just their ability to repel rain and wind.
The jackets were tested on ten rivers and one lake as I travelled some 1,800 road miles in three months. None of them saw a showerhead.
SIMMS G4 PRO
Price / $550, simmsfishing.com
Pros: Roomy pockets, including a back cargo pocket; good pit zips; numerous small, practical features; super-lightweight; excellent mobility and comfort.
Cons: The external Velcro on the cuffs can catch your line—a minor inconvenience but I prefer the internal gasket style. (On the flip side they are a little easier to access.)
Notes: Simms has been a leader in satisfying anglers’ needs for a long time, and they continue to provide excellent products. The expense of the jacket is the only real deterrent for the average angler.
Tipping Point: The G4 Pro secured its place at the top of my list after I wore it while fishing the South Fork of the Clearwater River from dawn to dark one rainy day. A few friends and I took turns fishing one hole, where I hooked five steelhead and landed two. Throughout the day I tailed and netted a dozen fish, and ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the rain. The rain had lifted by the time we all got back to camp, but I left the jacket on as we sat next to the campfire, still feeling warm and dry.
Bottom Line? The best wading jacket with full-feature functionality, durability, and lightweight breathability. If you can afford it, buy it.
Price / $250, aquazfishing.com
Pros: Easy-to-access back cargo pocket; five built-in D-rings; exceptionally tough construction; snaps to lift the back of the jacket up out of the water; roomy pockets.
Cons: This jacket is heavier than the others, which is no doubt a by-product of it being really tough. Its rigidity somewhat reduces mobility.
Notes: This is a smartly designed jacket and a tremendous value. A friend borrowed the Trinity on a rainy day in Idaho, and after fishing all day said she had never been so comfortable under those conditions. She also landed her first-ever steelhead that day—go figure.
Tipping Point: The Trinity performed tremendously well, and if it had pit zips and a Styrofoam fly patch it probably would’ve been number one. One other thing I’d change is the design of cuff gaskets, which aren’t as idiot-proof as the others. I landed a steelhead on the Bogachiel River, and when I plunged my hand underwater to grab its tail my arm got wet up to the elbow. This was due to operator error (I didn’t affix the Velcro strap correctly), but the other jackets I tested are more intuitive and designed to prevent this from happening in the first place.
Bottom Line? With roomy pockets and functionality that rivals jackets costing more than twice as much, the Trinity is the best value, hands down.
EDDIE BAUER IMMERSION
Price / $350, eddiebauer.com
Pros: Self-draining front pockets; comfortable hidden cuff gaskets; great fit and sleek design; good mobility and casting comfort.
Cons: Very few external features compared to the other jackets; small pockets and no D-loops on the front for clipping gear.
Notes: A fishing vest worn under the jacket or a gear pack worn over it would be a good idea for extra storage.
Tipping Point: I can’t say that I loved or hated this jacket. It performed well, and I know some anglers really like a minimalist design and sleek profile. But the tipping point for me was when I realized I couldn’t store in it everything I like to carry for a day on the water.
Bottom Line? High-quality construction, but a disappointing number of features, especially at that price.
ONE MORE THING…
I used the Eddie Bauer Adventurer chest pack ($80; eddiebauer.com) to carry the steelhead gear that I wanted readily accessible while fishing. When I’m flyfishing for steelhead, I like to carry a bunch of different types of sinking leaders, and will change them out frequently in order to have the best chance of getting my fly in front of fish. I also like to carry beads, flies, and a sandwich.
I really liked the material and quality of construction of this pack. It’s made of Cordura rip-stop fabric with a TPU coating, which does a great job of keeping interior items dry.
Although this pack was a little small for my style of fishing, the design features are spot-on for anglers who like to carry minimal gear. I think this pack would be excellent for trout fishing small streams with basic essentials.