A man zips up his fishing jacket

Outfit for Freshwater Fishing

Here are the essentials needed to equip yourself for any day spent fishing freshwater lakes or rivers.

Anyone can be an angler. But it doesn’t take many casts, baited hooks, and weekends on the water to realize that fishing equipment itself—most notably a proper rod and reel combo plus complementary tackle—is only part of the equation for having a peaceful and enjoyable afternoon on the water. 

You are the most important part of the fishing equipment you have. And to operate at your best, you need to arrive prepared. When you’re fishing on freshwater lakes and rivers, whether that be from shore, from a powerboat, or moving across the water under your own power on a fishing kayak, canoe or paddleboard, being outfitted and ready in the right outerwear to keep you comfortable, regardless of the season, is the surest way to set up success.

Freshwater Necessities 

Regardless of species and no matter where you’re fishing (or what time of year), there are a few pieces of gear considered must-have. 

Shirt & Shorts/Pants

While it can be appealing to fish with your shirt off, a sunburn and misplaced hook will quickly have you reconsidering your lack of wardrobe. Wear a lightweight, breathable shirt. Avoid materials like cotton that get wet and stay wet; instead, utilize quick-dry performance fabrics like polyester or a similar synthetic blend (merino wool layers also add odor resistance). Consider a long-sleeve shirt for even better protection from the sun and look for materials with UPF-rated fabrics to keep you from getting burned through thin layers. 

On your lower half, pick a pair of shorts or pants that you can comfortably sit, stand and move in all day. Much like your shirt, layers made of a UPF-rated material will keep you from getting burned (or needing to put down a rod to apply sunscreen). Avoid pants made from cotton (like jeans or sweatpants). Instead, opt for a higher-performing fabric like nylon or polyester that will keep you warmer and drier. 

You probably already know that fishing often requires a lot of gear. So, when in doubt, get pants with more pockets that allow you to carry everything you need. 

Hat and Sunglasses

You’ll be battling fish, but you’ll also be battling the sun over the course of a day on the water. Add some basic protection with a hat that keeps the sun out of your eyes and off of your face. A pair of sunglasses can save you from an errant hook and also help you from squinting all day, straining your vision as the sun bounces off the water. Better yet, polarized lenses allow you to see through the water to the river bottom and spot fish swimming below. 

Fishing Jacket or Vest

A fishing vest or jacket covered with pockets is an effective way to contain all of your fishing gear, keeping it easily at hand without having to lug around a tackle box or fumble with armloads of lures and spare tools. Look for jackets and vests with easy-access front pockets so you can actually grab what you need.

Some jackets and vests will even feature fold-down trays to organize and view necessary tackle or flies all at once (especially helpful for the fly anglers out there).

Rain Gear

Don’t be scared away by a light drizzle. A rain coat that you’d use for hiking will likely be enough for most fish outings, but look into a fishing-specific raincoat that allows you to move your arms to cast—and that fits over your loaded fishing vest.

A man wears a vest while fishing

Fishing From Shore

If you’ll be fishing lakes or rivers from shore, consider a few additional pieces of gear.

Proper Footwear

Make sure you’re wearing something you’ll be comfortable standing in all day. Avoid flip-flops and other unsupportive footwear. Opt for something with a good grip on the sole that allows you to walk over loose and wet terrain. And consider a waterproof-breathable construction (like Gore-Tex) to keep your feet dry, even if you have to step in an inch of water or through wet sand or grass. 


When you’re ready to extend beyond standing shore-side, experienced anglers (especially those casting flies) rely on waders to head into the water for better access and angles to their targeted fish. These waterproof overpants allow you to effectively walk or “wade” into the water in comfort. 

Select either chest or waist waders. As the name suggests, chest waders go higher and allow you to stay dry as you wade into ever deeper water; look for durable construction. And if you’ll be fishing in cold water, consider a pair of insulated waders. 

Wader Boots

If you do opt for waders, be sure you know what the bottom looks like. Some waders come with built-in boots, but others require you to get wader boots to wear over your waders. The built-in versions are often made of quick-drying materials, ideal if you’re fishing a few days in a row. These also often have a durable and grippy sole to keep you sure-footed, even as you walk across the bottom of riverbeds.

Kayak or Paddleboard

If you’ll be fishing from the water’s surface on a kayak, canoe, paddleboard or other human-propelled platform, the following pieces of gear will help keep you comfortable and safe. 

Fishing Life Jacket

Safety is crucial, so don’t launch a fishing trip on your kayak, canoe or SUP unless you’re wearing a Type III, U.S. Coast Guard-certified life jacket. Look for fishing-specific vests that also provide the benefits of a fishing vest (tackle storage, namely), with a low profile and built-in safety features. These high-back traditional vests will be cut to allow you to both cast and paddle comfortably seated, with pockets aplenty for fishing equipment. The other alternative is a horse-collar-style inflatable life jacket (though it requires you to arm it with a CO2 cartridge, and to physically activate or fill it if you fall overboard). 

Paddling Pants and Jackets

Paddling-specific apparel will keep you comfortable and safe as they are often made from waterproof or water-resistant material that sheds splashed water, and allows you to dry quickly if you do get immersed. These pieces are also often cut to allow you to paddle, cast and move about your boat comfortably. As always, avoid cotton, and look for breathable, technical fabrics like nylon and polyester, perhaps even with an added waterproofing membrane like Gore-Tex or similar.

On a Boat

A couple key pieces rise atop the list if you’ll be fishing from a powerboat atop the water.

Boat Shoes

Solid footing keeps you safe, especially on wet or damp surfaces. Look for shoes with soles designed for boats, which will improve grip on slick or smooth surfaces. 

Sun-Protective Clothing

Not only will you have to contend with the sun beating down, you’ll also have to face the UV rays bouncing up off the water. Look for even more defense in your clothing, accordingly. While shorts and a T-shirt may be appealing, consider the full protection of breathable, synthetic long-sleeve shirts and pants. Many anglers even opt for a neck gaiter or Buff to protect their neck, face, and ears.

Winter Fishing

If you’re properly prepared, you can fish year-round. And if the seasons won’t stop you, make sure that the cold and the wet won’t either. 

Base Layers

Beneath your fishing jackets and pants, be sure to wear base layer long-sleeve shirts and tights made out of synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester, or a natural performance fabric like merino wool. These will keep you warm, and help you stay warm, even if you get wet. 

Cold-Weather Footwear

Be sure to wear boots or shoes that are insulated and waterproof to keep your feet warm. Pair them with performance socks made of polyester or wool, never cotton. And check that your footwear has a good grip to keep you upright.

Fishing Gloves

Keep your hands from getting wet and cold even after an afternoon of casting. Maintaining your dexterity is essential for keeping yourself functional on the water, hauling in fish. Look for insulated gloves made from waterproof materials like Gore-Tex. Tight cuffs help keep out water, and slits to slide out fingers allow the fine motor movements essential in baiting a hook or tying a knot without entirely removing the glove.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.