When I began looking for a better alternative to a bandanna for sun protection in 1987, I didn’t really think there was much hope. I thought the fishing market was too small to excite manufacturers to make a product that was breathable, comfortable in hot weather (and cold), and capable of providing near-total protection from the sun. So I used the best-available alternative: a lightweight mountaineer’s balaclava. Alpinists knew something about protecting the face, I figured.
Some of my Keys fly fishing clients found the mask disconcerting at first. And I endured the snickers of more than a few fellow guides. But meanwhile I saved my skin from a lot of sun damage, enjoyed the benefits of not coating my skin with chemicals four times a day, and — an unexpected benefit — protected my ears from wind and engine noise that would have had me wearing a hearing aid ten years too early. A couple of years later other Keys guides started wearing facemasks, and now it’s considered essential gear for most of the younger saltwater fly fishing guides and worn all over the U.S. by anglers and guides fishing in extreme conditions. (Lest I sound like a politician claiming to have invented the Internet, many guides before me had recognized the value of fabric face protection.)
Part of the reason for the rapid adoption is that companies like Buff Headwear (and Patagonia, Simms and others) keep experimenting with fabrics and designs that make facemasks even more versatile. As a great example, in January 2009 Buff will be bringing out a line of facemasks with “Insect Shield technology.” According to the company, “The Insect Shield lasts over 70 washings and is made from a natural insect repellent found in certain chrysanthemum plants, such as the African Daisy.” If you fish buggy places, you know biting insects have an uncanny knack for finding chinks in your armor. You also know that there aren’t many alternatives to smearing your face with potent chemicals for protection.
I’m guessing a lot of fishermen who’ve made the switch to covering up for sun protection will also be very curious about what bug protection can be delivered in a facemask, especially if they’ve been fishing in the Everglades or Newfoundland on a midsummer day. Buff’s also been the leader in putting snazzy designs on their facemask fabric, so if style is an issue, take a look at their impressive variety of fish scale, camo and retro bandanna styles.