Anglers be Aware: The Sun Can Kill You, Stay Safe

Skin doctors say that the sun is no longer the best friend of anglers—especially the older crowd. In fact, exposure can lead to several kinds of skin cancers, some of which can kill you. That’s a pretty serious truth, so we all better take protection against the sun’s rays pretty seriously.

As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and that’s especially true when it comes to dealing with solar radiation.

With August, one of the hottest months with a relatively strong sun angle upon us around midday, we need to look at the different forms of prevention. All of us are fishing under the relentless sun, so it’s best to be prepared to avoid overexposure.

According to experts at, clothing is the first line of defense against solar radiation, the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn and can cause skin cells to mutate into cancer. Long sleeves are better protection than short sleeves, although some fellows insist on short sleeves because they think they are cooler. There are long sleeve shirts now made out of state-of-the-art fabrics and some of with vents that keep the air circulating underneath. Good long-sleeve shirts designed as sun-protective garments actually keep me cooler when I’m fishing, especially white ones that reflect more heat than they absorb.

But not all those clothes in your closet will do a good job of keeping your skin from exposure to UV rays. In fact, according to dermatologist, Dr. Cynthia Bailey, lightweight, thin fabrics of cotton, linen and rayon “do little good for sun protection, and the sun can burn your skin right through them.”

However, she does endorse a laundry product called Sun Guard, which contains Tinosorb. This compound binds to fabric fibers and absorbs the UV rays before they get to your skin. Dr. Bailey says she has even tested it on fabrics at the equator using beads that change color when UV rays hit them. Under the fabrics washed in Sun Guard, the beads didn’t change color at all.

You can find state-of-the-art clothing that has a UPF factor rating. UPF measures the amount of UV that penetrates clothing and reaches your skin.

A broad-rimmed hat helps keep your face, ears and neck in the shade, where fewer UV rays can reach them. Of course, bass anglers in particular have a sort of macho image to uphold, and most of us want to wear a manly, sponsor ball cap. In this case, a “buff” (the originals made by the Buff company) has become the cool thing to wear, even though it can make a bass fisherman look sort of like a Catholic nun. Many guys head onto the water with a buff around their necks, and pull it up to shield their mouths, cheeks, ears and necks from the sun. The ball cap holds the buff up and in place, and provides needed shade from its bill. Some guys also cover their noses with it, although this can cause your breath to fog your sunglasses, which by the way, is another important piece of sun-protection gear.

A substitute for the buff covering the nose is a medium-thick layer of white and creamy zinc oxide applied right on your schnozzle. This stuff is impenetrable by the sun’s rays, but you do have to reapply it a few times during the day because it’s not actually a UV-ray absorbing sunscreen; it just blocks those potentially deadly rays.

Instead of zinc oxide, you can use a sunscreen with a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on your nose and other areas that the sun can hit. It’s best to apply this stuff to exposed areas before you leave your house. Again, you need to be ready to reapply it, especially if you sweat during the day. Use an alarm on your smartphone to remind you if need be.

Watch for expiration dates on these products, which can take up residence in your boat’s glove box for years. Once they expire, they quit doing an adequate job of protection. Then, it’s time to buy another tube or bottle.

Incidentally, it’s a good idea to rinse your fingers off after you rub some of this compound on so that you don’t leave a glob of it on your lure when you tie on a new one. The best salmon trollers and catfish anglers in particular are quite neurotic about this, as salmon and catfish have a highly sensitive, developed use of smell and sight. And while there’s not much evidence that the stuff repels bass, why take a chance that a fish will spit your lure out sooner if it gets a taste of it?

As mentioned above, sunglasses are essential for protecting your eyes from UV rays. According to Dr. Cheryl Khanna of the Mayo Clinic, UV radiation from the sun can damage not only the skin of your eyelid, but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye, and contribute to the growth of cataracts, growths on the eye, and possibly macular degeneration. Look for sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Dr. Khanna also says the color and the degree of darkness sunglasses have has nothing to do with the ability to block UV rays. She adds that the best shades are wraparound or close-fitting pairs with wide lenses that protect your eyes from every angle. Most bass fishermen already know that the designs that achieve this light blockage are also the best for sight fishing.

Two more things to mention are hands and lips. The easiest way to protect your hands is with open-fingered-tip sun gloves. The backs of our hands often get lots of sun exposure if we don’t wear them. Obviously, if you don’t like the feel of these gloves, you should make sure you keep your hands well covered with sunscreen lotion.

As for lips, we often forget about them when applying sunscreen because the stuff tastes nasty and probably isn’t very good for you if you ingest it. Yet, skin cancer on lips, especially the bottom one, is becoming more common.

Many bass anglers regularly use ChapStick or a similar product because just being out in the wind and weather can result in lips that are downright painful. Again, you can find a lot of lipstick products that have a high SPF rating. They cost more, but again, “an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.”

Sun protection really doesn’t cost a lot when you compare it to the dough we spend on all our other fishing gear. So, for the rest of this summer and in the future, make sure you take the necessary precautions with the right clothing and products to protect yourself from the sun.

Tournament angler and avid outdoorsman, Buck Mallory, of Lawton, Mich., is a regular contributor to MidWest Outdoors, specializing in bass fishing.

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