Pros: Simplicity and longevity of design, high degree of functionality
Cons: Lower priced, reasonably featured, look-alike competitors may be temptingly confusing
Neither rain, nor snow, nor... Well, you know the rest. The Post Office likes to express its dedication with this saying. Fishing guides respond by asking: "What's your point?"
Eighteen hour days; twenty-seven hours a day if you're guiding in Alaska or where night fishing is an option. Twelve months out of the year you have to be available. Any day of the week can be a 'guiding day.' If the fish are "on," then the clients expect to catch fish. If the fish are "off," then the clients expect to catch fish. When fish are caught, the guide often doesn't get the credit; it was obviously the anglers' skill. If fish are not caught, the guide gets the blame; even if the trouble was that the angler lacked the skill to cast beyond the oars of the drift boat.
Those aren't problems. Those things are just part of the job.
What's the problem? Feast or famine. That's the life of a guide when it comes to making a living. Some times of the year, there can be more clients than guides, not enough hours in the day, not enough room in the boat for everyone who wants to go, so many cooperative fish that they're fairly lined up to take a client's fly, and not enough days where this is the case. On the flip side, there are times of year when a guide would almost have to pay, or at least offer a free trip, to get a client.
For the rest of the year, it depends on "the word;" i.e., "How's the fishing?" The fishing can be good in the warm, summer days of July and August. But, just as likely, the fishing will be good in the rain soaked days of March, the blustery days of Spring or Fall when snow is likely to sizzle down in 30-40 mph gusts, or during "ice in the rod guides" January days. One way or the other, if a guide wants to make a living out of guiding, they have to be mentally and physically ready to go "whenever." Thus, their equipment has to be simple and durable enough in design to stand up to the lifestyle and the work.
This is precisely what Simms had in mind when it introduced their Guide Jacket about a decade ago; now called the Classic Guide Jacket - definitely not to be confused with their newer, pricier [$399.95], fewer sizes available, "techier-looking" G3 Guide Jacket. Or, as Simms puts it on their website and in their catalog: "Guides need gear that is functional, innovative and can withstand whatever abuse they put it through." It is a laudable goal. The question is whether, with this particular garment, Simms achieved what it set out to do.
Alright, I won't keep you in suspense. The answer is a resounding YES. Let's see how they did it.
In a recent review, I stated that my Simms Guide Jacket was 7 or 8 years old. I'll stand by that statement; but, I suspect, that it might be a bit older. I don't remember exactly when I purchased it other than to say it was sometime before 1998. It is the older, lighter green (forest) color [the newer, "forest" is a darker, almost dark olive, color], with light purplish liner and does not come with the large back pocket or built-in retractors found on the updated version. However, the overall design has remained virtually unchanged; thus, the appellation of "Classic" incorporated into the name.
I'm proud of my Guide Jacket. Over the years it has seen heavy use during icy, November rainstorms in the Ozarks of Arkansas; during "ice in the guides" temperatures along the shores of a small lake at 7,500 feet in mid-October mountain backcountry and along rivers on New Year's Day near Taos, New Mexico; during snowstorms in Northern California; during thunderstorms in Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming; during cool evenings on local waters; during windy days, standing chest deep in the highly alkaline waters of Pyramid Lake, Nevada; during... Well, you get the idea.
Suffice to say, at the current price of $299.95 for men's sizes S-XXL and $349.95 for men's sizes 3XL and 4XL (sorry ladies, no "women's sizes"), the Simms Classic Guide Jacket may not be worth every penny; but, it is a penny-wise and gonna get wet fool who doesn't give it some serious consideration. Rated for Extreme Wet Weather, this jacket design, in order to make that particular claim, had to be chamber tested to withstand heavy vertical rain and wind-driven rain. This water and wind proofness stems from Simms' use of a 3-layer design; a slick nylon interior lining for easy, non-snagging on/off and a DWR coated polyester outer shell sandwiching the Gore-Tex middle layer. In short, what you end up with is a water and wind proof, non-insulated, outer shell garment.
[This would seem an appropriate place to insert a note, or explanation, about the sizing. The men's sizing is actually an oversizing. As an example, the XL I bought all those years ago is actually a true XXL. The thought was that the fisherman should be able to wear a vest over their clothing layers, but UNDER the jacket's waterproof shell. Remember, this jacket, potentially, must fit over someone wearing simply a long underwear top AND over someone wearing the long underwear, a fleece jacket, and a bulging fishing vest. Bear this in mind if you're a woman trying to guesstimate the proper "men's size equivalent" or if you're trying on this jacket in the middle of an hot August afternoon. Thinking ahead, should you own yours for about a decade, middle age does sometimes add some girth around the middle. (Remember, this is primarily a wading jacket; therefore, it is waist length so as not to submerge half the jacket while in the water.) Therefore, a well fitting XL in the late '90s might be a good, comfortable fit for someone who now typically requires a XXL; that is if you can learn to live without wearing the vest underneath. A confession? Nahhhh. Just a friendly caveat from a guy who MIGHT know that of which he speaks due to, ahem, experience.]
After all this time, I have yet to tear or abrade any of the lining; although the edges of the taping on the seams is starting to wear thin nigh on to becoming "rough" in a few places - with the newly showing material being a worrisome opaque. I have no tears in the polyester shell. However, the DWR (durable water repellant finish) has required regular rejuvenation. I have used Nikwax while Simms now recommends Revivex. This is not necessarily a design flaw. Remember, if this jacket isn't getting wet from rain or snow, it IS getting wet from the water you're standing in. The finish is being rubbed by stream side brush and rocks. You are forever and a day reaching in and out of the large, bellows pockets. And, no matter how hard you try to handle them right, you are often getting that smelly fish slime on the shell. It's a good thing this jacket is machine washable.
Theoretically, a light, careful ironing will extend the life of the DWR by renapping the polyester fibers that actually hold the DWR. But, I've found that once the jacket starts to "wet through" you're ready for a new treatment; the frequency of retreatment being largely dependent on how heavily the jacket has been used and abused. When a Gore-Tex jacket is said to "wet through," what is really meant is that the outer shell material no longer repels water, but actually absorbs it. This absorption by the outer layer actually impedes the "breathability" of the Gore-Tex in that the water vapor cannot pass through. Thus, a layer of moisture tends to build up on the lining, creating the erroneous perception that the jacket has leaked.
The Classic Guide Jacket does not have pit zips. Venting is simply controlled by zipping and unzipping the storm flap protected, single direction, YKK front zipper. (This storm flap is battened down by short Velcro strips running the length of the flap and by a bottom snap at the waist.) Use of the integral, adjustable hood (shock cord draw string with fastener for cinching down) can greatly increase the interior temperature. The cut of the hood is such that not only will it fit over a ball cap or "Elmer Fudd," insulated hat, it also provides good peripheral vision. The only weak point, if you can call it that, is that the "visor" is kind of skimpy; to the point where you sometimes have a tendency to find the bill of your ball cap continuing to drip since it's still getting wet from sticking out. If you try to use the hood wearing a knit cap, or any other hat without a bill, the hood's visor will not protect you, or your glasses, from falling rain.
Heat retention is good; particularly with the hood up. This is aided by an elasticized waist and watertight, stretch fabric cuffs. (My cuff is adjustable. I'm not sure of the exact design on the newer models.) A small, minor, not too efficient means of helping to release some heat build up is by unzipping the "reach through" access inside the storm flap of each of the two, large bellows pockets. Designed primarily as a closeable access point that you can use to reach through to the vest you may be wearing underneath, these openings CAN be used as inefficient "pit zips" of a kind.
Speaking of pockets... My jacket has six. Two, large bellows pockets with excellent, Velcro secured storm flap openings are located on the chest. These pockets are big enough to get lost in. To give you a sense of the size, picture yourself mid-thigh deep in a lake on a windy, rainy day. The left chest pocket will hold my spare set of keys, my Swiss Army knife, my Simms Windstopper gloves, an handkerchief, and my compact 35mm camera. The right chest pocket will hold two fly boxes; a Big Cliff for dries/small nymphs and a medium sized Plano for streamers. This leaves plenty of space to fit my hands into the hand warmer chest pockets hidden underneath the bellows pockets. I'll have a tendency to keep the hemostats, the nippers, and the Dave's Bug Float in the right hand warmer (it provides an excuse to put my hand therein) and spare tippet spools in the left one.
On the inside of the jacket are two, vertical zipping interior pockets located at midriff level; where I will tend to slip the glasses case into the left one and a zip-lock baggie of matches or magnesium fire starter for the emergencies. (Thankfully, I've only had to utilize the matches once after falling in during a mid-November snowstorm. But, that's another story.)
Newer models of the Classic Guide Jacket have incorporated an huge pocket on the back's exterior. Spanning the width of the back, this pocket is often utilized as a place to either keep a lunch or shove the net. (Although there IS a Duraflex "nylon" D-ring, much like you find on most flyfishing vests, for attaching the net if that is your preference.) Another difference is that the jacket now incorporates Simms' patented retractors (built-in polyurethane spring with metal clip) for attaching hemostats, nippers, or whatever; one alongside each of the outer, bellows pockets alongside the storm flap. (My, older model does not have the retractors built in. It has a nylon D-ring to which a retractor could be attached.)
Essentially, though, these minor differences were simply refinements; the overall design hasn't really changed in nearly a decade. A testament to its functionality. Of course, the only real competitors that even come close are Patagonia's SST Jacket, Patagonia's Deep Wading jacket (a shorty version of the SST for $195), and Filson's Wading Jacket ($197.50 in their paraffin coated, "Oil finish," 100% Cover Cloth). Interestingly, they are all very similar in appearance and pocket/accessory arrangement; even to being close in color. But, they are made of decidedly different materials. Given that the Patagonia SST USED to be marketed heavily as a fishing jacket (a direct, product for product, competing offering for the Guide Jacket and now flogged for $325) but is now presented as excellent for climbing and good for fishing too and given the lower prices of the Patagonia Deep Wading Jacket and the Filson Wading Jacket as compared to the current price tag on the Simms Guide Jacket, I suspect, and streamside observations unscientifically seem to bear this perception out, that these other companies found that they could not compete directly at this price point. This suspicion is reinforced given the success of the design, Simms' legendary quality construction and their customer service (including warranty service which I've NEVER needed with this jacket). Not bad for an imported garment (mine says "Made in Hong Kong").
An interesting benefit of this simple, functional design is that, for a while, it became almost chic to utilize this jacket as street wear. In fact, it became such a fashion statement in some fly shops, that you almost expected when someone came wandering in wearing one to hear an announcer's voice coming over a loud speaker: "Now seen on the runway, accessorized with a Donna Karan scarf, patched waders, and imitation leather wading boots leaving the trail of mud on the freshly vacuumed carpet... Oh, and as an added surprise, those boots have studs punching holes in the now muddy, wet carpet..."
It does look good in a simple, workman kind of way. And, I know a lot of people who use it as all the jacket they need. Bear in mind, however, that fishermen like to think of themselves as mavericks, people who are "out there," in the wilds, not quite in touch with the "in" (or, "in town") crowd. They are the ones who could be heard in their childhood exclaiming: "Mom. Can I go out and play in the rain? Can I, can I, huh?" They are the ones that can be heard to say, as adults: "Mom, I'm going out to fish in the rain." Of course, when 'mom' asks if the fish bite in the rain, the response is: "What do the fish care, they're already wet."
These are the people that often become guides. Rain, snow, long days, uh, "interesting" company, feast or famine, it doesn't make any difference. You're gonna go if the occasion calls for it. So, in a sense, what Simms has done is help you finally persuade others that it's alright to go out and play in the rain. Just because the fish are wet, doesn't mean you have to be.