The Right Hat
By Dana Sturn

I’ve spent over 25 years looking for The Right Hat. In the minor disaster my wife politely calls “your study” I probably have close to 100 hats tucked away. Some were gifts; others I’ve purchased. At one point some of them were The Right Hat, but then either the times or my requirements or some other illumination of Hat Rightness changed and they became simply hats.

I have some pretty cool ones that really should have remained Right. The first was a grey tweed English driving cap from Eddie Bauer. I wore this for my first two or three steelhead seasons. It was low profile and warm, and topped off the swagger that often accompanied me into the Log Cabin Pub. But it didn’t work well when the sun angled into my eyes late in the day, as the English cap lacks a long bill. Plus it was so well insulated that if the ambient temperature got above 45 degrees it would become an instant sweat factory.

So, I went back to the rack, and found the next Right Hat, a Deerstalker festooned with flies—mostly of the steelhead and salmon variety: large, garish, and barbed so they wouldn’t fall out. This hat was a gift from and homage to the great Scots Speycaster Derek Brown, and I wore it for several steelhead seasons. There’s a picture on my bookshelf at work of me in this hat accompanied by a rather large Thompson River steelhead. The hat looks goofy, something I liked back when I wore it a lot and didn’t take myself too seriously. But like the Bauer, it lacked a substantial bill, making it less than perfect on bright days, so it too was destined for simple hatness.

A few years later, after I began taking myself a bit too seriously, this hat was replaced by a wool Tilley Winter Hat, a fedora in the classic style. It had a nice wide brim that curved around the crown almost exactly like The Shadow’s. I wore this for a few steelhead seasons and was pretty convinced until I got tired of folding it inside my hood when the wind blew. Over the years I’ve discovered that the secret to being warm is having a warm neck, so any hat that prevented me from flipping up a hood in a cold downstream breeze was unlikely to retain its Rightness.

After this I ping-ponged among hats for a while. I went through the usuals—various incarnations of the ubiquitous baseball cap (always with a curved bill; never flat). I always had affection for the late Art Lee’s long billed canvas cap, but I couldn’t find one like it, so I stuck with whatever long bills I could find, eventually settling on ones from the now defunct Kaufmann’s Streamborn in Seattle and a couple of Simms caps embroidered with the logo of my fishing club. And since Right Hats must have a season and a species, these have become The Right Hats for springtime trout fishing, and now I have one for the boat and one or two for Happy Hour back at camp. Combined with a Buff or Simms sungaiter these keep me sunburn and sunstroke free over week-long trips to the Kamloops-area lakes in British Columbia.

I also have a Tilley longbilled cap that has a tuck away cape for stream fishing for cutties and browns in the summer. I really like this cap, but the bill is so long that I tend to miss really obvious things, like overhanging branches when I’m bushwhacking, resulting in the occasionally unpleasant poke in the forehead. So it really isn’t The Right Hat, but it is Right Enough.

One spring day a few years back while walking around downtown Victoria on a family outing I wandered into an Irish themed shop and stumbled upon a forest green waxed cotton driving cap. Perfect. (Wait—no bill on these hats, right? Well, after the great steelheader Harry Lemire passed, I resolved to wear his preferred style in his honor on steelhead water despite the absence of a bill. Besides, mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun, and on steelhead water that’s not usually where the fun is anyway.)

I tried on the XL which seemed a bit sloppy; then the L which seemed a bit small. Eventually I settled on the L because I thought that, tugged down and tight, it might stay put better in a wind. I wore it in the fall of 2013 and 2014 and had excellent fishing. Though it stayed put, I found it a bit too tight.

So once the season was done I renewed my search, and found The Right Hat online at an outdoor retailer in Quebec. This was another waxed cotton English Driving Cap, this time from the venerable English clothier Barbour. In dark olive, this cap goes well with my Simms guide jacket and the rest of my generally dark steelheading attire. I went with XL this time. My success over the following seasons confirmed I’d made the Right choice.

Looking back now I realize that I can trace my angling influences by my series of Right Hats. My original steelhead guru was Lani Waller, who wore a variation of the English driving cap in the original Scientific Anglers steelheading videos. Once I started Spey casting, my mentor’s Deerstalker replaced my original Right Hat. As time passed and I came to know more about Harry Lemire, my chapeau of choice became a symbol of my respect for him, and so it remains to this day.

Ideally, The Right Hat should serve in some way as an identifiable manifestation of your personality, or at least that part of your personality you want on display while fishing. It also helps if it’s lucky. I like to think anglers put as much effort into selecting their hats as they do their fly rods, but I’ve seen enough “Berry’s Bait and Tackle” hats on the heads of fly fishers to realize I’m being foolish in this belief. Or maybe I’m dead on. I cling to it as a traditionalist will, hopeful that today’s iconoclasts won’t blow up everything I hold sacred and pure about fly fishing. I’m kinda dumb that way. Maybe a hat is really nothing more than something to put on your head to keep it warm or the sun off it. And maybe that’s as Right as a hat needs to be.

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and can be found each year, minus 2020 of course, swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him on IG @danawsturn