Gear Review: Simms Bulkley Wading Jacket

by | Nov 27, 2019 | 6 comments

A great hood, smart cuffs and pockets in the right places. That’s what makes a good wading jacket. Let’s assume that any fishing coat worth considering is first waterproof. Now add in breathability. The price tag goes up, but so does the comfort level and the amount of time you want to spend in it. Now take all of that good stuff, from the bottom hem to the hood, and add Primaloft insulation. What do you have? The perfect winter fishing jacket — the Bulkley from Simms.

My expectations are high for fishing gear. I spend a couple-hundred days on the water every year, not just wading around casually, but fishing hard — I walk far, wade deep and bust through a lot of brush. (And I plan to fish that way until I just can’t do it anymore.)

So, early on, I realized that my extra dollars were better spent on waders, boots, vests and jackets than high-priced rods and reels. Because the apparel gets you to the river and keeps you there. As a poor college kid, I scrounged the money to buy my first pair of Simms waders, and it proved to be a wise decision.

** Note ** Links for buying the Simms Bulkley are at the end of this article.

Most fly fishing gear isn’t made for anglers like me. It’s made for the weekend warrior. And that’s fine too. There’s a place in the market for stuff that isn’t built to last forever — it’s built to last long enough. But there are plenty more fishermen like me too — Troutbitten anglers who fish hard and get after it. Simms knows this, and they’ve shaped their reputation around gear that’s durable and well-designed. Does it last forever? Of course not. But my Simms stuff holds up longer than anything else.

Here’s the lowdown on the Simms Bulkley insulated fishing jacket . . .

Nice Stuff

Simms sent me both the Bulkley and the G3 Tactical Wading jacket last year. I love each of them (and I’ll write about the G3 Tactical sometime too).

I already had a good system for winter fishing. I knew how to stay warm in cold weather, and I’d been wearing the same layers for years. So, as always, I was skeptical. But it took one trip to fall in love with the Bulkley, and it became my new outer layer for cold weather.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Winter Fishing

Zip into anything with the Simms label on it, and you can tell it was designed by people who fish a lot. And while wearing the Bulkley, I marveled at how well-thought-out the jacket really was. It’s clearly built by people who understand cold-weather fly fishing.

From top to bottom, here’s what’s good.

 

The Insulation and the Shell

Stop the wind and keep me dry. That’s what I want from a jacket. The Bulkley is windproof. And that makes a world of difference, because cold wind can’t rip away precious body heat.

The outer shell of the Bulkley is softer than you might expect. It moves and flexes naturally, without the crisp exterior of most waterproof jackets. And yet, it’s surprisingly durable — I’ve pulled through a lot of briers with very little damage to the shell.

Under that shell is the GoreTex membrane, keeping you dry but your body breathing. Remember life before GoreTex? These days, you can wade for an hour in a frigid pool below the spillout and then walk a fast mile through the woods to the next section. You can do it all in the same gear if it’s breathable, without holding extra body heat that turns into sweat. The Bulkley’s design allows for easy release of the extra heat. And that’s critical in a daily winter jacket.

The Bulkley’s insulation is Hi-Loft Primaloft. And until the last couple years, that’s another thing I was skeptical of. This new generation of insulation is designed to mimic all the wonderful properties of down, without the added weight. It also stays warm when wet, won’t hold water, doesn’t mat down, and is extremely light for the retained warmth. Plus-one for Primaloft.

The Bulkley is cut a little wide. And that’s a good thing. It’s designed to fit over your waders and allow for as many extra layers as you might like. However, I found that with the Bulkley, I have no need for the extra fleece I once wore under my previous outer shell.

As Henry Ford once said, “You can have it any color you want as long as it’s black.” Simms makes a camo version of the Bulkely as well, but black is where it’s at. All my winter gear is black, to absorb as much heat from the sun as possible, thank you.

The Hood

Most hoods don’t move with the person. Meaning, when you turn your head to see midge-eating, rising trout near the riverbank, you look into the side of the hood on most jackets. This is one of the many reasons no one likes wearing a hood.

But Simms solved this problem on all of their wading jackets. The Bulkley has a three-way adjustable system. Pull it snug at the grommet in the back, and the hood turns with you. Pull the elastic tags at the front/bottom of the hood, and it cinches down to keep the wind out. Toasty!

Simms put the Primaloft insulation all the way up into the hood too. Because, why not? If it’s too warm, put the hood down. And on most days, the wind-blocking, noggin-warming hood of the Bulkley is oh, so nice.

The Cuffs

The sleeves on the Bulkley also have Primaloft insulation, and I love Simms’ design decision here. Keep me warm. That’s the job. So yes, insulate the sleeves too.

Simms features what they call a shingle cuff on all their modern wading jackets, and the design is brilliant. The sleeve looks normal, and goes all the way to the wrist. But under the “shingle” is an adjustable cuff designed for dunking your hand under the water to retrieve your favorite streamer — the one that took you forty-five minutes to tie. Get the fly back, and your arm is still dry. Man, that’s nice.

The cuff design is a real deal-breaker on many wading jackets. But Simms’ shingle cuff allows for excellent adjustability while keeping the water out, even while casting.

Photo by Josh Darling

The Pockets

Fishermen love pockets because we love stuff. The Bulkley easily holds a bunch of gear, like your tippet spools and split shot. And the pockets are plenty big enough to hold a few fly boxes. No doubt that’s partly what Simms had in mind. But they also thought about your hands. Any cold-weather jacket solution must address the hands first, because with numb digits, a fly angler is finished.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing in the Winter — Your Hands

Each side of the jacket houses two pockets. The deep front pockets are where I store random gear and a rag or two. But the side pockets are built for your hands. Lined with fleece, they stay warm, right next to all that Primaloft insulation. There is nothing like recharging your hands with a couple of burning hand warmers resting in these two pockets. Protected from the wind, a pair of Hot Hands lasts me all day long.

The pockets ride high, because plenty of us wade deep. Thank you, Simms. There are even weep holes at the bottom of the pockets to release any water when you’re a little too ambitious and somehow wade over those high pockets — or when you fall in.

 

** Note **  The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. And I’m proud that Troutbitten is a Simms affiliate. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy the Bulkley from Simms (or if you buy any other Simms product), Troutbitten receives a commission of the sale, at no additional cost to you, when you click through any of these links. So thank you for your support.

 

Buy Simms Bulkley Insulated Jacket HERE

Fish More

“Expensive gear doesn’t catch you more trout.” Anglers say this all the time, and I wholeheartedly agree with it, in most cases. But I’ll argue that the Bulkley may catch you more trout — simply because you’ll fish more.

As I’ve written in the Troutbitten Winter Fishing Series, the first and most important thing about winter fishing is dealing with the cold. It’s a stumbling block that stops most anglers right out of the gate. Dealing with the kind of cold that a river can throw your way is tough. But the Bulkley makes it easier. And you’ll catch more fish because you’re comfortable enough to stay out there, weather be damned.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

What about the wading staff? Thoughts on choosing and carrying a wading stick

What about the wading staff? Thoughts on choosing and carrying a wading stick

I always thought wading staffs were for the retired crew, something to lean on as you wait for the spinner fall — a third leg, when the left one has knee issues and the right one has had its hip replaced. However, one of the hardest-fishing guys I knew at the time was a guide on the Yough. Twenty-something, athletic and a strong wader, he carried a ski pole tethered to the bottom of his fishing pack, and he waded whitewater like a Grizzly bear.

So the day before our pre-dawn, westward departure to the Yough, I cut a wooden broom handle down to about four feet, zip tied a long-and-strong shoelace to the top and looped it to a carabiner on my wading belt.

I learned two things on that trip — a third leg makes you a faster wader and more efficient angler. And a broomstick makes a lousy wading staff . . .

Let’s Rethink the Wading Belt

Let’s Rethink the Wading Belt

Seems to me, the last piece of gear many anglers think of is the wading belt. Often seen as an add-on, an accessory, or even unnecessary, some guys will tell you to tie a rope around your waist and be done with it. The wading belt provided with your new pair of waders perpetuates this notion. Every fresh box of breathables I’ve opened has a thin, flimsy belt thrown in as an afterthought. It’s good for helping you not drown as you go ass-over-tee-cups into the river, but not much else.

So I propose a rethinking of the wading belt. I treat mine as a utility belt — a place to carry heavier things. It’s an integrated part of my system for having everything I need right and ready at any moment, while keeping the weight and resulting fatigue of that gear to a minimum.

My belt system is designed for the wading angler who covers a lot of water, who walks away from the parking lot and hikes in a bit, who spends long hours pushing through heavy river currents and returns at dark. Of course, I don’t have the hours to fish like that all the time, but even on short trips, this wading belt system serves me well . . .

Fly Fishing in the Winter — The Secondary Nymphing Rig

Fly Fishing in the Winter — The Secondary Nymphing Rig

Every winter our rivers go through changes, and the trout follow suit. Regardless of how much water flows between the banks, I encounter a predictable slowdown in trout response at some point. Call it a lack of trout enthusiasm. Or call it hunkering down and waiting for warmer water. However you look at it, the trout just don’t move as far to eat a fly.

For some, the solution is a streamer — to go bigger. Get the trout’s attention and add some motivation to peel itself from the river bed and move to a fly. It works — sometimes. (everything works sometimes.) But just as often you’re left with an empty net and more questions than answers. I do love fishing streamers in the winter though. I use it as a chance to build body heat, to warm up by walking and covering more water. But my standard approach is a highly targeted pair of nymphs, right in the trout’s window. Served up just right, you can almost force-feed a trout that didn’t even know he was hungry.

Fly Shop Fluorocarbon too expensive? Try Some Finesse

Fly Shop Fluorocarbon too expensive? Try Some Finesse

The trouble with cheaper lines is threefold. Their breaking strength is inferior to the fly shop brands, they’re usually a bit stiffer, and the manufactured diameters only go down to about 4X — usually.

Then a couple of years ago I bought Seaguar Finesse. It was hard to track down when it first came out, because here was a line sold in smaller quantities, with a higher than expected price tag (for the gear guys). But to fly anglers, the 150 yard spool for about $20 was a steal. Easy decision. I bought it immediately, based on Seaguar’s own description and the specs.

Since then, Seaguar Finesse has become my go to fluoro tippet material from 2X to 5X, and a few of my Troutbitten friends do the same. It’s thinner, but stronger per diameter, and is indeed more flexible as described. (It has some finesse.) It’s as almost as good as some fly shop brands and better than many others. And because the type of tippet we use is not what catches trout, I don’t overspend on tippet . . .

Fly Fishing in the Winter — Ice in the Guides?

Fly Fishing in the Winter — Ice in the Guides?

Nothing about having a winter system or using a specific nymphing rig makes any difference if the guides of your rod are frozen. And every fly fisher who has stepped into a winter river with the air temps below, let’s say, twenty-five degrees has dealt with some kind of trouble. Every angler has his own advice about eliminating guide ice too. And here I guess it’s time to give you mine . . .

Troutbitten Fly Box — The Sucker Spawn

Troutbitten Fly Box — The Sucker Spawn

You can get a trout’s attention with a host of different patterns. Bright beads, flashy materials, wiggly legs and sheer size all stand out in the drift, and trout take notice. But interest and curiosity do not necessarily lead trout into the net. In fact, many of the attention getting materials we attach to a hook simply turn trout off, giving them a reason not to eat the fly.

On the other hand, while drab and flat patterns have their moments, it often takes a little sparkle, a little color, flash or wiggle, to turn trout on. The trick then, is finding the right elements to seal the deal — a simple combination of materials that is just enough to convince a trout, but not too much either. Enter: the Sucker Spawn . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

6 Comments

  1. Dom: I do enjoy your essays, though because of age and circumstances, I am largely relegated to stillwaters. The Bulkley jacket sounds like a marvelous piece of winter gear. I hope this question is not too inane, but I have read in several sources that “breathable” waders can only “breathe” when in the water. Can this be true? They would lose much of their supposed utility when you are traipsing through the underbrush.
    Thanks for the good work and the vicarious adventures astream.
    Kevin

    Reply
    • Hi Kevin,

      Mostly true. I asked Simms about that directly. Submersible breathables transfer vapor best when the inside is warm and the outside of the membrane is significantly cooler. In cold weather, that’s not much of a problem. But in warmer weather, that explains why waders become so clammy and uncomfortable.

      “They would lose much of their supposed utility when you are traipsing through the underbrush.”

      Yes, they certainly do.

      More on that here:

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/07/04/fly-fishers-how-to-wet-wade/

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  2. You seem so right on everything else thought I’d get your opinion on ultimate winter hand gear? Wasn’t a problem till I rolled my truck and banged my left hand up,and good. Lost a fingertip,resulting in about 30 minutes of cold water,then pain. Hate to give up winter fishing,what do you think?

    Reply
  3. Dom, what’s the length of this jacket and do you wear your wadining belt under it or on top of it?

    Reply
    • Hi Eddie.

      The jacket is cut to ride at your waist and not much lower. Again, for washing deep. Definitely wear the belt under it.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest