Best Bug Spray Repellent for Fishing

While fishing when the bite just isn’t happening can be disheartening, trying to cast while covered in a swarm of mosquitos, blackflies, or no-see-ums is downright maddening.

I’ve experienced the misery of mosquitos too many times myself, and I know how a bad bug season can drive you right off the water.

Windy days can help, but nothing beats an effective bug repellant.

If you’re looking for guaranteed relief from biting insects, we’ve got you covered!

Below, you’ll find reviews of the best bug repellants for fishing, as well as a complete run-down of why we made the choices we did:

Related: 

Best Bug Spray Repellent for Fishing Reviewed

Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent - Best Natural Insect Repellent

Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent 4 Ounces, Repels Mosquitoes Up To 6 Hours, Oil,Spray

Amazon 

Active ingredient: 30% oil of eucalyptus

For anglers who prefer a natural alternative to DEET and picaridin, there aren’t a lot of great options. 

While many natural products claim to repel insects effectively, very, very few actually work when the bugs are serious.

Repel’s DEET-free Lemon Eucalyptus spray actually works - and it’s approved by the EPA (registration number 305-62).

Spray it on and rub it over your exposed skin, and you’ll be well-protected against biting insects, particularly mosquitos. 

The natural formulation has a strong odor, but that’s how it masks you from detection by insects. And since it’s kid-friendly (above age 3), it’s a great choice for young anglers or people who are more sensitive to strong DEET products.

In my experience, I don’t find this to be as effective as Repel 100 when the bugs are truly unbearable, but I’d trust this product for anything but a jungle or swamp.

Pros:

  • Very effective when applied properly
  • Kid-friendly (above age 3)
  • Natural ingredients and no harsh chemicals

Cons:

  • Strong odor
  • Probably not as effective as strong DEET or picaridin products

Sawyer Products SP543 Premium Insect Repellent - Tied for Best Overall Insect Repellent

Sawyer Products SP543 Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin, Pump Spray, 3-Ounce,Clear

Amazon 

Active ingredient: 20% picaridin

Sawyer’s 20% picaridin formulation is a fantastic alternative to DEET. 

Just as effective as strong formulations (25%) of DEET, it’s odorless, non-greasy, and child safe. It also won’t damage plastics or synthetic fabrics.

When applied properly, Sawyer’s 20% formulation is very close to the effectiveness of Repel 100, maybe even just as good, with none of the downsides. Hordes of mosquitos, no-see-ums, and blackflies will pass you by, and you’ll want to thank whoever discovered picaridin personally!

It also offers long-lasting protection. I found it to be pretty sweat-proof, but I think 12 hours might be stretching it a bit.

I’d pick the Sawyer over the Repel 100 just for the plastic-friendly formulation alone, but especially if I have children with me on the bank or boat, it’s a no-brainer.

Pros:

  • Amazingly effective when applied properly
  • Kid-friendly
  • No odor
  • Non-greasy
  • Will not harm plastics or synthetics

Cons:

  • ?

Ranger Ready Picaridin Insect Repellent - Tied for Best Overall Insect Repellent

Ranger Ready Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray with Scent Zero - Mosquito Repellent and Tick Spray (8 oz., Pack of 1)

Amazon 

Active ingredient: 20% picaridin

Ranger Ready is another picaridin formulation that offers outstanding protection from biting insects with no odor, no greasiness, no damage to plastics or synthetics, and no danger to children when applied properly.

The spray bottle is very effective, and I find that it’s just as effective as the Sawyer.

Pros:

  • Amazingly effective when applied properly
  • Kid-friendly
  • No odor
  • Non-greasy
  • Will not harm plastics or synthetics

Cons:

  • ?

Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent

Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent, Mosquito Repellent, 25% DEET, Sweat Resistent, 4 Ounce (Aerosol Spray)

Amazon 

Active ingredient: 25% DEET

While fishing in south Louisiana, I’ve used gallons of Cutter’s wet formulation insect repellant, and it worked well to shield me from biting insects - particularly mosquitos and no-see-ums. 

Cutter has improved on that product by introducing a dry formulation that’s easy to apply and safe to use on children. According to Cutter, “formulas with 30% concentrations or lower can be used on children ages 2 months or older.” 

And while not as long-lasting as products with a higher concentration of DEET, it’s a great kid-friendly bug repellent that’s perfect for young anglers. It doesn’t have a strong odor, which is nice, too.

It applies easily and doesn’t feel greasy, but of course, a quick all-over “mist” isn’t how this product should be applied. With a careful coating on your exposed skin, you can expect long-lasting protection from insect bites, even in horrible conditions.

Pros:

  • Effective when applied properly
  • Kid friendly
  • Low odor
  • Non-greasy, dry formulation

Cons:

  • Not as long-lasting as higher DEET concentrations

Repel 100 Insect Repellent

Repel 100 Insect Repellent, Pump Spray, 4-Fluid Ounces, 10-Hour Protection

Amazon 

Active ingredient: 98.11% DEET

Repel’s 100 Insect Repellent is the real deal, and I’ve used this liquid spray a lot in swamps, marshes, and bayous.

With an ultra-high DEET concentration, this is not a product that’s safe to use on children. 

But for adults in horrendous conditions - fly-fishing in blackfly season in Maine, working trout streams in Alaska in the spring, or fishing bass lakes in the Everglades - this can be the difference between an awesome day on the water and absolute insanity.

Repel 100 has a strong scent, and it definitely feels oily on your skin. But when applied correctly, I’m not sure there’s a more effective bug repellent available.

A serious downside to this strong DEET product is its propensity to eat plastic and synthetic fabrics. I’ve had this leak onto hard plastic in my car, and it acted like acid, turning them into wet black muck.

I’d recommend being careful where you store your Repel 100, and I’d keep it well away from plastic tackle of all kinds, especially tackle boxes!

I’ve also noticed a bit of skin irritation on my face when using this product, but when you need it, you really need it.

Pros:

  • Amazingly effective when applied properly
  • Very long-lasting

Cons:

  • Strong odor
  • Can cause skin irritation
  • Eats plastic and synthetic fabrics

Why Did We Select the Products on Our Shortlist?

DEET vs. picaridin vs. naturals

DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide)

Deethas been around since 1946, when it was engineered for use by the military. It’s been widely used since then, and we mean really widely

According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, “DEET has been used billions of times by hundreds of millions of people (including an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population each year). When properly applied, it has virtually no proven adverse health effects, though in rare cases, a contact skin rash can result from exposure. The EPA has completed several comprehensive assessments of DEET over the years (most recently in 1998) and concludes that repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern as long as consumers follow label directions.”

But DEET can cause skin irritation and rashes in sensitive people, and it’s typically greasy, strong-smelling, and absolutely murder on plastics (like sunglasses and watch bands), as well as synthetic fabrics like spandex.

The greater the concentration of DEET, the longer the effectiveness. Stepping up from a 25% to 100% formulation doesn’t make it more effective; it just means you’ll be protected longer.

Children over the age of 2 months can use DEET products, but according to the National Pesticide Information Center, the “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that DEET not be used on children younger than 2 months of age. The AAP has also recommended that DEET should be applied no more than one time per day for children older than two months, and that products should be used on children that have the lowest DEET concentration available.”

Picaridin (2-[2-hydroxyethyl]-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropylester)

Picaridin was introduced to the US in 2005, and has since proven itself to be both extremely effective and notably safe. Odorless, non-greasy, and safe on synthetics and plastics, it’s quickly replacing DEET as the go-to insect repellant chemical.

The Appalachian Mountain Club notes that “Studies have shown picaridin to be slightly more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes, and equally as effective as DEET against ticks. Unlike DEET, however, picaridin is odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or other synthetics. The one possible concern with picaridin is its relative newness. Insufficient time has passed for long-term health risks (should they exist) to manifest themselves.”

The EPA has assessed picaridin’s safety to the public, concluding that “Picaridin generally is of low acute toxicity, and based on the available toxicological data, the Agency believes that the normal use of Picaridin does not present a health concern to the general U.S. population (the Agency’s human risk assessment has identified no toxicologically significant effects in animal studies.)

Picaridin has been classified as not likely to be a human carcinogen.”

Natural

Natural repellants include a variety of plant oils like citronella. According to Healthychildren.org, “These are deemed safe but have not been approved for effectiveness by the EPA. Most of these keep insects away for only a short time. Some natural repellents can cause skin irritation.”

Due to their lesser protection, experts recommend using DEET or picaridin products on children if there is a reasonable risk of disease transmission like Zika, malaria, or Lyme disease.

One exception to the general ineffectiveness of natural repellents is oil of eucalyptus. Healthychildren.org warns, however, that “When choosing insect repellents made with oil of lemon eucalyptus, look for EPA-registered products. These products should not be used on children younger than 3 years. These insect repellent products contain no more than 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus. Products with 8% to 10% concentration of oil of lemon eucalyptus protect for up to 2 hours, and products containing 30% to 40% oil of lemon eucalyptus provide 6 hours of protection.”

Effectiveness

We only chose products that use one of three active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, and lemon eucalyptus oil.

These are proven effective against a wide variety of biting insects, and all of them - when applied properly - will make you more-or-less invisible to bugs.

Remember, higher concentrations of DEET don’t work better - just longer. Ditto with lemon eucalyptus oil. 

Safety

All of the products on our shortlist are safe for adults, but young children should not be exposed to DEET products with concentrations higher than 25% or to lemon eucalyptus oil.

Odor

DEET products, especially Repel 100, can have a strong chemical odor. That may bother some people.

If you need strong protection from mosquitoes, you might prefer a picaridin formulation.

Part of the reason we chose Sawyer and Ranger Ready as our top picks was their lack of odor.

Feel

Greasy-feeling DEET formulations may bother some people. If you like the protection DEET offers but can’t take the way it makes your skin feel, you can always go with Cutter Backwoods Dry.

This is another reason the picaridin products topped our picks.

Potential damage to plastics

I learned the hard way that strong DEET formulations eat plastic.

Think of things like your watch strap, sunglasses, tackle box, tools, and clothing. DEET just doesn’t mix well with plastics or synthetic fabrics like rayon and spandex.

Yet again, picaridin is a winner on this front, as it’s completely safe around these materials.

Final Thoughts

We can’t tell you which insect repellent is the right one for you and your needs, but we can make some strong suggestions.

Due to the many drawbacks of DEET products, we’re recommending picaridin formulations like Sawyer and Ranger Ready.

Not only are these products effective even in horrible conditions, where the biting insects are unbearable without protection, they’re safe for children, odorless, non-greasy, and unproblematic around synthetics.

Quite simply, they’re better products than DEET alternatives.

And for anglers who want to try a natural alternative to picaridin, Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent is as good as it gets.

We hope that this article has helped you choose the best insect repellent for your needs, and we’re always here to answer any questions you might have.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.