Anglers who learn to see fish before being seen by fish greatly increases their odds of success.
The easiest way to improve that skill is to improve your through-water vision. Whether casting to rising fish, drifting a nymph through deep riffles, or simply prospecting around suspected fish-holding water, clear vision makes it easier to cast to and catch fish.
Polarized sunglass lenses help anglers see what’s happening under water by removing the water’s surface glare. In general terms, sunlight in an unorganized phenomenon, flowing in all directions around us. When that light ‘bounces’ off a reflective surface (like the top of body of water) it travels in a more unified — or polarized — manner. We see this as glare. Polarized lenses filter out this type of light by essentially counter-acting it, making it far easier to see through the reflective surface into the depths below.
Sunglasses makers have learned tp combine polarization with specific lens colors, and color densities, to not only eliminate glare, but also to enhance contrasts and object definitions. So, the things that we see underwater are made clearer and more defined for easier recognition.
Of course, lenses are only part of the story of sunglasses. Good frames are needed to hold the lenses securely, yet comfortably, in place for long hours at a time. The best quality lenses are worthless if they are kept in a pocket because the frames are uncomfortable.
With all this in mind, we challenged some optics companies to meet the needs of a diverse group of anglers. We asked for high performance polarized lenses in frames that would fit women, especially those with small to medium-sized faces. We asked for the same for broader, fuller faces. And we asked that those same challenges be met, but with sunglasses with built-in ‘readers’ — small sections of magnified lenses to help anglers see more clearly when tying on tiny flies.
The challenge was accepted and remarkable well met. Here are some of the best sunglasses for anglers we found this season:
For pure fishing performance, the Costa del Mar White Tips proved optically pure and very comfortable for all our testers. The narrow frames fit snugly on the face, with good curvature around the sides to cut light ‘leakage’ near the edges. The mirrored green polarized lenses provide high contrast in bright conditions, making it easier to spot fish movement in pools and riffles. Available with glass or plastic lenses, our testers preferred the lightweight plastic option since they proved far more comfortable after a long day on the water. Glass provides better scratch resistance, but also adds just enough extra weight that some testers found a touch of discomfort on their nose bridge by late afternoon. Price: $179
On the reader side, the Costa Inlet Readers were a favorite of some — particularly women with round or medium-sized faces. The more stylish design of the frames also swayed some anglers since they could be comfortably worn off the river as well. The Inlet’s copper colored lenses provided heightened contrast, and worked well in bright sunlight as well as in the flat-light of overcast days. The small inset reader lenses — available 2.0x or 2.5x magnification — proved sharp and clear for close-up knot tying or reading. Price: $189
Another favorite reader was the XX2i France1 readers. These lightweight half-frames were developed for cyclists, but the lightweight design proved comfortable for our angling team, and the polarized lenses — brown in color with a blue outer finish— provided good through-water vision and clarity. The interchangeable lenses mean the France1 frames can sport standard polarized lenses, or lenses with inset readers in 1.5x, 2x or 2.5x magnifications. Price: $99
The run-away favorite model for men was Smith Optic’s Captain’s Choice. These half-frame glasses featuring ChromaPop+ lenses are very light weight — I wore these for upwards of 12 hours a day and never felt any pressure spots or strain. The polymer lenses provide exceptional through-water vision and high-contrast for good fish-spotting assistance. The Captain’s Choice include a detachable leash to keep the glasses safe when boating rough water or scrambling around steep river banks. Price: $229
On the reader side, our men were split evenly between the Costa Tuna Alley Readers and Smith’s Colson Bifocal. The Colson’s sport very large copper-colored lenses that provide great eye coverage for anglers with large faces, and the reader lenses (available in 2.0 or 2.5 magnification) are exceptionally sharp. (Price: $159) The Tuna Alley Readers, meanwhile won-over our testers with a more oval medium or large face. We liked the copper lens option for this model, which offer 1.5x, 2x and 2.5x magnification options in the reader inset lens. Price: $189