Short of a rod, reel, and lure or fly, I’d say the polarized glasses I wear are my most important gear consideration. If I’m on my way to the water and realize I left my glasses at home, I’ll turn around and get them, even at the cost of an hour or so. They’re that important. When fishing and boating, non-polarized sunglasses don’t cut it.
Part of the reason I feel this way is because I really enjoy sight fishing, be it for bass in shallow water, bonefish on the ocean flats, or trout in a clear river. In those cases, seeing is more than half the challenge. When I’m not actually looking for fish, I’m often looking for subtle telltales that indicate where I should cast—things like slight disturbances in the water surface (nervous water), color changes, jumping bait, and so on. Having the right glasses (meaning polarized) that cut through glare can help spot these things also.
And then there’s the safety factor. Repeated exposure to U/V rays and harsh reflections off the water surface can damage your vision. And, of course, whenever you’re in an environment where sharp objects like fish hooks are literally flying around your head, it’s only smart to protect your eyes with glasses.
So what do you look for? For me it always boils down to three things: Fit, lens tint, and lens material.
As far as fit is concerned, every face is different. Some anglers want to make a fashion statement, and others could care less how they look. The important thing is to wear frames that don’t feel heavy, don’t slide around, and don’t pinch. If you hardly notice wearing glasses, that’s a good fit. I also like glasses that offer good coverage, not only straight ahead, but in the periphery. The more they help me focus on the water ahead, the better.
Lens tint is also a subjective concern. I have found that the best all-around tints for go-anywhere fishing in saltwater as well as freshwater, on cloudy days and bright days, etc., are in the amber-copper family. For really bright conditions, gray and blue or green mirrored lenses are great. For low light situations, rose and yellow tints work great. Of course, there’s no rule against having different glasses for different conditions, but the best all-around choice is up to you.
The main thing you need to know about lens materials is that there are two basic types—polycarbon and glass. Polycarbon typically costs less, it offers better protection from shattering, but it’s also more prone to tiny nicks and scratches. Glass is the standard for clarity, it scratches less, typically costs more, and will shatter with a sharp impact.
Remember you don’t have to break the bank to get good polarized fishing glasses, but the investment in a great pair usually pays dividends over time.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.