Once considered a luxury, polarized sunglasses are now within reach of most anglers, and the amount of science and technology that goes into building a pair of quality polarized fishing sunglasses is incredible. Modern high-end shades are a combination of components that have been refined through bioengineering, anthropometry (design based on human physical characteristics), and quantum electrodynamics.
Today’s fishing shades incorporate decades of research and development in optical innovation, and this technological evolution has led to ground-glass and thermoplastic polymer lenses that enable us to see farther and deeper with clearer resolution than ever before.
Polarized glasses have become de rigueur for anyone taking to the water. From weekend perch jerkers to deep-sea fishing guides, no fisherman should be without a pair. With this in mind, we gathered a representative field and put them through an exhaustive two-week test.
These full-coverage glasses have a large lens area (1.7 by 2.4 inches), and the photochromic lenses adjust with the sun’s intensity–a fantastic feature for ever-changing light conditions. The glasses are excellent for nearly every fishing application. The fit-and-finish is the best in the field, as are the stainless hinges. The ground-glass lenses are far more scratch-resistant than a lot of the polycarbonates. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ Price: $199 Contact: smithoptics.com Durability: A+ Lenses: A, Glass Comfort: A- Hinges: A+ Fit and Finish: A+ Price/Value: A- Weight: 1.54 oz Final Word: Big, beefy shades with photochromic glass lenses will find favor with nearly all fishermen.
Wiley X Saint
The shatter-proof lenses provide peace of mind when flipping tungsten weights, and they had no color aberration. The side-plates and hinges proved rugged, and the straight earpieces allow for easy on-off. A half-frame design keeps the weight under an ounce. An array of extras (clear lenses, a leash cord, a carrying case) helped make this an easy pick for our Great Buy award. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ Price: $80 Contact: wileyx.com Durability: A+ Lenses: B+ (PC) Comfort: A Hinges: B+ Fit and Finish: B- Price/Value: A+ Weight: 94oz Final Word: Tactical style with lenses that are certified for a worksite. A screaming deal, considering all the extras.
Costa Cat Cay
Costa’s time-tested 580P polycarbonate lenses are the foundation of the Cat Cay, and we found them to be incredibly scratch-resistant. Front-frame cheek venting minimizes fogging, while the supple rubber nose pads and earpiece tips make them all-day comfortable. The lenses clarified the water extremely well, particularly in low-light conditions. This will be appreciated when the bite is on at dawn and dusk. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★ Price: $149 Contact: costadelmar.com Durability: A- Lenses: A+ (PC) Comfort: A Hinges: B- Fit and Finish: A- Price/Value: A- Weight: 1.12oz Final Word: A solid entry from one of the leaders in the fishing sunglass arena. Great in low light.
Maui Jim Waimea Canyon
This was the heaviest pair of glasses in the field (1.97 ounces), but the build is stout and well balanced. Wide side plates block stray peripheral light, making these a great choice for fishing in an unrelenting sun. Anti-corrosion spring hinges promise fuss-free operation and a subtly snug fit. The glass lenses are exceptionally clean and handled glare better than any in the field. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $229 Contact: mauijim.com Durability: A- Lenses: A+ Glass Comfort: B+ Hinges: A Fit and Finish: A- Price/Value: B- Weight: 1.97 Final Word: At nearly 2 ounces, they aren’t light, but they’re built like a tank and should last for many seasons.
The Zeiss polycarbonate lenses are remarkably clean and crisp and had no color aberration or distortion. The wide frames cover the entire eye area neatly, and the hinges provide a snug fit. Rubber inserts on the inside of the earpieces and the tips keep the glasses in place. Outer inserts allow for a great grip when adjusting the glasses with wet hands. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $199 Contact: columbia.com Durability: A Lenses: A+ Comfort: A Hinges: B- Fit and Finish: A- Price/Value: B- Weight: 1.10oz Final Word: With lenses from one of the world’s best optics makers, visual acuity is not an issue.
Revo Guide Extreme
The Guide Extreme provides optimal face coverage and detachable side plates that allow the glasses to transition from boat-functional to street-fashionable. These will find favor with shallow-water fishermen, who need to control peripheral light. Blocked vents molded into the inner frame help reduce fogging. A leash with an integrated floatie is included. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $209 Contact: revo.com Score Durability: A- Lenses: B (PC) Comfort: A- Hinges: B Fit and Finish: B Price/Value: B- Weight: 1.39oz Final Word: Shallow-water lenses make these go-to glasses for inshore fishermen.
We found the Warrant’s lenses performed well, without any major limitations. The nylon frames are light and went virtually unnoticed while worn. The wrap-around style provides great eye coverage with no visible light leakage.The rounded non-reflective frames are finished nicely, and the earpieces have a sleek taper to the tips. However, the nylon-on-nylon hinges and self-tapping screws suggest limited durability. Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½ Price: $50 Contact: suncloudoptics.com Durability: B Lenses: B- (PC) Comfort: A Hinges: C+ Fit and Finish: B+ Price/Value: A- Weight: 1.11oz Final Word: Lots of value here, but the construction makes us wonder how long they’ll last under heavy use.
Weighing less than an ounce, the Hutch should have been comfortable. Unfortunately, the earpiece tips are sharp and bite into the head, making an over-tip strap a must. Flyfishermen will appreciate the high-contrast lenses for monitoring dry flies, but the skinny temples offer little peripheral sun blockage. We were also disappointed with the hinges, given the price. Overall: ★ ★ ★ Price: $179 Contact: kaenon.com Durability: A- Lenses: B-(PC) Comfort: C Hinges: C+ Fit and Finish: A- Price/Value: C Weight: .90oz Final Word: Sleek and light-weight, but we wish we were getting more for the money – namely comfort.
Flying Fisherman Falcon
The Falcon’s dark amber lenses are well suited for bluebird days. The wrap-around frame was comfortable and stayed put at high boat speeds. We feel the molded nylon-on-nylon hinges will wear poorly under heavy use. For melon heads, the short earpieces (2.56 inches versus the field average of 3.7) may be uncomfortable. The rubber nose pads and padded temples kept the frames in place nicely. Overall: ★ ★ ★ Price: $70 Contact: flyingfisherman.com Durability: C+ Lenses: B- (PC) Comfort: A Hinges:C+ Fit and Finish: C+ Price/Value: C+ Weight: 1oz Final Word: A good pair of polarized sunglasses for weekend warriors or those on a tight budget.
How We Test
Each pair of sunglasses was scored by a panel of three testers, including the author and two commercial fishermen who operate out of Gulfport, Miss., and spend the majority of their lives on and around the water. The glasses were graded for durability (how well they held up to abuse); lens quality (clarity, color aberration, distortion, resistance to scratching); comfort (when worn over extended periods of time); hinge quality (ruggedness and construction); and fit-and-finish (overall quality and attention to build detail). We also performed an impact test in which a 1-ounce tungsten bullet weight was swung on a pendulum from a distance of 6 inches into the lenses (pictured). We’re happy to report that all glasses passed the impact test.
Sunglasses Buyer’s Guide
Buy glasses that are going to perform best in the conditions you typically fish in and are ideal for your home waters. For instance, amber lenses are good for sandy bottoms on partly cloudy days, while dark amber or copper is better when targeting fish in grass and weeds on bright, sunny days. Gray lenses simply reduce overall brightness. Don’t be afraid to talk to the clerk about the best choices. Also, keep in mind that polycarbonate lenses weigh less than glass but tend to scratch more easily.
When you shop, be sure to wear the hat you wear when you fish to ensure the frames sit well under the brim and the earpieces slide nicely under the band. If they aren’t comfortable, you won’t wear them.