Whether you’re fishing in sunny, cloudy or rainy conditions, the right pair of sunglasses is essential to cut the glare on the water’s surface. Fishing sunglass lenses need to be polarized, so not just any old pair will do.
Data obtained September 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
*All of our picks for top fishing sunglasses have polarized lenses.
What does polarization mean?
Polarized lenses are specifically designed to reduce glare from reflective surfaces like water, sand and snow. Glare happens when sunlight bounces off a smooth, shiny surface — like water — and is reflected back along the same horizontal plane.
For fly-fishermen standing in a stream, glare is especially problematic. Not only can it spoil their chances of catching a fish, it can also damage their eyes. So wearing polarized sunglasses is vital.
Polarized lenses remedy glare by using a filter that only allows vertically-oriented light to pass through. Horizontally-reflected light from the stream won’t enter your eyes and cause an annoying or even blinding glare.
How can I tell if my sunglasses are polarized?
Use one of these tests to see if your sunglasses are polarized:
Compare two pairs of sunglasses. If you have a pair of sunglasses that you know are polarized, or if you’re at a store with polarized lenses, hold the two pairs of sunglasses together with the questionable pair closest to your eyes. While looking through both pairs, rotate one pair to a 60-degree angle with the other. If the overlapped portion of lenses becomes darker, both pairs are polarized. If not, only one is polarized.
Use your computer or cell phone screen. Turn your screen to its brightest setting and open a bright white page on your screen. Put on your sunglasses and look at the screen. Then, tilt your head to a 60-degree angle to your right or left. If the sunglasses are polarized, your computer screen will look very dark blue or black. If nothing happens, the lenses aren’t polarized.
Look at a reflective surface. Find or create a reflective surface that produces a glare when looking at it without sunglasses. Then, put the questionable pair on and look at the surface again. If the glare improves or goes away completely, your sunglasses are polarized.
How to compare fishing sunglasses
Beyond polarization, compare these other important features in sunglasses for fly-fishing:
Price. Polarized lenses generally cost more than non-polarized lenses. But for the reasons mentioned above, this is an expense that’ll be well worth it in the long run. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $250 or more for a quality pair of polarized sunglasses.
Material. Most sunglass lenses are made from glass or plastics like polycarbonate. Glass generally offers better clarity but can be heavier and more prone to shattering than polycarbonate. Plastics are lighter and less likely to shatter, but vision can be less clear, depending on the type and quality of the plastic. One brand, Kaenon, has a proprietary product made of SR-91, which supposedly has glass-like clarity, featherweight construction and is shatterproof.
Lens color. Lenses come in a variety of tints. For offshore fishing, a gray lens base with a mirrored outer surface is a popular choice. But grays are typically not as good for lower-light conditions. Yellow lenses are better suited for low-light environments, while amber lenses are better for fishing streams, rivers and lakes.
Lens coating. Mirrored, UV and hydrophobic coatings are a few of the popular lens coating choices among anglers. Mirrored coatings help reduce the amount of light that pass through the lenses, while UV coatings offer protection against harmful UV rays. Hydrophobic coatings are popular for saltwater fly-fishing. They cause water droplets to form beads on the lens surface, making them easier to clean and improving your vision while wearing them.
Style and fit. Sunglass styles for fishing and other outdoor activities are typically wrap-around style, although other options are available: aviators, wayfarers and sport styles, to name a few. Most styles can come in a variety of lens colors and coatings.
Durability. Expect to pick up scratches or even break a pair of sunglasses or two, so find a balance between your budget and something that’ll stand up to wear and tear. In general, mirrored lenses tend to offer more durability and scratch-resistance than other coatings.
Extra features. Some fishing sunglasses are advertised as scratchproof, shatterproof or come with other extra bells and whistles. Expect to pay more for these features.
Prescription lens options
Anglers who wear prescription eyeglasses now have more options than ever. Some styles clip on to your prescription glasses using magnetics and other attachments, while others are designed to be worn over top of your regular glasses.
Some specialized sunglasses even offer bifocal lenses for those who need help seeing up close. You also have the option of purchasing a separate pair of prescription sunglasses, which combines your corrective lenses and sunglasses into one.
Water surface glare can not only ruin your fishing trip but also harm your eyes. Gear up with a pair of polarized sunglasses for fishing and say goodbye to glare.
We considered features such as polarization, style and fit, lens type and coating and extra features to create our list of the best fishing sunglasses. We also took into account our personal experiences and third-party online reviews.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, they can be. The problem with some cheaper sunglasses is that they don’t offer adequate UVA/UVB protection. Spending time outdoors without proper UV protection can damage your eyes.
When you buy a new pair of sunglasses, its UV rating should be clearly marked. Look for lenses that protect against 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
Contact the manufacturer and inquire about UV ratings for your specific model of sunglasses.
No — polarized sunglasses don’t help you see in the dark. But some night vision glasses use polarized lenses to help reduce glare from headlights while driving.
Gabrielle Pastorek is a staff writer at Finder, helping readers to round up the best deals, coupons, retailers, products and services to make sound financial decisions. She's written more than 800 articles on the site and is a quoted expert in Best Company and DealNews. She earned an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, with essays and short stories published in The Collagist, Blue Monday Review, Blotterature and others. When she’s not writing, Gabrielle can be found out in the barn with her horse, Lucy.
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