Polarized Sunglasses are an essential piece of kit when flyfishing. They are nearly as important when spinning for trout also. I never head to my local river or stream without a pair of polarised glasses.
So what are the best sunglasses for trout fishing? Will, I have spent over 15 years sight fishing the mountain streams of New Zealand, in all weather conditions. Over that time I have learned that not all sunglasses are created equal, and the right pair of glasses can easily make or break a day on the river.
I need to jump straight to the point. There is no one best brand or model of sunglasses. There are countless variations from dozens of brands. Most of them, except the cheapest of the cheap work just fine.
In this guide, I will share what makes a good traditional pair of fishing sunglasses. But I will also share some different models and designs that can suit specific needs better.
I also need to note, that it is a good idea to try sunglasses before you buy. Because bit like when trying shoes, everyone’s faces are different. That means some models can suit some people’s faces more than others.
Continue reading to find out what I consider to be the best of the best.
Why Wear Sunglasses When Trout Fishing
There are two main reasons to wear sunglasses when trout fishing. Firstly, they make seeing through the glare significantly easier, this assists greatly in spotting trout or likely lays.
Next, they protect the eyes, not only from the sun’s rays but also from wayward flies, hooks, and twigs.
For both reasons, sunglasses are an important piece of a trout angler’s kit.
Trout fishing glasses need to provide excellent eye protection.
This is by far the main reason every fly fisherman should be wearing sunglasses. They provide excellent protection to the eye.
Removing a badly cast fly from your ear or chin hurts, but can you imagine how painful a hook in the eye will be? I certainly can so I always wear my glasses to prevent it from happening.
Even if you are the best caster in the world, the person nearby might not be. Always wear glasses when fly fishing and spin fishing around other anglers.
Protective eyewear, which when properly fitted, has been shown to reduce risk of signifcant eye injury by 90% in other sports activities, should be worn by bystanders and active partipants.Fishing-related ocular trauma. American Journal of Ophthalmology, 139(3), 488–492.
Quality sunglasses also need to protect the eyes from UV, having sunburnt eyes is not fun.
I have suffered from it several times and usually results in seeing pink for the next few days is not much fun. The sun’s rays hit the water and reflect back hitting our eyes. The effect is very similar to snow blindness. Everything becomes a nice shade of pink.
I have gotten it after a day on the water without my glasses. I even once got it when I was kayak fishing on a lake in the middle of winter. Time of year is no protection.
The final protection sunglasses offers is simply from the environment. There are small insects, windblown and general irritants that can hurt our eyes. Secondarily, they protect against stray twigs and branches when pushing through the scrubs to that secret trout pool.
How do eye injuries occur while fishing?
- Most eye injuries occur when an angler is trying to free a snag. This is how I got a cicada fly in my chin (see photo below)
- According to a study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, 19.54% of sport related oscular (Eye) injuries occur in anglers. Second only to baseball.
- 24.5% of eye injuries occur in by-standers – keep track of your back casts.
- Most eye injuries occur from getting caught with hooks, or from blunt force truma from lures / weights.
Sunglasses make sight fishing easier
Wearing polaroid sunglasses makes spotting trout easier, not only do they cut down the glare, which makes it easier to see through the water. Also via lens color they can increase the contrast which can make spotting trout easier.
This makes trout easier to see, but also makes the floor of the river easier to see. This assists in identifying likely looking lays such as guts or submerged logs / boulders.
They also make wading significantly safer. Less guesswork when taking the next step.
This brings me to the next point, different color lens suit different lighting conditions.
What are the best color Sunglasses for trout fishing?
- Amber/Copper: If you are buying one pair of sunglasses just for trout fishing then amber or copper is the best general purpose lens color. Amber lenses do an excellent job at enhancing contrast making it easier to identify trout between the rocks.
- Yellow: Very similar to amber but brighter, yellow lenses allow more light in making them slightly better in low light or overcast conditions.
- Green: I have never worn green lenses, but apparently they are also very good for dull low light conditions. This is because our eyes are most sensitive to the color green, so green lenses make everything really stand out.
- Gray / blue: Best color for very bright and sunny conditions. If the light is simply too bright then grey lenses are the best at dulling the light. They are a good option for boat fishing in open water.
- Clear: These are more safety glasses than sunglasses, consider wearing clear glasses when fly fishing at night. If you are anything like me, your casting will deteriorate when you can not easily see your line making eye protection even more important.
Are there any advantages to non-polarized sunglasses?
In 99% of fishing situations, polarized sunglasses have the advantage over non-polarized.
There are a couple of niche cases where non-polarized glasses have an advantage. The first is winter fishing, polarized glasses can make it more difficult to recognize patches of ice because they filter out the reflective glare. So, this in theory could lead to more slips and tumbles.
The second disadvantage is that polarized glasses can make it more difficult to read some digital displays. If you are having difficulty seeing fishfinder displays then non-polarized glasses could help.
Are expensive sunglasses worth it for trout fishing?
I like expensive sunglasses, but there are certainly diminishing returns the more you spend. I sometimes feel the sweet spot is somewhere between $60-100
- Premium sunglasses have more durable and scratch-resistant coatings.
- The lenses used are more optically correct, with less distortion which can increase eye strain.
- Premium lenses also offer better clarity, there is less cloudiness to the lenses.
- Frames on expensive sunglasses are typically make from high quality materials and to tighter marigns.
- The warranty, and access to spare parts on expensive sunglasses is usally a lot better.
Do expensive sunglasses provide better polarization?
In my experience, no matter the cost polarization works similarly across all price ranges.
During my side by side comparison, the $20 service station specials had just as effective polarization as the $200+ Smiths, Oakleys, and Ray-bans I have fished with.
So paying more is no guarantee that the polarization is going to be better.
There is a difference with regards to construction and long-term durability. In most situations, the polarizing film is sandwiched between two layers of lens material. So it is unlikely to be damaged or rubbed off.
On some very cheap glasses, instead of using a sandwich film, they simply apply a polarizing filter to the outside of the lens leaving it exposed to damage.
Best Lens Materials for Fishing Sunglasses
Polarized fishing sunglasses come in many different lens materials. The most commonly used and recommended lens material for fishing is based on Polycarbonate, Glass or Nylon.
If you are getting prescription glasses you might also get offered Trivex which is comparable to polycarbonate but with better clarity.
I suggest avoiding lenses made from Triacetate (TAC) and cheap plastics (cr39)
Read on for more details and explanations.
Pros and cons of Polycarbonate lenses?
Polycarbonate lenses are the most impact and shatter resistant lens material for glasses. They also absorb close to 100% of damaging UV rays. In many ways, this impact resistance makes polycarbonate the best lens material for fishing glasses.
Polycarbonate lenses are also generally cheaper, and much lighter than sunglasses equipped with glass lenses. This does make them more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
There are a few downsides to polycarbonate lenses, they are softer and are easier to scratch.
Due to the low ABBE of Polycarbonate lenses, they disperse the light and create unwanted chromatic aberration. In normal speech, polycarbonate causes more distortions.
Is there much of a difference between expensive and cheap polycarbonate lenses?
Speaking as a layperson, when new there does not seem to be much difference between affordable and expensive polycarbonate lenses. I certainly can not tell a difference.
They are still the same base material after all. The main difference is that expensive polycarbonate lenses usually offer slightly better clarity and are more optically correct. They also come with much more durable coatings that are unlikely to scratch or rub off with use.
After several years of use, expensive polycarbonate lenses do hold up somewhat better.
There is a noticeable jump in quality going from a polycarbonate lens to a glass lens. I will explain the advantages (and disadvantages) in the section below.
Are glass lenses worth the premium?
Glass is more scratch resistant, offers better clarity, and is more optically correct than polycarbonate. Glass also provides excellent protection against UV rays. On the downside, glass is also heavier, more expensive, and less impact resistant.
I enjoy wearing my glass lens glasses. The extra clarity is noticeable, especially when concentrating o fine details. Glass lenses also offer less distortion, especially around the edge of the lens.
Glass does have a few drawbacks.
The first is that glass is less impact-resistant than polycarbonate, and it is not a small difference. Glass lens can be punctured by a BB projectile traveling at 84m/s. While polycarbonate survives impacts up to 210m/s.
What does that mean? A direct hit from a fly traveling at close to maximum velocity in theory could puncture, or even shatter a glass lens.
This is quite worrying because flies have been recorded traveling at a velocity up to 182m/s. Now, I have never heard of, or seen evidence of a glass lens shattering when fishing. So I am not sure how big of a risk the difference in puncture resistance actually is.
Another, immediately noticeable drawback of glass lens sunglasses is weight.
I can easily notice the increase in weight when wearing my glass lens Spotters or Smiths compared with my polycarbonate Oakleys or Costa Del Mar’s.
Despite all the drawbacks. I do enjoy wearing and using glass lens sunglasses when fishing. They just feel more premium, offer better scratch resistance and the clarity reduces the strain on the eye.
At the end of the day, I certainly do not spot or catch more fish when wearing them so from a purely fishing efficiency point of view the extra price can not be justified.
Nylon lens sunglasses – the newcomer.
Nylon lenses are a fairly new technology that is only currently available on a handful of models.
Nylon offers better clarity than polycarbonate (higher ABBE value), while providing better impact resistance than glass. In many ways, it occupies the middle ground between glass and polycarbonate lenses.
It is also lighter approximately 20% lighter than an equivalent polycarbonate lens. A perfect technology for sunglasses that float.
At this time, I do not know how scratch resistance compares with the two incumbents.
Avoid polarized Sunglasses using triacetate (TAC) lenses.
Most polarized sunglasses costing under $60 use triacetate lenses (Sometimes called TAC or Tri Acetate Cellulose). This includes some glasses with thousands of reviews on amazon. I do not recommend these lenses for fishing, because they fall short in several areas.
- They only absorbs about 40% of harmful UV rays.
- The polaroid film is on the outer lens, making it more vulnerable to scratches and abrasion.
- Provide low impact and puncture protection and they can shatter.
To be fair, sometimes they apply additional UV blocking, and scratch resistance coatings which does help when new. But abrasion over time, often removes such coatings reducing their effectiveness.
Avoid cheap plastic lens sunglasses.
I will quickly cover other plastic lenses. Okay, Polycarbonate, Nylons are plastic, but they are not the only type of plastic used in the manufacturing of sunglasses.
Many cheap sunglasses are made from even cheaper materials. These cheap plastics lenses are not good.
They shatter easily, one of the more common plastics used is cr39 it shatters at 97m/s. So in the same ballpark as glass, and it is only downhill from there. Some commonly used lens materials puncture at even slower speeds.
These lens materials, do tend to be slightly harder than polycarbonate. So are more scratch resistant but I still will not recommend them.
Dealing with condensation on fishing sunglasses – (Frame design matters)
When fishing, condensation on our lenses can be a real pain to deal with. It occurs thanks to the temperature difference between our body and the surrounding air.
Some sunglass designs trap a lot more condensation and steam than the others.
Condensation is not normally a problem when just strolling to the local pond. But if you have to hike in over a steep hill, or paddle hard it can really cause sunglasses to fog up.
I have found the best way to reduce the chance of condensation forming, is to wear sunglasses that have a minimal frame. Such frames allow more airflow which helps clear away any moisture before it gets a chance to settle on our lenses. Preventing condensation is all about maximizing airflow between the face and lens.
Does anti-condensation coatings and sprays help?
Some sunglasses come with coatings that are supposed to reduce condensation. I honestly have not seen one that works.
The same applies to the aftermarket sprays and wipes, that are supposed to keep condensation away.
8 Best Sunglasses for trout fishing.
There are a lot of sunglass brands and models on the market, too many to test them all. Over the last decade, I have probably worn 30 pairs. I am rough on them and lose more than I care to admit.
So based on my own personal experience, and research here is what I consider to be the best performing sunglasses for trout fishing.
Traditional Style Fishing Sunglasses
This style of sunglasses is the most widely worn by fishermen. They provide excellent coverage, and the lens often wraps around the face to prevent light from sneaking in from the sides.
These frames are designed to rest snuggly on the face, with a minimal gap between frame and skin. This tight fit has the advantage of blocking even more light. The only real downside is that the close fit, under certain conditions can trap condensation which can cause the glasses to fog up.
I will now suggest some of my favorite full frame fishing glasses.
Smith Optics Guides Choice – Best Glass Lens Fishing Glasses
When it comes to premium sunglasses for fishing. I find it very hard to beat the Smiths Guide Choice. They are built extremely well and are priced competitively with other premium glasses.
- Wide glass lenses do an excellent job at blocking light.
- Lens width: 62mm
- Lens height: 42mm
- Excellent Lens clarity I could not pick up any distortion.
- Their bronze lens is very well suited for trout fishing.
- Tick and solid frame, designed to block the maximum amount of light from sneaking in from behind.
- Integrated connection point for a lanyard.
- Bifocal options are available.
I owned a pair for years, and despite treating them roughly I never managed to scratch the glass lens. I eventually lost them while filming a flood, only to rediscover them two years later. One lens was missing, the other was milky from micro scratches but quite surprisingly the frame was still intact.
While the glasses were a write-off, I was still highly impressed with how well they held up.
I have also heard nothing but good things regarding their customer support and overall warranty process.
Costa Del Mar Men’s Blackfin Pro
There is not much that separates the Blackfin Pros from the other sunglasses on this list. It is another great option.
These are traditional sunglass styles for fly fishing. The large oval lenses provide excellent protection against the sun and any wayward fly. They have a very wide to prevent light from getting in from the sides.
- Wide lens, a touch smaller than the Guide Pro.
- Lens width: 60mm
- Lens height: 41mm
- Wide frame to block light intrusion from behind.
- Comes in both polycarbonate and glass lens versions.
- Glass Lens has excellent clarity and distortion free.
- I particularly liked the yellow lens for fishing in the evenings.
- Integrated lanyard connection point.
- Assembled in USA
You can tell the difference by looking at the model number. The polycarbonate version ends in a P and the glass version ends in a G.
They also come with a pretty decent warranty.
Oakley Split Shot – Best Lightweight Fishing Sunglass
The split shots by Oakley are quite expensive for polycarbonate lenses. But there is probably no better polycarbonate lens on the market.
The lenses are larger than the ones found on both the Black Fin Pro and Guide Choice. Although, I do not notice much of a difference when actually wearing them.
They seem to be extremely well made, although have not had them long enough to know firsthand how they stand up to years of abuse. I do not care how many special coatings they have, being polycarbonate, the lenses will scratch easier than glass.
- Wide Polycarbonate lens.
- Lens Width 64mm,
- Lens Height 43.5mm
- Extremely impact resistant
- The frame is slightly thinner.
- Much lighter than glass lens glasses.
- Excellent clarity and low distortion.
- Excellent selection of lens colors
- An integrated lanyard connection point
- Comes with a coated steel leash.
- Expensive for polycarbonate
- Assembled in USA
Bnus – Best Value Glass Lens
These are the cheapest glass lens polarized sunglasses I could find.
I was a bit skeptical when I first saw sunglass lenses at this price point. Was it really possible to sell an Italian made sunglass, with a glass lens for a third the price of the big names? I had to get a pair to test.
Well, they seem to be very good glasses. The clarity is excellent with very little distortion. The frames seem sturdy and well constructed. I will update this review after I get a season use out of them.
I purchased the brown lens version, and it is nice and contrasty. I have heard reports that the blue mirror version also has a brown base.
The lenses are nice and broad, offering a good amount of coverage (63mm by 45mm), They weigh 44g / 1.5oz which is fairly typical for a glass lens.
I am impressed and will happily wear them fishing.
Rheos Nautical – (Sunglasses that float!)
This brand grabbed my attention for three reasons. Firstly they float, Secondly, they only cost $50 and finally they use nylon lenses.
Nylon is not a cheap alternative to polycarbonate but is a new technology being used in lens technology. It offers better clarity (Higher ABBE value) than polycarbonate while offering more impact resistance than glass. It is also very lightweight.
The lens color selection is slightly limited but there is something to suit most conditions. Another slight downside is that the frame is quite narrow, so only blocks a limited amount of sidewise glare.
Nylon is about 20% lighter than polycarbonate and has superior optical clarity. Downsides include slightly reduced impact resistance and higher manufacturing cost, although that is not really reflected in the retail price seen here.
Suncloud – (Big brand quality at budget price?)
Suncloud, the budget brand of Smith deserves a mention.
They are simply a pair of well made polycarbonate sunglass. They do not bring anything special, or unusual just a basic, polarized sunglass. For the money, they are tough to beat.
Sure, you lose the excellent warranty support but for around $50 they are excellent value for money.
Specialized Glasses for Most Niche Fishing Situations
Oakley Half Jacket® 2.0 XL
I like the styling of half jackets, or the very comparale Oakely Flak 2.0 XL. This design is my personal choice when fishing from a kayak or drift boat. The half frame design allows for plenty of airflow that reduces the chance of condensation developing. The XL size lenses also, provides a good amount of coverage.
There is one major drawback, is that the lack of frame does allow in some stray light and glare. If where, or how you are fishing condensation is not an issue, then a fuller more full frame pair of glasses will likely work better..
One nice feature of the Half Jacket 2.0 is its interchangeable lenses. If one lens gets scratched or lost, it is quite easy to order a replacement. Some third-party providers have also started to make nylon lenses compatible with half jackets.
It is even possible to switch out the lenses while on the water. Maybe fish a grey tinted lens during the brightest time of day and switch to a yellow lens for the evening hatch. There is even a clear lens option for night fishing.
I also need to mention, that not all of the lens options are polarized. Double check before buying.
If I do have one complaint, is that Oakley does not currently offer a bronze or yellow lens option for the Half Jacket, but they do for the Flak 2.0 Xl.
If Oakely are not a good fit then Smiths make the Parallel MAX 2 which is a similar design.
Maui Jim Ho’okipa Reader – Excellent bifocal glasses
Tying on tiny flies can be challenging, even more so once your eyesight starts to fail.
These sunglasses are bifocal, making them an excellent choice for fly fishermen whose vision is not quite as good as it once was. (They are also available in standard focal)
Now, there are plenty of bifocal fishing glasses. What makes these special? Well, the lens is exceptionally high quality, with excellent clarity and some of the lowest distortions I have seen in polycarbonate lenses. I really do not know how Maui Jim does it.
The frameless design is a bit of a two-edge sword, it does help prevent the build up of condensation which can at times be problematic, but at the same time, they are structurally weaker and will allow in more reflective glare.
They come with an excellent warranty and customer support. It is usably possible to purchase replacement lenses and parts that can greatly prolong the life of your glasses.
Alfaro, D. V., Jablon, E. P., Rodriguez Fontal, M., Villalba, S. J., Morris, R. E., Grossman, M., & Roig-Melo, E. (2005). Fishing-related ocular trauma. American Journal of Ophthalmology, 139(3), 488–492. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2004.10.011