Sunglasses are a simple tool that makes seeing clearly easier while on the water. Every angler should be wearing a pair of good polarized fishing sunglasses. But sunglasses are also one of those pieces of gear that can really make an angler confused while trying to make a decision.
The first thing we are confronted with is the huge price range in eye wear. A set of sunglasses can cost anywhere from $20 to well over $300, and every price point in between. Then you have a variety of lens colors and materials, as well as a dizzying number of brands to choose from. This guide was produced to help anglers cut through the BS and choose the best fishing sunglasses for the money.
How do Polarized Lenses Work?
Polarized lenses are built with a vertically transmission filter that allows vertical light waves (direct light) through, while blocking horizontally oriented waves (reflected light). The reflected light waves are what fishermen call glare. Glare drastically reduces your ability to see into the water.
How can you tell if your sunglasses are polarized? One test is to look at your fish finder display. Marine electronics manufacturers are using polarizing film on the LCD to make the screen most viewable for fishermen wearing polarized sunglasses. When you are sitting directly in front of the fish finder, the screen looks bright and clear. Now turn your head to the side. If nothing changes, they are regular lenses. If the screen goes dim, you are wearing polarized sunglasses.
Fishing Benefits of Polarized Lenses
Now that you understand lens polarization, we can touch on why that is important for fishing. The best polarized fishing sunglasses have three main benefits for anglers.
- See Below the Water Surface Better – When the glare coming off the water is reduced, an angler’s ability to see what’s below is improved and becomes an important tool. Being able to see rocks, vegetation, and even fish is a huge advantage to have. Sight fishing especially is aided by polarized sunglasses. In most fishing situations though, gaining information on what’s below simply makes for a more productive angler.
- Reduce Eye Strain – Eyes can become fatigued over a long day on the water. When the suns glare coming off the water is reduced, the eyes don’t have to work as hard. The amount of squinting and angler has to do is cut down while trying to see objects in the water. It’s not much fun making along drive home with tired eyes.
- Block Harmful UV Rays – The same UVA and UVB rays emitted from the sun pummeling your skin can also cause harm to your eyes in the long term. Too much UV exposure over many years can lead to cataracts and damage the retina. Look for sunglasses that block 100% of both types of radiation.
Polarized Sunglasses Compared
|TR-90 Nylon||580P Polycarbonate||$$$$|
|Wiley X P-17|
|Triloid™ Nylon||Selenite™ Polycarbonate||$$$|
|Native Eyewear Kodiak|
|TR-90 Nylon||580P Polycarbonate||$$$$|
|O Matter||Plutonite (PC)||$$$|
|TR 90 NZZ||Polycarbonate||$$$|
|Oakley Fuel Cell|
|O Matter||Plutonite (PC)||$$$$|
|Flying Fisherman Buchanan|
|Strike King Okeechobee |
Which Lens Colors are best for Fishing?
Lens colors are somewhat of a personal choice as to what works best. There are some general guidelines for best colors depending the application, to at least get you started.
- Amber/Brown/Copper – For low light conditions, such as early morning, evening, or with cloudy weather, an Amber or Copper colored lens is a great choice. These colors let a bit more light in, providing more illumination when less light is present. Out of the three, Amber is the best for all around fishing conditions.
- Green Mirror – Green and Green Mirror are two of the best lens colors for freshwater fishing. They have an amber/copper base color and are great in waters that are stained to somewhat clear.
- Yellow – For high contrast, go with a yellow lens. Many sight fisherman use yellow because it helps distinguish between a fish bed and the rest of the lake bottom. Being able to spot the irregularities in grass and see hard spots is a great advantage for shallow fishing.
- Blue Mirror – Blue and Blue Mirror is generally considered the best lens color for offshore fishing. It has a gray base lens that helps block the harsh direct sunlight on open water fishing.
- Gray/Smoke – These colors excel in very bright conditions by reducing light transmission. They also do not distort the natural colors as much as other lens colors. Gray and Smoke are very popular for all around usage beyond fishing.
- Lens Coatings – The best polarized sunglasses will have several layers and coatings, including scratch resistance, mirror coating, and a hydrophobic costing to help prevent water spotting on the surface.
Glass vs Plastic Lenses
Glass lenses can provide the best in optical clarity, but they are heavier and more expensive. Polycarbonate lenses are also more impact resistant, which is an important factor depending on how fast your boat is. Anglers who do a lot of flipping and grass mat punching may opt for polycarbonate due to the projectile nature of a heavy bullet weight flying out of the grass. Here is a horrifying example of the damage caused by a flying weight.
Fishing Sunglasses Reviews
Some anglers will tell you you’re paying for a name on high end glasses, while others swear by their favorite brand. I’ve worn everything from $15 gas station shades to $150 Costa’s, and I can tell you my vision isn’t good enough to warrant a huge investment in sunglasses, so I always stay under $100.
If you are hard on your gear or tend to loose things you may better off with sunglasses under $50. On the other hand, many anglers choose to use their fishing glasses for everything. In that case a stylish name brand pair may be completely worth it.
Here are my favorite eyewear options from most of the top brands. The price range is huge among these choices. The main difference is mostly the quality and durability of the frames and lenses, as well as the clarity of optics. Each angler needs to decide what a comfortable amount is to invest in their eyewear.
The Blackfin has withstood the test of time, earning their place as one of the most popular fishing sunglasses Costa has ever produced. This could almost be expected from a company founded by fishermen who were not satisfied by other sunglasses on the market.
Blackfin shades are built on a nylon frame with insert molded rubber grips on the temple arms. The shape is classic, curving and wrapping around the eyes and temple for a seamless look. There is also a nice variety in the frame colors, from understated black and gunmetal, to RealTree camo or Tortoise.
The lensed are what Costa was founded on, so it should be no surprise that anglers love the clarity of the Blackfin. Whether you choose the 580p Polycarbonate or 590g Glass, you are getting a high tech engineered lens designed with fishing in mind.
Wiley X was founded by a military veteran, and started out designing optics for military and police forces. Over time they have grown into a major supplier of sunglasses to the US Military and Special Forces. That kind of foundation lends a ton of credibility to the fishing and outdoors market.
All Wiley X sunglasses must meet the ANSI Z87.1 standard for high velocity impact. Anglers who do a lot of flipping and grass mat punching would be wise to consider that fact. A projectile 1oz tungsten weight can do a surprising amount of damage to an eye should it take a direct hit.
The P-17 has a similar wraparound design compared to the Costas, but the temple arms are narrower. There is the option of Gloss Black or Gloss Demi (tortoise) with Emerald Mirror or Smoke Green lenses. The Wiley X P-17 are a great alternative to the pricier Costas, and are excellent for fishing and all around outdoors use in their own right.
Native makes a full line of solid mid-priced sunglasses. They don’t have the name recognition of the huge brands but don’t let that fool you. Native makes high quality and comfortable sunglasses. In fact they could be thought of as having some of the best fishing sunglasses for the money. The frames are made of a lightweight and durable castor resin, and cam locking temple for a secure fit. Keep in mind the Kodiak model has medium sized frame best for average sized faces.
The Fantail is the smaller sibling of the Blackfin. If you fell in love with the fit and clarity of the Blackfin but found them to be a little too wide for your face, look to the Fantail as a direct alternative. They have the same great lenses and stylish frames. There are reviews saying the rubber co-molding falls off the frame over time (typically 1-2 years), but Costa has since come out with a next generation frame and molding that seems to have solved the issue.
Oakley has long enjoyed having a stellar reputation among athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. Oakley sunglasses could always be counted on for razor sharp optical clarity, light in weight, and a badass look. For a long time most Oakley glasses were even made in the USA.
Times and businesses change, and now many Oakley sunglasses are made overseas. Has there been a drop in price or quality because of these business moves? The answer to both appears to be no. Oakley is still a top brand of polarized sunglasses, and they remain at premium prices.
Looking at the GasCan, we can see a tough, rectangular design reminiscent of its name. The frame is thick but not bulky. The lenses look as if they were cut from a continuous piece of polycarbonate that really makes a sleek appearance. The polarized Plutonite lenses are great for fishing and hunting, as well as performing as your everyday carry sunglasses.
Smith Optics is one of the oldest sunglass companies in the US. Founded in 1965 by an orthodontist with an addiction to the skis slopes, Smith developed advanced ski goggles with breathable lenses. Today, Smith has developed ChromaPop, and advanced polarized lens technology.
ChromaPop technology uses two wavelength filters to present a more natural and higher definition of color to the eyes. The filters help distinguish between blue, green, and red, which is something the eyes have trouble with on their own. For fishing, that mean seeing grass and objects under the water.
The Smith Prospect glasses are the type of fishing shades that can be worn all day, whether on the water or in the truck. They have a timeless wraparound shape that would look great on anyone. The resin frames come in several sweet looking colors like Flecked Green Tortoise (Bronze Mirror lens), Matte Camo (Platinum lens), Brown (Amber lens), and of course all Black (Gray Green lens). All of those lens colors work well for fishing.
View on: Cabela’s
Ambphia is well known for making some of the best floating sunglasses for fishing. There is no need to wear an uncomfortable lanyard if you don’t want to. If sinking a $150 sunglasses into the water makes you sweat, it may be time to consider Amphiba.
Amphibia sunglasses float thanks to the TR-90 resin that has a density less than water. Another factor to think about is the ANSI Z87.1 impact rating. Amphibia is the first and only floating sunglasses to meet that important specification.
The Depthcharge is the most popular frame style for Amphibia and deserves a good look for your next fishing shades. The temple bars are thick and the hinge is beefy. The main part of the glasses wrap around the eyes nicely, and have a sweet looking carved out edge on the bottom that set them apart from the big brands.
The Oakely Fuel Cell sunglasses are not for the timid. Their shape and styling are aimed towards outdoorsmen and shooters who prefer tough, aggressive lines in their eyewear. Fuel Cell is the choice for many tactical enthusiasts, including US Special Forces teams.
The Fuel Cell are built from the patented O Matter ® resin, said to be stress resistant. The shades meet and exceed the specs for the ANSI Z87.1 impact tests, so they are a good option for fishing, hunting, and shooting. When comparing the Oakley Fuel Cell vs GasCan, you will find the Fuel Cell is bit wider, with a larger frame overall.
The Plutonite lenses are typical high quality you’d expect from Oakley. They block out 100% of the harmful UVA, UVB, UVC light. The lens coatings are hydrophobic, helping to reduce smudging and repels dust and water, all of which happen frequently on the water.
View on: Amazon
I had never heard of Flying Fisherman until doing the research for this guide. I was surprised to see such high user ratings for such an inexpensive sunglasses. If you are looking for the best cheap fishing sunglasses, these might just be it. When my gas station shades finally give out on me, I just may try the Buchanan to keep in the truck for driving.
The nice thing about cheaper sunglasses is you can buy several pairs with different lens colors and still make it home under the price of one premium set of glasses. The Buchanan lens system is scratch resistant with Acu-Tint colors that bring out contrast without messing up the clarity or true life colors.
View on: Amazon
Strike King in recent years has entered the low end sunglasses market with their line of S11 sunglasses. Each frame style bears the name of legendary fishing lakes. The Okeechobee frames are the most popular among bass anglers who are comfortable with the wraparound style.
Between the Buchanan and the SK Okeechobee you have two of the best fishing sunglasses under $50. There are a lot of similarities between the two, it comes down to which style and lens color you prefer. Strike King S11 have more colors to choose from, and offer the same level of polarization and UV ray protection.
Caring for Expensive Fishing Optics
There might not be a worse feeling than pulling your sunglasses from the glove box to find a huge scratch in the lens. Actually, dropping them into the lake, watching your hard earned money flutter to the bottom feels terrible too. Learn from my mistakes and utilize these three care tips to assure your optics last a long time.
Keeping Lenses Clean
In the boating and fishing environment, getting water on the lenses is inevitable. Just like on a fish finder, stubborn water deposits can form on the lenses if you fail to clean them after each and every fishing trip. Keep a small bottle of lens cleaner in the boat or in your vehicle, along with a soft microfiber cloth. You can also buy a box of pre-moistened lens wipes and use them as needed throughout the day.
Using proper cleaners and cloths is the first defense against scratches. Cleaners with ammonia can dissolve the special anti-reflective coatings over time. Some cloths and fabrics are actually abrasive against the hard surfaces of polarized lenses. The other easy way to care for the lenses is to use the protective sock and case 100% of the time you’re not using them.
Use a Lanyard/Retainer
Don’t donate your glasses to the lake. The lake doesn’t want them. Anglers forget their glasses were sitting on the back of their neck. Hats with glasses perched on top can fly off in the wind. I’ve seen it happen many times, and when you least expect it. The simple solution is to get a sunglass lanyard (also called a retainer or croakie). When you’re not wearing the sunglasses, they can hang safely from your neck. It’s a cheap price to pay to ensure you don’t part ways with $100+ sunglasses. A lanyard doesn’t have to look dorky either. Costa makes a stylish C-Mono Retainer that looks great paired with their sunglasses.
Sunglass Sizing Guide
Sizing is an important to remember. Shades with too narrow a temple for your head will squeeze and give you headaches and sore ears. Frames that are too large will have big gaps around the sides that can let stray sunshine reach your eyes. That kind of defeats the whole purpose of polarized sunglasses.
Fortunately, the major brands have gotten really good at creating sizes that fit the vast majority of people. Costa, for example, has size L that fits most people very well. The next most popular size is M. If you are set on a pair, be sure to measure the width of your temple and refer to the models dimensions on the product page.
Which Sunglasses Should You Buy?
Fishing optics are a personal choice, and everyone has an opinion. With such a huge range in options and prices, it comes down to what you value most. Do you place high value on the best clarity in optical performance? Then you should stick to the top 2 or 3 brands like Costa, Oakley, and Wiley X.
If getting a good value for your dollar is most important, there are awesome mid-range sunglasses from Smith and Amphibia that get high marks from anglers. Finally, if you simply want the best, cheapest sunglasses for fishing, you can go confidently with Strike King S11 or Flying Fisherman Buchanan.