Last month we discussed the scientific side of lens technology and how it all works to benefit the wearer. So at this point we know we need sunglasses that prevent harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching our eyes. Now let's take a look at the options available in the marketplace.
Perhaps the most debated option on fishing eyewear is lens color. Myriad tints and hues greatly affect the way you see the world. Grey is likely the most popular tint for all-purpose glasses across the United States. Being a neutral color, grey provides for nearly natural color perception throughout the light spectrum. Depending on the degree of tint, it can also provide the greatest overall darkening effect in very bright conditions. This is generally the preferred color for offshore anglers and for driving. Green and blue tints also fall into this same category, though to a lesser extent.
While offshore guys are mostly concerned with dimming the overall light intensity, inshore anglers are generally more concerned with seeing through the surface of the water to locate underwater structure and fish. For this you need a lens that increases your perception of contrast between objects. Every manufacturer has a different name for the various colors covering this spectrum. Rose, amber, brown, copper, and vermillion are but a few. All of these filter varying amounts of different light waves. The increased contrast provided by these lenses really can improve your perceived visual acuity. They literally make a redfish appear to pop from its surroundings. If you enjoy sight-fishing in shallow water, these are the colors you need to check out. From my non-scientific research over the years I've found that what works best for one angler isn't necessarily the optimum color for the next guy. Some studies indicate that it relates to individual eye color and that seems to make sense when you think about it. People with light blue eyes see best with the darker hues while those with dark brown eyes prefer the lighter tints. Folks in the middle with hazel eyes are generally split evenly on the topic.
Another point of debate is mirrored lenses. Some folks say mirrors make no difference while others swear by them. Data on the subject shows that the mirrors do make a small difference in the amount of light transmission through the lens. The vast majority of light is already being filtered by the polarization and tint, so it stands to reason that it might be difficult for some people to realize that the mirror is making a difference. I feel that mirrors are generally a matter of personal preference regarding style more so than function. However, if your goal is to eliminate as much light as possible then you might want to go this route. For instance, the ultimate glass for an offshore guy might be dark grey lenses with a mirror finish. Most of the higher-end manufacturers will provide a light transmission value that will help you in determining their effectiveness. This number represents the percentage of light allowed through the lens and generally falls between 8 and 20. When shopping for your sunglasses, remember that the light outdoors will be much different than inside the store. Ask to take a couple pair outside for comparison.
Another thing to consider is the style of frame and size of the lens. I know it's cool to have those aviator style sunglasses, but you might want to rethink that choice. Small diameter lenses and thin wire frames will allow a huge amount of light to reach your eyes all around the edges. Not only will they let in stray light, they will also allow harmful UV to reach your eyes. What you want is the most complete coverage you can get. Larger lenses and close-fitting wrap-around frames are the go-to choice for maximum protection.
Glass or polycarbonate plastic? This is a matter of personal preference. Glass lenses are generally superior on an optical level and cost a little more. Most agree they are clearer and provide the greatest visual acuity. They are also more scratch resistant. The downside is the weight. Polycarbonate lenses are your other solid choice. They offer lighter weight, but are not quite as clear as glass. But they'll also scratch easier. One big advantage of polycarbonate is that they are shatter resistant and will stand up to an errant backcast from your fishing buddy possibly saving you a trip to the ER. Different companies have various proprietary names for their formulations of polycarbonate. It can be a bit confusing to sort through the marketing terms, but it all pretty much boils down to glass or poly. Much further down the list are plastic lenses. These have much lower optical integrity and they are easily scratched.
And that leads to perhaps the most contentious aspect of sunglasses…price. There is a huge difference in price points with some selling for as little as $15 while the upper end can put you over three bills. Then again, most of the equipment we buy to pursue our favorite pastimes fall into this trap as well. And generally speaking you get what you pay for. I tend to gravitate towards buying quality equipment. Days in the field or on the water are too special for me to go bargain and risk disappointment. But with sunglasses it stands out as even more important. We're talking about the health of our eyes.
On the lowest end of the scale are the all plastic sunglasses. Most of the ones I've seen are tagged as "polarized", but I don't recall seeing much on them about their UV blocking qualities. I'd be suspect of these models and thoroughly check them out before trusting my eyes to them. Generally speaking their coatings are applied to the outer surface of the lens. And being plastic, these lenses are very easily scratched. Those surface scratches are not only irritating, they can leave you open to increased UV penetration as the UV filter is on that outer layer. Some studies theorize that this could be worse than going without sunglasses since your eyes are dilated from the dark lenses thus allowing more UV to reach your retina.
Quality sunglasses will have multi-layered optical grade lenses with various coatings to improve their performance. Most will sandwich their polarizing films and UV filters between the outer layers of the lens. This keeps these components free of scratches and maintains the integrity of the protection for your eyes. Depending on the manufacturer there can also be scratch-resistant coatings as well as anti-fogging and waterproofing. Waterproof lenses are a really cool option when a big sow speck soaks you at the end of a fight. The water just beads up and slides off like a newly waxed car. And perhaps one of the most useful coatings to look for is an anti-reflective film applied to the inside of the lens. With this option any light that slips in through the sides is not reflected back into your eyes.
I've mentioned optical grade quality lenses and there is a simple method to determine if your lenses meet the standard. Hold the sunglasses away from your face and look at a straight line. Use a door frame or the grout line in your tile floor. Now move the lens along that line and see what happens. If the line distorts or becomes wavy at all then your lenses not optically correct. This will affect your vision and also means your lenses are varying in thickness possibly offering you less protection at the thinner points.
In addition to quality lenses you'll also want to look at the construction of the frames. Corrosion resistant stainless steel screws, hinges and springs are a must in our coastal environment. Padded nose pieces and comfortable ear legs are also nice features to consider. Remember that you'll be wearing these all day so get a pair that fit properly. Different models are designed for different facial shapes and sizes so try on as many as you need to find the right style.
Good quality sunglasses can make or break your day on the water. I've had many anglers on the front of my poling skiff wearing the wrong sunglasses. I'll be up on the platform calling out fish locations while they stare at the water getting frustrated because they can't see the fish. I carry a spare pair for just such occasions. Once these guys put the good stuff on they are simply amazed at how much easier the game becomes and I guarantee they'll be willing to fork over a few extra bucks for the upgrade. For the health of your sight, I hope you will too.