Protecting your eyes from harmful sun rays and the ability to see into the water is one of the most important aspects of fly fishing. Polarized glasses cut the glare of the sun, allowing you to see what swims below the water’s surface and look for fish all day without straining your eyes. I’ve put together this guide to share what I believe are the best fly fishing sunglasses, and my reasons for selecting them.
What are the best sunglasses for fly fishing?
Picking the best sunglasses will depend a lot on personal preference. Sunglasses should be comfortable to wear for hours on end, and the frames fit securely on your head. Based on lens technology, durability, and sun protection, these are the best sunglasses currently on the market:
- Bajio Sunglasses
- Smith Optics
- Costa Del Mar
Below I will review each of these individually, outlining the pros and cons of each choice and why I feel they are the best on the market. Additionally, we will review how to select the best lens color for the waters you fish, allowing you to see more fish.
Bajio Sunglasses: The new player in town
Bajio Sunglasses is a Florida-based company that was started by employees of Costa Del Mar. Although they are relatively new, Bajio is already doing some great things. Founded on a mission of restoring flats, this company aims to cater to the fly-fishing market across the globe by providing glasses that target sight fishermen. When unboxing a pair of Bajio Sunglasses, the attention to detail is evident just based on the packaging. The sunglasses come with everything you need to take proper care of your glasses, including a leather carry case and a built-in slot to add a leash.
Staying true to their mission, Bajio Sunglass frames are made entirely from recycled plant-based materials. While that may sound like a recipe for poor quality, don’t be fooled. These frames are well thought out and incredibly durable.
I personally wear Bajio Sunglasses daily on the water and have been incredibly impressed with how the frames have held up, where other manufacturers have fallen short. I am always wary when manufacturers use rubber around the nose piece of their glasses because this is usually the first thing to break. However, Bajio has incorporated the comfort of the rubber nose stop in a durable, well-thought-out fashion that has lasted far longer than I thought it would.
Bajio Lens Technology
By far, the most important aspect of any sunglass purchase is the quality of the lens. Lens technology is what makes or breaks the quality of a pair of sunglasses. After all, if you are unable to see fish, what good are the glasses?
The first time I tried on a pair of Bajio Sunglasses, it was like seeing the world in High Definition. While most manufacturers focus on reducing yellow light, Bajio focuses on reducing harmful blue light. Blue light is incredibly damaging to your eyes and is often associated with looking at computer screens or TVs. However, the biggest source of blue light is actually the sun. Bajio’s proprietary lens technology blocks up to 95% of blue light, allowing you to see further and deeper into the water.
Bajio offers six lens color options in both glass and polycarbonate. I always prefer using a glass lens for added durability, but Bajio takes steps to add additional protection to plastic lenses. Using an oleophobic coating on both sides of the lens will reduce water spots, smudges and increase scratch resistance.
What are the most popular Bajio frames?
I have been fortunate to try multiple pairs of Bajio Sunglasses. When searching for the perfect frame, I always look for a pair that provides adequate coverage on the sides of my eyes. This keeps the sun from peeking in on the edges of your peripheral vision. In my experience, the following frames fit the best for fly fishing applications.
- Bales Beach – Overall best for all-day sun
- Nippers – Best frame for smaller profiles
- Calda – Great frames for the fisherwoman
Smith Optics – The lightest on the market
Smith Optics originated as a snowboard goggle company in 1965 but quickly realized they had the technology to cater to the sunglass market as well. In 2013, the company introduced the ChromoPop technology that changed the sunglasses market and attracted fishermen looking for an edge.
Smith sunglasses are by the lightest weight frames on the market. They can easily be worn all day with comfort. Select fishing models come with a built-in leash for added security, and every pair comes with a carrying case and cleaning cloth.
Smith frames are extremely durable that I have personally put through their paces. From being kicked off the side of a skiff to dropped down the side of a mountain, my Smith frames have held up through extreme abuse.
Smith Lens Technology
By far, the biggest advantage of Smith Optics is its lens technology. Until recent years, no other company could match the crisp, clear view of ChromoPop technology. This technology aims to separate blue, green, and red light allowing your eyes to have better clarity and definition. Naturally, your eyes have difficulty separating these colors, causing intense sun rays to reduce color definition. By separating these colors, your eyes create crisper contrast even on the sunniest days. For this reason, Smith lenses have been enjoyed by fly fishermen for years.
Smith offers sunglasses in both glass and polycarbonate lenses in 12 different colors. Finding a lens that caters to your local water quality is easy to do with such a variety of different color options.
Smith Optics was also the first company to uncover the need for a pair of low-light sunglasses. Being able to cut glare and see into the water on cloudy days or during morning hours or evenings can be the difference between catching fish or not. We will discuss specific lens colors in detail later in this article.
The downside to Smith sunglasses
Although I have worn Smith sunglasses for years, I have had some issues with their lenses. Over time, the polycarbonate lenses will begin to delaminate. This causes distortion in the outer edge of the glasses.
From my experience, this is caused by prolonged exposure to heat, such as leaving your glasses lying in the sun or in the hot car. I strongly suggest storing your glasses back in the case, indoors when not in use.
The delamination issue seems to only affect the plastic lens technology. I have owned multiple pairs of glass lenses that never had this issue. It is recommended to purchase glass lenses where possible. However, not all lens colors are available in glass.
Luckily, Smith has an incredible warranty, and with a quick phone call, any delaminated glasses can be warrantied for a new pair. Even though this is an issue most would prefer not to deal with, the quality of vision these lens’ offer makes them worth the purchase.
Popular Smith Frames
As mentioned above, Smith optics is not just a fishing company. Therefore there is a huge variety of frames offered for everyday use or sports such as biking and snowboarding. Below is a list of the best fly-fishing frames based on my experience. I’ve included links to check prices on Amazon because it’s cheaper than direct from their online store.
- Guide’s Choice (Amazon) – Designed for the fishing guide, these are absolutely the best.
- Barra (Amazon) – Stylish glasses with side sun protection. Also good for everyday wear.
- Lowdown Slim 2 (Amazon) – Best frames for female anglers
Costa Del Mar – Seeing what’s out there
Costa Del Mar has set the bar for performance fishing sunglasses. They are the original supplier in the space and a name that is now known worldwide.
Costa sunglasses are made in the US with top-tier quality and proprietary 580 lens technology. Although they are not designed specifically for fly fishing, they are the leading provider of sun protection for fishermen.
Costa Lens Technology
Costa is a large company that has spared no expense in understanding the science of creating a perfect lens. Boasting their 580 Lens series, Costa is able to absorb HEV light known to cause macular degeneration, pterygium, cataracts, and other eye diseases. In addition to reducing the harmful effects of blue light, 580 technology blocks yellow light and draws out red, blue, and green colors. The end result is sharper contrast, less haze, and greater clarity.
Lenses from Costa Del Mar are available in both glass and plastic, with glass being a better option. Additionally, you have seven lens colors to choose from, allowing you to find a lens for almost any water condition.
By far, Costa’s greatest advantage is their prescription sunglass offering. No other company offers its proprietary lens technology in RX format. In fact, Costa uses in-house doctors to create all of their prescription glasses. Therefore you know you are receiving the original technology and not some knockoff.
Prescription sunglasses are currently available in plastic poly frame lenses and can be used for single vision and multifocal corrections. If you are in need of quality prescription lenses for fishing, you can stop looking. No one will beat Costa.
The bad about Costa
Although Costa has been around for a long time, there are some flaws with its product. For starters, their frames are very heavy. Wearing these glasses for long periods of time will eventually cause strain on your ears and temples. Costa is aware of this and has started producing models that are much lighter. In the future, this will most likely be a non-issue.
From my experience with Costa, I have noticed that the rubber around the nose bridge almost always falls apart. Although this is a nice feature to have, it is almost inevitable that it will become damaged. When looking for a pair of glasses, it is best to avoid the models that have significant amounts of rubber.
Lastly, I always prefer glass lenses for their scratch resistance and durability. However, with Costa, I have had quite a few glass lenses break. They seem to be less durable than other companies’ glass lenses. Admittedly, I am very hard on my equipment, so this is likely a non-issue for anyone who takes care of their belongings. It is a point to be aware of, though.
Popular Costa Frames
Costa offers the largest selection of fishing sunglasses frames. I have owned multiple pairs of Costa sunglasses, the below are my favorite. I’ve included links to check their pricing on Amazon because again, it’s cheaper than direct from their online store.
- Reefton (Amazon) – Fits a large face but are not bulky in size
- Permit (Amazon) – Full sun coverage and a vent that is breathable
- Waterwoman (Amazon) – Stylish, yet perfect for the fly fisherwoman
What is the best lens color for Fly Fishing?
One of the hardest parts about picking a pair of shades is choosing the right lens color. Lens colors are designed to dull dominant colors while allowing other shades to become more visible. In addition to creating greater contrast, the lens will cut glare from light reflecting off of the water.
When selecting a lens color, you should choose a color that most closely resembles the color and clarity of the water. If you are fishing dark, dirty water, browns, greens, and copper lenses are best. If the water is blue and clear, then a blue lens is the best option.
Best Lens Color for Tropical Locations
Most tropical locations are clear with green or blue water. In these environments, a blue or green lens will provide you with the most clarity. These lenses will allow contrast among other colors allowing you to see different shapes and shadows within the water.
Water color has a lot to do with its depth. Deep water tends to be bluer, which is why most offshore fishermen wear blue lenses. In clear, shallow water, the color of the bottom will dictate the water color. Blue water that is over shallow sand will appear more green or even tan. In these situations, a green/brown lens will provide the most clarity.
Best Lens Color for Tannic Water
Not all fly fishing destinations have pristine water. For example, my home waters of Northeast Florida have a very dark brown tint to them. In this environment, blue lenses will be a disadvantage due to the lack of blue in the water. Instead, wearing a brown or copper lens will allow varying tones to stick out through the brown-colored water.
Occasionally green will work well in these environments as well. This is especially true when fishing areas where grass is present. As you have probably figured out, the best lens is the one that most closely matches your environment.
Best Lens Color for Low-light Situations
Just because there is a lack of sunlight does not mean that sunglasses are useless. In addition to dulling the brightness of the sun, sunglasses significantly cut glare on the water, allowing you to see deeper. In situations where the sun is low, or it is very cloudy, specific lens colors will give you an advantage when sight fishing.
When fishing near sunrise, sunset, or behind clouds, the use of a pink, rose, or yellow lens will cut glare but also allow more light to enter your eyes.
Smith Optics has done a fantastic job of offering low-light solutions with their Ignitor series. The lenses are offered in Pink and Fluorescent Yellow and are an incredible option for adding clarity to dull days.
Although these should not be your primary lens color, it is a good idea to have a pair on standby in the event that you need them. I personally keep a pair of pink low-lights on the boat at all times, and they have been the difference between catching fish and not seeing a thing.
Lens Colors to Avoid
Let’s face it; some sunglasses are not meant to be worn on the water. Your daily shades may look cool but most likely add little value when on the water.
The absolute worst color to wear on the water is a black lens. A black lens will cut glare on the water but does little to contrast fish swimming below the surface. Avoid wearing black on the water.
This is also true for colors such as gray, violets, and reds. These lenses may look cool but will not help you catch fish.
Having a good pair of sunglasses is worth the expense. There are plenty of areas to skimp when it comes to fishing equipment, but protecting your eyes and being able to see fish is not one of them.
Companies such as Bajio Sunglasses, Smith Optics, and Costa Del Mar offer some incredible options for optimizing your time on the water. When selecting a pair of shades, it is best to try them on before making a purchase. The frames should be comfortable and fit snugly on your face. You will be wearing these sunglasses for hours on end, so comfort is imperative.
One of the more confusing aspects of picking a pair of sunglasses is choosing the right lens color. The basic rule of thumb is to choose a lens that closely matches the color of the water. This will allow other colors to contrast nicely against water color. Always avoid colors such as black and gray as they add little benefit when looking for fish.
Even when the sun is low or blocked by clouds, sunglasses offer advantages. Having a low-light pair of sunglasses will help cut glare and accent shapes in the water. I always carry a spare pair of low-light glasses on my boat.
Whether you are looking for a specific style of frame, lens color, or even prescription option, the above-mentioned companies will have an option for you to be successful.