Best Polarized Sunglasses for Fishing: 10 Top Models Reviewed

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For the kind of fishing we love – stalking big trout in clear rivers and lakes and saltwater game fishing on the flats and other skinny water – your polarized sunglasses are your most important piece of gear.

You can make do with a poor rod or reel, but if you can’t see the fish in these environments, you are not even in the ball game.

The best polarized fishing sunglasses for fishing cut through the surface glare and give you a clear view of the water column allowing you to spot fish and put your lure or fly right in front of them so they eat it.

We’ve reviewed the top brands’ best polarized fishing sunglasses to help you buy a pair you’ll love.

The brands and models we’ve reviewed in this article are below

  • Smith – precision optics with state-of-the-art lens technology
  • Costa Del Mar – saltwater fishing heritage and study construction
  • Maui Jim – diverse range of lens and materials
  • Oakley – tough, durable and enhanced colors
Best Freshwater Glasses

The clear choice for freshwater fishing – the Polarchromic copper lens adjusts to the available light to maximise fish spotting ability. These lenses are a game changer for freshwater sight fishing.

Best Saltwater Glasses

With the 580 lens technology, the mirrored coating and a salt-water
pedigree spanning decades, the Costa del Mar Broadbill’s in the Blue
Mirror colour are our clear choice for offshore and salt water fishing.

Best Low Light Glasses

The Low Light Ignitors are the best lenses out there for spotting fish in low light conditions – dusk, cloud and shadow pose no issue to a lens type that will boost your catch rate.

Best polarized fishing sunglasses in key categories:

We’ve compared the best polarized sunglasses for fishing across what we consider to be the most reputable brands with the benefit of years of experience and decades on the water. We have nominated our best picks below for freshwater, saltwater and low light conditions.

Best for fishing in freshwater

This was an easy choice – Smith Optics’ Polarchromic range offers great visual clarity and feel with the ability for the lens to vary its properties according to the light, which the others either don’t do or don’t do as well. The winner here is the Smith Guides Choice in either the Polarchromic Copper (VLT 13-20%) or Polarchromic Ignitor (VLT 12-20%). These glass lenses are tough and scratch resistant and from our point of view, the extra weight is offset by their versatility in terms of light transmission. These will have you picking out fish feeding even in deep shadows but still over a very high level of protection for driving and when you step out into the bright sunlight.

Best for saltwater

Again, for this category we have one clear winner. Costa Del Mar’s heritage is in blue-water fishing – where UV rays are strong – and the Tuna Alley in Blue Mirror (10% VLT) is, in our opinion, the finest pair of saltwater fishing sunglasses on the market and offers great UV protection. You have the choice of glass or polycarbonate lenses/Trivex lenses- it just depends on weight versus hardness. If you are the kind of person who’ll care for these with kid gloves (and they deserve it) then go for the lighter polymers, but if you are little harder on your gear, like many fishermen, glass is a better choice to avoid scratches.

Best polarized sunglasses for fishing in low light conditions

This was a shootout between the Smith Low Light Ignitors (VLT 40%) and the Costa Del Mar  Sunrise Silver Mirrors (VLT 25%). Both are excellent glasses design for fishing in lower light while still offering UV protection. The purpose of these are to extend your polaroiding window by an hour or two at either end of the day – something which is vital as for must of us our fishing time is limited. We love the Sunrise Silver Mirrors, but we’ve given the nod to the Low Light Ignitors for one reason – for most users these are a specialist pair of sunglasses.

By that we mean, these low light glasses won’t be your main sunglasses – they just let too much light through for bright days. They are more of a secret weapon – ideal for whipping out as the sun drops lower in the sky and you begin to see fish that your fishing buddies can no longer make out.

For fly fishermen you can use this type of lens right into the evening rise. That’s why we have gone with the Smith Low Light Ignitors because at 40% VLT they let more light through and will keep you in the game longer. A tackle shop owning friend agrees labelling these glasses one of the few meaningful advances in fishing technology in the past decade! For the really serious about fishing, get them in the Guides Choice frames to minimise side-light penetration and maximise UV protection.

best polarized sunglasses for fishing

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Best polarized fishing glasses brands reviewed:

We have broken down the brands below  in terms of explaining their technology, their lens colors and some recommended frame choices. It’s worth noting that the most important concept to understand the performance and level of UV protection of sunglasses in varying light conditions is their VLT rating.

What is VLT? It stands for Visible Light Transmission. The higher the percentage the more light the lens is letting through, or the less UV rays it is filtering out. For high-glare environments such as saltwater, a low VLT is better, whereas for stream fishing in wooded environments a higher VLT helps you to pick fish in lower light conditions.

Smith

Smith has a great reputation and has been in the game for a long time. 

Polarized lens technology: 

Smith has two core technology that underpin its range: its Chromapop lenses and its Techlite glass lenses. The Chromapop lenses are billed as the most visually stimulating lens in the world and it is true they deliver excellent clarity and colour range.  They do this by filtering out specific ranges of light that cause distortion and eye fatigue. These polymer lenses are also very light compared to glass. 

And for fishing purposes, there is one more vital piece of technology in the Smith range – their Polarchromic lenses. These vary in terms of VLT (the amount of light they let through) according to the brightness and are perfect for fishing environments, particularly trout fishing where the available light varies a lot depending if you are in shadow on a wooded creek or in a wide valley fishing a glacial river.

Smith’s lenses are also available in prescription.

Materials: 

The Chromapop lenses are made of impact resistant polycarbonate material, whereas the Chromapop+ are made of Trivex, another impact resistant polymer. For more on the differences between these materials, see this article.

The Techlite lenses are all about scratch resistance with Smith saying they are 12 times more scratch resistant than traditional glass. The Low Light Ignitor Techlite lens is a specialist lens for fishing in shaded areas or close to dawn and dusk – it’s a great lens for these conditions and for trout fishermen allows you to keep sight fishing in very low light conditions.

Best frames:

We recommend choosing ones that eliminate light coming in through the sides for best performance, although if it is your pair of sunglasses you might want to consider aesthetics too! They have some great brown and black frames. As always for fishing sunglasses, comfort is key too.

Top picks:

Smith Guides choice
Smith Lowdown
Smith Highwater
Smith Outback

Smith Lens colors explained: 

These lenses come in 14 different colors from brown through to blues and greens, which can all get quite confusing. To simplify things for you – for fishing purposes, these colors are the best.

Freshwater: Polarchromic Copper (VLT 13-20%), Polarchromic Ignitor (VLT 12-20%) and Low Light Ignitor (40%)

Saltwater: Green Mirror (VLT 11%), Blue Mirror (VLT 12%)

To help choose which lens and frame are right for you, this sunglass selector from Smith is helpful.

Costa Del Mar 

Costas is another high-quality sunglasses manufacturer. They’ve been making fishing orientated polarized lenses and glasses for more than 35 years and have a great reputation for their technology and making durable glasses with excellent optics.

Lens technology

Costa’s current flagship technology is the 580 lens, which offers great clarity, absorbs harmful high-energy blue light and filters out harsh yellow for enhanced color.

Costa’s are also available in prescription models for those needing corrective vision.

Materials

Costa’s polarized lenses come in glass or polycarbonate/Trivex. As with all brands , the glass are the most scratch resistant but the heaviest, whereas the polymer lenses are lighter but need to be taken care of more carefully.

Frame choices

As a speciality fishing sunglasses manufacture, all frames with Costa’s will fit the bill.

Some of the highest rated include:

Costa Del Mar Tuna Alley
Costa Del Mar Blackfin
Costa Del Mar Cat Cay
Costa Del Mar Fantail
Costa Del Mar Diego
Costa Del Mar Reefton.

Costa Lens Colors Explained

Costa’s lenses come in seven different colours – which is enough to cater for a wide range of fishing applications without confusing people!

Freshwater: Copper Silver Mirror (VLT 12%), Gray Mirror (VLT 12%), Copper Mirror (12%) and Sunrise Silver Mirror (VLT 25%)

Saltwater: Blue Mirror (VLT 10%), Green Mirror (VLT 10%), 

Maui Jim

These guys have been around in the industry since 1980 and have a great reputation for durable and effective polarized sunglasses that are popular choices for fishermen and women.

Maui Jim’s sunglasses are also available in prescription for any angler needing corrective vision.

Lens technology

Maui Jim’s polarized lenses use its PolarizedPlus2 designed to protect the eyes while enhancing the true colours of the surroundings with great clarity. They have also innovated heavily in lens materials with five separate materials available to choose from each fulfilling particular applications.

Materials 

Maui Jim’s five lens material choices are as follows:

Superthin Glass – 32% thinner and lighter than standard glass; the most scratch-resistant choice

MauiBrilliant – advanced material that offers glass-like optics at one-third of the weight

MauiPure – the most popular lens material with optics almost as crisp as glass yet lighter weight

Maui Evolution – lightweight and scratch and shatter resistant

MauiPure LT – excellent impact and scratch resistance; light and thin

Frame choices

 Maui Jim’s Peahi
Maui Jim’s Southern Cross
Maui Jim’s Big Wave
Maui Jim’s Makoa

Maui Jim’s Lens colors explained

Lens color choice is relatively manageable with Maui Jims. Our picks are below.

Freshwater: Maui HT, HCL Bronze, 

Saltwater: Neutral gray, Maui Rose, 

Oakley

Oakley are kind of the new kid on the block when it comes to fishing sunglasses, but they have  good pedigree in skiing and cycling and other sports and have a decent range of polarized fishing glasses. Oakley’s glasses are also available in prescription options. As befits a company with heritage in cycling and other sports where toughness is critical, Oakley boasts some good frame technology. Oakley’s proprietary frame material is O Matter –  highly durable and flexible nylon-fused plastic. They also have their UNOBTAINIUM grip for the parts that contact your skin, which gets stickier and tackier the more you sweat.

Lens technology

Oakley Prizm polarized lenses are performance sunglass lenses designed specifically for sports. These lenses boost certain wavelengths of color vision resulting in fine-tuned vision and richer color. The technology helps filter out the bad light that washes out or hinders vision, and amps up the good light to improve contrast and decrease eye fatigue. Oakley also offers transitions technology that changes the lens’ VLT in line with the ambient light conditions.

Materials 

A specially chosen dye is mixed with plutonite—Oakley’s patented polycarbonate material—then sent through an extruder to molecularly bond the materials. Then, the lens material is injection-molded to create the lenses. The lenses include a smudge-proof coating and anti-fog and scratch-resistance treatments.

Frame choices

There are some great choices with wraparound models and some, such as the Split Shot, come with a detachable retention leash. 

Oakley Split Shot
Oakley Fuel Cell
Oakley Gascan
Oakley Turbine

Oakley Lens colors explained:

Oakley has a range of colours in its Prizm polarized range with varying VLT (Visibile Light Transmission) figures ranging from 10% to 50%. But where they keep things simple is having one designated color dedicated to saltwater fishing and another for freshwater fishing:

Freshwater: Prizm Shallow Water Polarized (VLT 15%)

Saltwater: Prizm Deep Water Polarized Black (VLT 12%)

Polarized Fishing Sunglasses FAQs

polarized fishing sunglasses

How important are polarized fishing sunglasses?

Vital, to be honest. When we fish in many environments – freestone streams and lakes for trout and flats fishing for permit and bonefish – they are the single most important piece of equipment for the trip. If you forget them, forget it – in these challenging but captivating sight fishing environments vision is everything as you don’t cast until you can see the fish.

And it’s not only these advanced fishing scenarios where polarized fishing sunglasses are great – anytime you are fishing in clear water they will be a big help even to see the bottom and structure as well as in spotting fish.

polarized prescription fishing sunglasses

Can you get polarized prescription fishing sunglasses?

Yes, all of the brands here do prescription models. Depending on your prescription, the choice of lens materials and/or frames may be a bit more restricted, but you can certainly get something that will be comfortable and effective. I wear prescription polarized fishing sunglasses and have to say it is far better than the alternative of using a standard pair with contact lenses. Most manufacturers also make bifocal and progressive multifocal lenses too!

How do polarized sunglasses work?

Polarized lenses use a vertical filter to filter out light waves that are horizontal in nature, as most glare reflecting off surfaces such as water tends to be. This cuts out most glare, saves you from eye strain and allows you to see beneath the surface of water bodies such as lakes, rivers and the ocean. Check this article for a more detailed explanation.

How do polarized sunglasses compare to normal ones?

Some people wonder what all the fuss about it and if polarized sunglasses are really necessary. Yes, they are more expensive but our answer to this is you only get one set of eyes! Saving money on sunglasses is a classic false economy. They are one bit of gear where we are prepared to spend what it takes to get the best available as they are kinder to our eyes and they help us to catch more fish.

Non polarized sunglasses have no ability to cut through surface glare, so in most conditions you won’t be able to see into the water you are fishing. And your eyes will also have to continue to have deal with all the light flashing off the water or metal surfaces without the protection that polarized sunglasses offer. This is a no-brainer – if you can possibly afford it, get polarized every time and even a cheap pair of polarized sunglasses are better than a pair that are not polarized.

How to tell if sunglasses are polarized

There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Look at a highly reflective surface in bright light with the glasses and tilt your head to the side and back – if the level of glare varies as you tilt through 60 degrees, then the lenses are polarized.
  2. Hold the sunglasses in your hand in front of a computer screen. Twist them 60 degrees to the side and if the lenses get darker, they are polarized.
  3. If you have another pair of sunglasses that you know are polarized, place them in front of the other pair and twist the mystery pair through 60 degrees – if the overlapping lenses turn dark they are polarized.

How to clean polarized sunglasses

Use the same process you use to clean any glasses – only use a microfiber cloth and use lens cleaning spray for stubborn greasy spots.

How to protect your glasses

Some tips to prolong the life of your polarized sunglasses:

  • Treat them with respect – you’ve invested a lot of money in state of the art eyewear so be sure to protect them
  • Always use the case provided. Use the smallest case possible so that it fits in your jacket pocket and isn’t inconvenient.
  • Consider a retainer strap, particularly for fishing where you are often bending over on top of the water.
  • Only clean them with a clean microfibre cloth and spray. Don’t use paper towel or your T-shirt or anything else.

Glass lenses vs plastic lenses

 

The two main reasons to choose plastic lenses are cost and weight. They are both cheaper and lighter than glass models. However, the downside to plastic lenses is that they are less scratch resistant. Glass lenses also have slightly better optical qualities.

Author

  • Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He is a regular on fly fishing podcasts and appeared in the international fly fishing film Predator.

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