Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly

A good pair of polarizing glasses may well be your most important piece of fishing gear

Any angler who does not yet appreciate the profound virtues of polarizing sunglasses must be fishing with his eyes closed. I don't blame him; it can get pretty bright out there. A good pair of shades minimizes glare for clearer, less fatiguing vision into the water; reduces overall light intensity for comfort; protects against damaging UV rays; and, in these days of beadhead and conehead projectiles that should be rated by caliber, offers eye protection. In fact, the only real downside is trying to choose from among the thousands of available models, and cutting through the glare of crossover marketing to find real fishing glasses is enough to give anyone a headache.So I asked a number of manufacturers who offer at least one line of sunglasses made specifically for anglers to choose two or three products for review, using whatever criteria they liked--their newest offerings, what they felt to be their most innovative designs, their most popular models, their personal favorites. From the models provided, a few trends emerged. First, the big teardrop aviator-style glasses, so popular among anglers a while back, have all but disappeared, with the mirrored aviators of Peter Fonda in Easy Rider having been replaced by the wraparound shades of the international chick-magnet sophisticate from 1960's cigarette commercials. This is not purely a matter of style. Wrap frames and lenses are highly practical, blocking stray light that otherwise would enter from the sides of the glasses and strike the backs of the lenses, causing flare and reflection; at the same time, wraps generally allow for good peripheral vision. The consequence, and second trend, is the blessed disappearance of those awful side shades that were a necessary evil in the past; they were cumbersome, often uncomfortable, reduced your field of vision and blocked air circulation, causing the lenses to steam up. The wraparound style has its drawbacks, though; the lens curve, especially at the periphery, requires careful manufacturing to give a non-distorted image. And because of the big arc in the frame, such glasses don't fold up into a compact, pocket-fitting package. But on the whole, I'll take these tradeoffs. Some manufacturers are using proprietary lens materials that combine the most desirable qualities of glass and the virtues of synthetic materials. New technologies are being employed to mount the polarizing filter between lens elements--one of the trickiest parts of sunglass manufacturing. And new coatings, from hydrophobic treatments to contrast-enhancing films, have been developed. And virtually all sunglasses now completely block UVA and UVB rays. All in all, it's a better world for your eyes these days. Here's what the manufacturers had to say about the polarizing glasses they selected for review, followed by my field-test comments on performance only. On subjective matters of style and fashion, you'll have to judge for yourself. Most of these glasses are available in a selection of frame and lens colors and, in some cases, lens materials. Costa Del Mar--Fathom Claims to Fame: Glass lenses with WAVE 400 glare-reduction and image-enhancement technology. Anti-reflective, scratch-resistant and hydrophobic coatings. Six colors--gray; amber; vermillion; sunrise yellow; blue mirror; green mirror. Also available in CR-39. Nylon frames with Hydrolite, a non-slip rubberized composite on temple tips, wire core temples for adjustability. Through My Eyes: Very good optical quality here--sharp, non-distorted image--though the contribution of the laminated mirror seemed negligible. The adjustable temples are a real boon for fit, and the non-slip finish does its job nicely. The slim-profile design permits a little light-leakage spill. Sturdily built frames and hinges, and one of the better values in a glass lens. $159. Costa Del Mar--Tropic Star Claims to Fame: Polycarbonate lenses: with WAVE 400 technology. Three interchangeable lenses gray; amber; sunrise; also available in gray/amber/vermillion. Nylon composite frames with light-blocking shield over frame tops. Through My Eyes: Frames block light well, though peripheral vision is diminished. Optical quality is workmanlike, as are the frames. What you pay for here is interchangeable lenses. Each lens is mounted in a nylon frame, for edge protection, and mounting is secure. But practically speaking, changing lenses requires handling the optical surface, and potentially scratching the relatively soft lens material. Worth considering if interchangeable lenses appeal (I've never felt the need for them); if not, spring the extra $20 for the Fathom. $139. Flying Fisherman--Panama Claims to Fame: Polycarbonate RhinoLens for impact resistance. TR90 frames; Comfort Grip nose and temple pads. Lens colors: gray; amber; vermillion. Through My Eyes: Good, though not outstanding, optical quality, aided by full-wrap lenses and wide temples to block light, though thin profile leaves a gap at the lens bottoms. Frames are unusual and pleasing--a wire nose bridge (of the type found on wire rims) with grippy pads is adjustable, allowing a fine-tune fit not typically found on nylon frames. Highly serviceable fishing glasses at a good price. I like these for the value. $49.95. Flying Fisherman--Nassau Claims to Fame: Lenses as above. TR90 frames with recessed grippy nose pads and built-in polarizing side shields. Lens colors: gray; amber; vermillion. Through My Eyes: Again, good optical quality, but what stands out is design. In lieu of full-wrap lenses, these have a flatter front with separate polarizing side shields in the temple area and deeper lenses. The result is superior stray-light blocking without the tunnel-vision darkness of opaque temples or shields. My favorite of the Flying Fisherman models; a nice value in affordable glasses. $49. Julbo--Advance Claims to Fame: Lenses of NXT, a light, scratch-resistant ballistic polymer of high optical quality. Chameleon lenses are polarizing and photochromic (from 87 percent to 93 percent reduction in visible light). Nylon frames with rubber nosepads and temple tips for grip; wire core temple tips for adjustability. Removable side shields. Lens colors: gray (has hydrophobic coating); brown (has anti-fog coating). Through My Eyes: These are clear and sharp optics, with good polarization. The 5-percent photochromic shift doesn't sound like much, but it's noticeable. But at a maximum of 13 percent visible light transmission, these seemed to me best suited for really bright conditions. The unusually pleasing, narrow-profile frame has good adjustability for a close, light-blocking fit, and rubberized components keep it in place. The side-shield allows enough air circulation to minimize fogging. Good performance, a value in its price class. $105. Julbo--Typhoon Claims to Fame: Lenses same as above. Nylon frame with rubber nosepads and temple inserts for grip. Snap-mounted neck cord (removable). Through My Eyes: Lenses as above; again, to me best in bright conditions. Frames have a comfortable, non-slip hold, and the straight temples make these easy to put on and remove with your hat on. The snap-on neck cord is pretty nifty, eliminating bulky, over-the-temple retainers. My own reservation from the fishing standpoint is a slight "cateye" to the frame that curves down from the lens tops to the bridge; it leaves a small, light-admitting gap unless frames are positioned (for me) uncomfortably close to the face. These are a good buy, but try them on first. $137. Kaenon--Kore Claims to Fame: Proprietary SR-91 lens material with top ratings by an independent laboratory in optical clarity and acuity; exceeds high-mass impact standard. Proprietary Glare 86 polarizing element to reduce 99 percent of glare. Hydrophobic, anti-reflective, and anti-scratch coatings. Three colors--gray, copper, yellow. Choice of visible light transmission level, from 12 percent (blocks 88 percent of visible light) to 50 percent (blocks 50 percent of visible light).Frames molded from nylon-based TR-90; nose pads and temple tips made of hydrophilic Variflex, which becomes tackier as you sweat, gripping and staying in place. Three frame sizes available. Through My Eyes: These excellent optics transmit clear, razor-sharp images, and the tint and density make it among the best all-purpose fishing glasses I tried. Wrap style sheds wind comfortably-- when running in a flats boat for instance. Grippy nose pads and temples actually work quite effectively, and thickened temples help block peripheral light. Great quality and serious glasses. $180. Kaenon--Rhino Claims to Fame: Same lens specifications as above. Frames have Versiflex nose pads only. Through My Eyes: These are big, slightly boxy glasses with wide temples to block side light--effectively, but like the old side shields, they give a slight tunnel-vision effect. The frames don't stay in place quite as securely as the Kore (at least on me) and don't shed wind quite as cleanly. Stainless hinges are rock solid, and these seem quite durable overall. I tested a yellow lens with 35 percent transmission, which provided noticeably better contrast and depth perception in low light than brown or amber lenses--a good specialty lens, but uncomfortably bright in full sunlight. Again, nice quality, though I think the Kore frames give better performance in fishing. $170. Maui Jim--Shaka Claims to Fame: Super-thin glass lenses 20 percent thinner than conventional glass. PolarizedPlus2 technology for improved contrast, color and depth perception. Bi-gradient mirror and anti-reflective coating to reduce overhead glare; anti-scratch and hydrophobic coatings. Nylon frame with stainless spring hinge; wire-core temples for adjustability and non-slip nose-pad inserts. Lens colors: gray; bronze; rose. Through My Eyes: The rose tint gives good contrast enhancement in low light, but at 10 percent light transmission, it's a little dark overall. Superior optical quality, excellent image definition, glare block, and color transmission make these top shelf. Wide temples block side light, though narrow lens profile does allow in some light from below, but not enough to be uncomfortable. These are lightweight for glass, sturdily built, and of excellent quality--among my favorites of the group for serious fishing, though I'd go for a different tint. $199. Maui Jim--Ono Claims to Fame: Lens and frame specifications as above. Through My Eyes: I tested the bronze version, which I preferred to rose for all-around fishing. This one offers the same admirable optics as the Shaka--bright, crisp, clear--but with wider, more pronounced wrap in the lens for a bit lighter field of vision. From the fishing standpoint, there's one drawback to the frames--the frame top dips down at the center, admitting a little light and producing occasional reflections off the polished frame. Fellow testers, on whom the glasses sat differently, had no problem here. An excellent choice if these fit you properly. $199. Oakley--Monster Dog Claims to Fame: Impact-resistant Plutonite lenses; O Matter polymer frames. Lens colors: amber; black iridium (gray). Through My Eyes: Crisp, clear, optics with good image definition. A good example of the virtues of wrap-style shades--good light blocking and peripheral vision. The frames are substantial and durable, but slightly flexible for a snug fit. A good, no-nonsense choice for fishing that stand up to use. $145. Oakley--Straight Jacket Claims to Fame: Lenses as above. Frames as above, with grippy temples. Lens colors: black iridium (gray); ice iridium (blue); gold iridium (amber); fire iridium (red). Through My Eyes: Good, clear optics as above, though smaller frame design doesn't have quite the light-blocking properties or offer peripheral vision. Nice sunglasses, but for fishing, I preferred the Monster Dog. $160. Orvis--HVO Wrap Claims to Fame: Impact-resistant glass lenses; precision, automated lamination of polarizing film to eliminate rippling and distortion. Clearseal hydrophobic coating to repel water, fingerprints, dust; anti-reflective coating. Nylon frame with rubberized finish and nose pads for grip; five-barrel hinges. Lens colors: gray; orange; amber. Through My Eyes: Great optical quality here--tack sharp--and superior glare reduction. Wrap frame is very close-fitting and effectively blocks peripheral light, though narrow-profile lenses leave a slight gap at the bottom. But it's a minor matter. These were a favorite among testers for fishing practicality. If you like glass lenses, take a look at these. A very good buy. $129. Orvis--HVO Horizon Claims to Fame: Lenses as above; nylon frame with three-barrel hinge. Slightly wider frame and taller lenses than the Wrap for wider face shapes. Through My Eyes: I tested the orange version, a practical tint for fishing--brighter than amber, though with a greater color shift. This frame design gave me and other testers the fullest light-blocking coverage of any glasses reviewed--almost like goggles--but they may prove too loose for anglers with narrower faces, especially since the frames, inexplicably, lack the rubberized non-slip finish. But if they fit you, these may well be your glasses of choice. Like the Wrap, a value. $129. Panoptx--Sirocco Claims to Fame: Impact-resistant NXT lenses, PureTec polarizing photochromic; hydrophobic coating. Nylon frames with removable foam Orbital Seal eyecup. Lens color: gray. Through My Eyes: Pleasing, crisp optics, but the innovation here is a removable foam gasket on the interior perimeter of the frame that seals these glasses around your eyes like goggles. Excellent protection from eye-drying wind at high boat speeds (these seemed designed with the bass-buster crowd in mind), but the gaskets give a complete light seal as well. The "goggle effect" does significantly reduce peripheral vision, and like old side shields, the gasket can cause lens fogging, despite circulation vents. But these are fine fishing glasses, and the photo-chromic range (73 percent to 90 percent reduction in visible light) is useful over a wide range of conditions. $250. Panoptx--Zip Claims to Fame: ColorTec Polarizing polycarbonate lenses; hydrophobic coating. Nylon frames with Air Dam eyecups; grippy nosepad and temple inserts. Lens colors: copper; gray. Through My Eyes: Good optical quality and enhanced contrast in the copper lens. Frames have a permanently mounted foam gasket on interior perimeter of the frame, but it's smaller than the Sirocco eyecup with a corresponding decrease in wind and light blockage. Interesting idea, and useful glasses, though gasketing here did not seem to me appreciably more effective than a well-designed pair of conventional frames. $125. PolarEyes--Islay Claims to Fame: Polycarbonate lenses with anti-scratch coating. Nylon frames with Flex2Fit adjustable temples and soft nosepads. Lens colors: copper; gray. Through My Eyes: Workmanlike optics, quite serviceable for fishing. Wrap design, with slight (and vented) top shield gives good light blocking. I like the adjustable temples here for fit, and the nose pads make these more comfortable than many synthetic frames. An eminently practical pair of fishing glasses, and a good value in this price class. $49.95. Smith Optics--Passage Claims to Fame: Techlite glass lens with Tapered Lens Technology to eliminate distortion in wrap style, anti-fogging hydrophobic and anti-reflective coatings. TR-90 nylon frames; anti-slip Megol nose pads and temple tips. Lens colors: gray; brown; green-mirrored copper. Through My Eyes: Probably my favorite lens in the group for extremely bright conditions such as flats fishing, though a bit dark in overcast conditions. Nice contrast and image definition; optically very good. Overall blocking of peripheral light is better than average, and non-slip frame elements work as advertised. A very fine pair of serious all-around fishing glasses, especially if you're partial to glass. $169. Smith Optics--Pacifica Claims to Fame: Polycarbonate lenses with Tapered Lens Technology. TR-90 nylon frames. Lens colors: brown; gray; copper. Through My Eyes: Good optical quality, and a good bright-light tint, though again I find these a bit dark in lower light. Narrow lenses admit some light top and bottom, but these are eminently serviceable fishing glasses. Just don't expect the durability of glass. $89. There is a third option these days: sunglasses designed to be worn directly over your everyday specs. These are a reasonably practical solution provided you recognize the limits: two sets of lenses inevitably reduces optical quality; they are (to me) not as comfortable as conventional glasses; and they must fit properly to cover your glasses, block light, and stay on your head. Fitovers I tested the Navigator, available in three sizes to fit most prescription-eyeglass shapes, and in amber and gray tints. The strong points here are a removable rubberized bridge shield that extends over your regular glasses to block top light and big frame-mounted polarizing side shields that keep the glasses bright while reducing glare. The downside is a lack of adjustability in the temples, and these may fit loosely on some wearers. $39.95. Cocoons I tested the Slim Line glasses (other frame styles are available to fit over a variety of eyeglass frames), most of which are available in gray, amber, yellow. The strong points here are largely in the frame--bendable adjustable temples give a good fit, and frames seem durable. The drawbacks are only partial light shielding from the top and non-polarizing side shields that occasionally admit glare. Cost: $39.95. Over-the-glass Sunglasses If you already wear corrective eyeglasses, you are all too familiar with the sunglass problem. Go for the expense, and uncertainty, of prescription shades or endure those ill-fitting, scratch-prone clip-ons that produce migraine-inducing reflections between the lens surfaces--so much so that I've declined to review clip-ons. The Shade of Your Shades Despite the proliferation of lens colors these days--which is largely fashion-driven--the practical angler need be concerned only with a few basic tints. Lens color has nothing to do with polarization, but it does affect the optical properties of the glasses. Gray--The virtue of this neutral tint is that it minimizes the distortion of color, which appears pretty much the same as in unfiltered daylight. But by transmitting the entire visible spectrum, gray does little to enhance vision in the way that some more selective tints do. Gray is a good choice for fishing where glare is high and the need for definition in underwater detail is not pressing--offshore angling, for instance. It is also a useful general-purpose tint if you use your glasses for driving, day-to-day wear, or purposes other than fishing, and for people who find color shifts to be annoying. Brown/Copper/Amber--There are a variety of shades in this category, but in general they enhance contrast, which improves the clarity of detail and offers a stronger sense of depth perception. Provided the tint is not too dark, lenses of this color offer clear, sharp images in hazy or low-light conditions, "brightening" the scene. The downside is a color shift that overlays images with an amber or golden cast; objects, such as fly patterns, don't appear in their natural hues. Some people find this shift unendurably distracting; most get used to it. Once considered a specialty tint for sight-fishing--on the flats or spring creeks--browns, coppers and ambers are now extremely popular among anglers in general for their visual enhancement and versatility. Rose/Vermillion--This tint delivers a very bright field of vision and improves both contrast and the perception of detail. But the color shift is pronounced, and "looking at the world through rose-colored glasses" becomes more than just a metaphor. I've tested several versions of this color and tend to regard them as specialty tints, best in cloudy, hazy or low-light situations. Lenses of this sort are often not as darkly colored, which improves vision in weak light but can make them uncomfortably bright under full sun. I don't find this tint as versatile as brown or as good as yellow in poor light. Yellow--Definitely a specialty lens. It provides superior brightness and contrast enhancement, particularly in bad light; yellow penetrates haze, fog and mist, amplifying detail and lightening the image better than any other tint. But the color shift is extreme, and images appear almost monochromatic. And in full sun, I find the brightness of yellow lenses too intense for comfort. But they are an excellent choice for fishing mornings, evenings, or overcast days--partly because they are often lightly tinted and simply transmit more visible light. The least versatile lens color, but the best in its narrow window of application.