The Best Sunglasses for Fly FishingPublished on 01/16/2023 · 8 min readFrom sun protection to giving you a clearer view of the waters - sunglasses serve many purposes for anglers! Check out these top recommended sunglasses for fishing!
Photo by Rick Wallace
Here in Missouri, you can find me in the Ozarks floating rivers for rainbow and brown trout, hiking into remote locations to chase spring-bred trout, taking students to fly fish for their first time in Arkansas, or at the back of a bass boat coaching our high school bass fishing team. And one piece of equipment that's an essential for all of these trips is polarized sunglasses.
I didn’t realize that all polarized fishing glasses are not made equally until a guide friend recommended I try his sunglasses on a trip for Louisiana Redfish. So, let me tell you: not all polarized sunglasses are the same.
Before we dive into the best fly fishing sunglasses, let's look at a few key features of these shades.
What exactly does “polarized” mean? Well, all sunglasses are designed to block harmful UV rays. And most sunlight that reaches your eyes is scattered from uneven obstacles like trees, grass, concrete, and the boat you’re sitting in.
However, when sunlight is reflected against a flat surface like water, the light is reflected in one direction. Polarization adds an extra layer of protection by only allowing some light to pass through the lenses, reducing the glare generated by the water. It is almost like a blind or curtain that protects your eyes even more. This lens technology can also be effective in low-light conditions—providing even more clarity, depending on the lens color, and reducing eye strain.
Applications of Polarized Lenses
I like to see what I am fishing for. For example, when I’m wading streams in the Ozark, I want to see the transitions to deeper pools, the rock blocking the current, that log tucked under a ledge, or even the actual trout sitting on the bottom. Without polarized sunglasses, this is almost impossible on a sunny day.
Also, for saltwater anglers fishing the flats or for inshore redfish, you need to see the fish before they see you. Polarized sunglasses allow you to cast to those moving fish without getting too close and running the risk of spooking them while sight fishing.
What to Look For in a Pair of Sunglasses
Ensure the sunglasses you’ve chosen have polarized glass lenses that are more durable and scratch-resistant than plastic lenses.
Also, a great rule of thumb is to keep these sunglasses separate from your everyday pair. Go ahead and leave them in your truck, the skiff, or the drift boat. I suggest you only use these sunglasses for fishing. That will further contribute to their longevity.
Further, ensure that the frames block sunlight everywhere—including to the side of your eyes. If sunlight comes in through the side of the frame, you are not using your lenses to their full filter potential. Blocking sunlight will also allow for more eye protection by not allowing harmful UV rays to penetrate the side of your eyes.
The last key feature is lens color. Typically, lenses will come in all colors and finishes, which is great for personal preference. However, some colors work better in different shades based on the conditions.
If you primarily fish early mornings and late evenings—or you need a pair of sunglasses that work great in low-light conditions like cloudy days—amber, copper, bronze, and brown are the way to go. This color is an excellent option if fishing against bluffs or in canyons like the Smokies. These are also the best colors for all-around fishing, as they provide coverage for various environments.
Other colors have their applications as well. Yellow lenses are great for lake fishing or differentiating a change in bottoms or transitions. Green lenses are my go-to for saltwater when fishing at depth. Or, they’re also great for off-colored, green-tinted freshwater applications. I specifically use my green lenses for a spring-fed river here in the Ozarks with a “pea soup” green tint. The green lenses filter out the green and allow me to identify the fish at the bottom of the river.
But without further ado, here are the top five Expert-recommended sunglasses for fly fishing. If you would like more information or would like to purchase a set of these fly fishing sunglasses, reach out to myself or one of our Fishing Experts!
1. Smith Optics Guide’s Choice: Best Overall
Because I have worn about every brand of polarized sunglasses, I can say that Smith Optics Guide’s Choice outperforms them all. If you need all-around sunglasses that can handle all light conditions throughout the day, grab these.
Smith has incorporated a Techlite scratch-resistant lens with the Chromapop to cut out even more glare. Also, the sunglasses leash is integrated so that it attaches directly to the sunglasses—eliminating the need to purchase a leash later.
This model is so popular that they also made the Guide’s Choice XL for those with a wider face. If you think you may need a larger size, the XL adds 5 mm to the temple length and slightly increases the lens size and bridge width. Plus, the spring frame hinges self-adjust for a snug but comfortable fit, all while providing wrap coverage.
- 100% UV-protection polarized lenses
- Wide range of lens colors and finishes
- Glass or plastic lenses
- Prescription lenses options available
- Lifetime warranty guarantee
2. Costa Del Mar Fantail Pro: Best Saltwater
If you are out in the sun all day, these sunglasses are a must in your arsenal. They are best suited for the saltwater angler and are fully loaded with the protection one needs in the elements.
The Fantail Pros have an eight-base wrap that protects the eyes at all angles from the sun and are made with TR-90 nylon—which are corrosion resistant and will hold up to whatever the saltwater will throw at you. The Hydrolite rubber lining on the nose and frame keeps them in place even when you are sweating.
These glasses also feature the effective 580 lens technology, which enhances color and contrast on the water. Like their Smith competitor, there are also prescription lenses for the Costa Del Mar Fantail. However, keep in mind that these do run a little small, and could even be more suitable for women’s faces. If that is the case, I’d recommend the Costa Reefton (shown below) or the Costa Blackfin instead.
- 100% UV protection
- 8-Wrap full protection technology
- Prescription lenses available
- Glass lenses
3. Costa Del Mar Reefton: Best Wide-Framed
The Reeftons are a more budget-friendly option in the Costa Del Mar lineup. These have the same lenses as the Fantail but lack some of their frame qualities. However, what they do have is a wider frame which is suitable for anyone needing a medium to larger option without spending too much cash.
If you are just a weekend angler who not only fishes freshwater but also takes the occasional saltwater trip, I recommend the Reefton.
- 100% UV protection
- Prescription lenses available
- Glass lenses
- Flexible frames
- Larger lenses
- Only two lens color options
- Limited frame colors
4. Wiley X WX Grid: Best Affordability
This new guy on the block is taking a sweep across the freshwater tournament angler realm. Although this is a strong option for bass fishermen, these are also a great choice for fly anglers. The best thing about these is that they come at a digestible price: half the cost of their competitors. Their highly flexible triploid nylon frames are extremely durable and made with shatterproof selenite lenses.
These also have a state-of-the-art removable face cavity seal that blocks irritants like dust on windy days. Further, the lenses are Z87.1+, which is a safety impact rating that will protect the eyes from flying objects like jigs and tungsten weights. While it’s not necessarily something that the fly angler needs to be worried about, it adds to the durability.
- Glare control
- Prescription ready
- Extremely durable
- Dust and debris control
- Plastic lenses
- Non-adjustable frames
- Only two frames and two color options
5. Maui Jim World Cup: Best Image Quality
Maui Jim designs result in high image quality, and in my opinion, it's better than all other brands. With polarized lenses, the color through the lens is often highly distorted. But the Maui Jim World Cup doesn’t do that. These glasses also have full wrap-around coverage and help you sight fish or look for obstacles in the water.
The World Cups are best for the angler who wants the clearest image without sacrificing effectiveness while casting a line. While distorted imagery isn’t a big issue for me, I know it can be for other anglers.
Lastly, in my experience, these fit a bit tight behind the ears. So if you need a larger frame, I would look elsewhere.
- Superior image quality
- 99.9% polarization
- Super thin glass
- Two-year limited warranty
- Not impact resistant
- Heavier than most frames
If I were to go with one pair of sunglasses for all of my fly-fishing adventures, it would have to be the Smith Optics Guides Choice. Its versatility, durability, and imagery are unmatched because of its all-in-one package. The bonus of the built-in leash adds to its functionality and truly stands out among the competitors. Also, Smith Optics backs these sunglasses with their Lifetime Guarantee.
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Polarized sunglasses are an important part of the 20 essentials for fly fishing and key to your fly fishing apparel. If you’re interested in finding the perfect pair for you, reach out to a Curated Fishing Expert for free, personalized advice and recommendations. Thanks for reading…And remember, TIGHT LINES!