Probably the most overlooked and possible the most important piece of gear we carry is not a rod, reel, line, or fly. If you are engaging in any kind of sight fishing the first piece of tactical gear we employ is our glasses. Imagine that 12lb bonefish cruising under the light chop and you just can’t see it. A 25lb carp slowly working up a bank and you don’t see her till she is at your feet and spooks out. Your buddy is trying to point out a toad of a trout under a log and you just can’t see it…. There is an art and technique to spotting fish but your first issue just might be your glasses.
We all have budgets to work with but far too often I see someone who has no problem dumping $350 for a top shelf reel but won’t spend more than $20 on good glasses. I asked a few friends about this and the consensus seems to be that often we just don’t understand what makes good glasses versus well….. lesser glasses.
Let’s start with the beginning. Why not just regular sunglasses? Easy…. polarization cuts glare. When you are trying to see “into” the water, glare is your mortal enemy. Regular non-polarized sun lenses indiscriminately filter all light whether it is horizontal or vertical. Glare is dampened, but not eliminated. More importantly, by filtering all components of light, visual acuity is diminished. On the other hand polarized lenses allow in the vertical component of light, which is preferred for clear vision, while eliminating the easily scattered and skewed horizontal component of light. Vertically aligned light is preferred because it respects the natural tendency of the visual system to focus on the vertical component of an image.
Translation? Polarization lets you see down into the water and spot fish, structure, and all the other things vital to sight fishing.
What makes things complex is that the polarization process varies widely depending on the quality of the glasses. In general terms, glasses become “polarized” by sandwiching a film inside the lens. The film is made up of a bunch of tiny lines that line up in a specific direction (Imagine the horizontal blinds you purchase for windows).
The quality of that film and the quality of the optics it is sandwiched between will have a great impact on how clearly we are able to see what we are trying to see. Traditionally, glass has provided the clearest optics but you often sacrifice in the weight department. More often than not, most glasses that hit the market today are a plastic or polycarbonate product.
The great debate seems most often to over color. Sadly, one pair of glasses will not serve you in all conditions. For most of the fly fishers out there conventional wisdom says to stay away from gray and blue type lenses. We are looking for contrast and amber, rose, and yellow will help define those differences far better. Which one? Well that depends on light conditions and a bit of personal preference. I have all 3 in my bag. I use yellow for low light conditions and depending on the water color will go with a amber or rose for most others.
The brand battle will continue to be waged for all eternity. I think as long as you are purchasing a brand with good optics and one that will stand behind the product it’s hard to go wrong. Household names like Costa, Smith, Orvis, Oakley, Maui Jim, etc… produce a really good product and have experience serving the fly fishing market.
Remember, spending big bucks on big gear is a huge waste if you are trying to make a shot to a fish you can’t see!
Still perplexed? Feel free to give us a shout at the shop or drop us an email and we are happy to help.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,