As we mentioned in part one of our Best Fishing Sunglasses of 2013, sunglasses are commonly underrated in terms of their importance as part of your fishing arsenal. We'll say it again: what lens you're looking through when you're out on the water is as important -- perhaps more important -- than what rod you're holding, what line it is strung with, or what reel is holding that line. Most of the time, you can't catch what you can't see.
In part one we highlighted our picks for Best Newcomer and Best Low Light Lens. What follows rounds out our picks for 2013.
Best Saltwater Lens - Costa 580G Blue Mirror Lens
Costa is one of the few manufacturers that puts fishing front-and-center in their product development philosophy. For Costa, fisherman aren't an afterthought, they are the main focus of their business. And that's why Costa is constantly turning out not only products that make sense for those of us who spend much of their time on the water, but products that are specifically designed for different types of fishing scenarios. One of the biggest differences in fishing scenarios is the type of water each angler finds him or herself on, whether it be a cold mountain stream, murky bass pond, the often sun-bleached open waters of the ocean and big lakes or something somewhere in between.
Saltwater fishermen face an significantly different visual environment than that of inshore anglers. When chasing fishy quarry in saltwaters, the saltwater angler can find himself fishing in the surf, near shore on crystal clear flats or offshore in open water being assaulted by the sun. In each of these scenarios, the angler is served best by an altogether different pair of sunglasses than they would be inshore. This is precisely why, even though every pair we tested in freshwater also saw time in the salt, some of our favorites on the stream or pond weren't even near the top of the list when on the beach or the boat.
The unquestionable saltwater standout -- whether we were chasing bonefish on flats in Belize, pursuing blues from the boat off the coast, poking around for fluke in the back bays and channels of coastal New Jersey, or taking shots at striped bass cruising in 4 feet of water off the beaches in Martha's Vineyard -- were Costa's 580G Blue Mirror lens. We found the blue mirror offering from Costa to be a versatile performer through all saltwater environments we paced it through. And, even though Costa recommends its green mirror lens for some near-shore an flats fishing scenario, we found the blue mirror lens out-fished the green in those environments (liking the green mirror better in open, fresh water situations).
It's also worth noting that Costa makes the blue mirror lens in its somewhat new 400G lenses. The 400G lenses, like the 580G, are glass lenses but are made with what Costa calls "Lightwave" glass, which is thinner and lighter (and cheaper) than the 580G. Both offer amazing clarity and definition and we're guessing you'll have a hard time telling them apart. We did.
Recommended frames: Saltbreak, Tuna Alley, Fantail
BUY THE COSTA 580G BLUE MIRROR LENS (via Amazon.com)
Best Overall - Smith Optics Polarchromic Copper Mirror Lens
Like the Maui HT lens, the Smith Optics Polarchromic Copper Mirror Lens is a repeat-offender in our "best of" selections. There's something satisfying about being able to recommend or highlight a new, or different product, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to recommend and highlight the product that does its job better than all the rest. So what if you've heard it before?
In our minds, being best overall means offering more than everyone else does. But how do you quantify sunglasses? Well, as far as we're concerned, you quantify them by assessing their versatility. If you fish in a considerably diverse array of environments -- as many of us do -- and can own only one pair of fishing sunglasses, then a pair Smith Optics Polarchromic Copper Mirror Lens should probably be it. Thanks to the polarchromic aspect of this lens -- which means it self-adjusts its darkness dependent on the sun conditions -- these lenses do the job in virtually any scenario. In fact, we found it hard to find a scenario in which these lenses wouldn't do. Sure, we'd ditch them in the salt for the aforementioned Costa's, and we'd reach for the low light picks we highlighted in Part One on a hazy early morning or while dark closed in on us while fishing out a hatch. But the truth is that the Smith Polarchromic Copper Mirror Lens still performed very well in these instances, something which can't be said of even the more-versatile of its competitors. For most people, who can't -- or won't -- invest in multiple pairs of high-end sunglasses, this versatility is paramount.
And, if we've led you to think that our reasons for selecting this Smith Optics offering as our best overall were limited to its polarchromic feature, let us be more clear. These glasses lenses from Smith offer stunning optical clarity and a tone we found more pleasant and contrast-enhancing than any other lens we tested.
Recommended frames: Chief, Dover, Touchstone
BUY THE SMITH OPTICS POLARCHROMIC COPPER MIRROR LENS (via Amazon.com)
The Final Word
What pair of shades you wear when hitting the water with rod in hand is serious business, but so is lumping down the significant sum of cash required to do so with a quality pair. The field of offerings is crowded and often hard to wade through. Our hope is that we've helped you eliminate some of the guesswork. Rest assured that all of the selections for 2013 are lenses and frames you can buy and wear with confidence.
Mike Sepelak replied on Permalink
There's lots of ways to save a buck on gear but there are two things that I don't cheap out on; what goes on my feet and what goes over my eyes. Good prescription sunglasses can cost, big time, but there's no better investment. My Costa 580P ambers and my Maui Jim HTs are the best fly fishing purchases I've made. Period.
JohnMD1022 replied on Permalink
Everyone ignores us glasses wearers.
I had 2 pairs of Smith Rx glasses ($200 per pair), but find the Fitovers (about $50) to be better.
Caleb Cunningham replied on Permalink
Thanks Chad, this was exactly what I was looking for in researching what fly glasses to buy. I will confess, I am still a bit unclear on whether the Smith ChromaPop is worth the extra dough - you recommend the Polarchromic over them in the overall section, which makes me question whether the chromapop is the right choice. That being said, a wonderful review and super helpful. You've made me a fan of Hatch Magazine!
Chad Shmukler replied on Permalink
It is worth noting that Smith now offers the ChromaPop in a polarchromic lens as well, which you can see here. It is a rose tint as opposed to a brown-flavored tint that most freshwater fishermen are used to. Look for some thoughts on those in our next series.
Also, if you fish in low light conditions often, but want a single lens solution, be sure to look at the Polarchromic Amber lens that Smith offers too. It's not a mirror lens, for whatever that's worth, but it lets in more light than the Copper polarchromic lens.
And, as noted, if you're in areas where overcast is the norm, the Maui Jim HT lenses are definitely viable all day lenses.