For anyone who spends significant time outside, a good pair of sunglasses is worth its weight in gold. Not only do they protect your eyes, but they can bring objects into sharper focus, cut glare, and improve the clarity with which you view the natural world. The best sunglasses for fishing do all this, and then some.
I’ve had the pleasure of using a few new models of shades over the summer. From my usual trips here in the Rocky Mountains, to the overcast days on Alaska’s rivers, I put these sunglasses through their paces.
Before starting, I should note that I’ve worn Smith Optics almost exclusively until this year. They were the first pair of nice fishing sunglasses I bought, and I haven’t needed to replace them. So, when reviewing all these sunglasses this summer, I compared them all to my baseline of Smith’s Brown ChromaPop+ lenses. That’s all I’ve ever known when it comes to high-end fishing sunglasses.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to business. First we’ll look at some of the features any good sunglasses need, then we’ll go into detail on the specifics around the models that made the cut. To jump straight to the list, click here.
What All Fishing Sunglasses Need
When considering all the options for the best sunglasses for fishing, you can narrow the choices down substantially by only looking at shades which offer:
- Polarized lenses, ideally with a proprietary coating or other technology that enhances clarity and cuts glare
- Glass lenses as an option
- Lightweight, comfortable frames
- Lens colors that work in a variety of lighting environments
I’ve found the best lens color for fishing is either a brown/amber, or a blue mirror. Both do an excellent job of cutting through glare, enhancing existing colors, and helping you spot fish. Green mirror lenses are fantastic too, but they’re not as good in low light as the amber or blue lenses.
Glass lenses are an absolute must. Yes, they’re heavier than plastic, but they’re also scratch-resistant, provide a sharper image, and last longer.
And while some like to point out plastic’s superior strength, I’ll submit the following photo in favor of glass:
This is what happened to a pair of Smith Guide’s Choice shades after a 2-ounce banana weight smacked into them at a really fast clip.
I was on the Kenai River, trying to snag some sockeye. I foul-hooked a fish (which I swear happens 75% of the time I go after these salmon) and it tore off immediately downstream. My drag was as tight as it would go.
The fish made a few thrashing head shakes, then the 30-pound test line snapped. The 2-ounce banana weight flew back and hit me square in the face. It knocked me hard enough that I fell into the Kenai, filled my waders up, and thought for a second that I’d broken my nose again.
If glass holds up well to that sort of abuse, then I reckon they’re plenty safe for us anglers.
And props to Smith for making such a great pair of glasses. Even when shattered, not a single shard made its way into my eyes. By the time I was home from Alaska, Smith had already sent a replacement pair, reinforcing their longstanding reputation for outstanding customer service.
Now, with all that out of the way, let’s dive into the list of the best sunglasses for fishing in 2021.
- Fantastic lens quality
These sunglasses make the list because they’re arguably the most comfortable pair I own. While the Guide’s Choice model isn’t exactly new, the XL version is, and Smith made some major improvements since debuting this line of shades years ago.
The frames are extremely light, and built from a new material called Evolve. It’s a bio-based plastic, so it should be a much more environmentally-friendly product.
Also of note is the 8-base curve Smith utilizes for the Guide’s Choice XL. The base curve describes how aggressively a pair of glasses wraps around the wearer’s face, blocking out unwanted sunlight. An 8-base curve is extremely high, so you know you’re getting maximum protection from unwanted light with these sunglasses.
Smith did tweak the hinges on the Guide’s Choice XL. By adding spring hinges, Smith says the frames self-adjust to your face. Throughout testing, I was consistently surprised at how well the Guide’s Choice XL fit.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding quality of the ChromaPop mirror lenses. The model I reviewed sports the green mirror lenses, and they’re great for almost every fishing situation except low light. Smith ChromaPop glass lenses provide crisp, vivid vision in a lightweight package.
A new pair with brown lenses (my personal favorite for fishing) will set you back $199. It’s $259 for glass lenses. That’s a very reasonable price for a piece of gear that most of us anglers take for granted.
- Made from recycled fishing nets
- Extremely vivid glass lenses
Costa launched an update to their fantastic Untangled line of sunglasses this year, and they sent along both the Pescador and Antille for review. The Pescador is my personal favorite because it fits my face better, but for folks with a wide forehead, the Antille is a great set of shades. They’re both so similar in appearance, feel, and weight that I reckon combining them into a single section in this review still gives you the necessary info.
The Untangled Collection features frames built entirely from recycled fishing nets. By partnering with Bureo, Costa is able to literally salvage discarded fishing nets – what ends up in our oceans, negatively impacting marine life – and turn them into sunglasses frames.
That the frames look and feel great is a solid achievement, but they’re much lighter than I would have expected, too. And there’s no low-quality feel to the frames, either. If you didn’t know the frames were recycled plastic, I don’t think you could tell the difference.
Now, Costa’s 580 lens technology is some of the best on the market. I tested these frames with blue mirror lenses, and they’ve slowly but surely become my new favorite pair for daily driving. That means they’re the shades most easily within reach if I’m hitting the water after work or running errands.
The 580 lenses are crisp, clear, and vibrant, and I feel like Costa’s blue mirror lenses are lighter than others on the market. I’m not sure how to empirically demonstrate that, but it means you can wear these in lower-light conditions than your usual mirrored lenses.
A new pair of the Pescador glasses will set you back $199, while the Antille costs $206. Those are both reasonable prices for a fantastic, environmentally-friendly product.
- Extremely comfortable
- Very lightweight
The Fantail PRO is an entirely new product from Cosa this year, and these rival my trusty ol’ Smith Redmond sunglasses for my favorite pair. The Fantail PROs are extremely comfortable – they slide on and off the face with outstanding ease – and they’re durable as all get out. They didn’t take a 2-ounce weigh to the face like my Smith Guide’s Choice did, but they’ve been dropped and tossed around plenty.
I tested these frames with the Copper Silver Lightwave glass lenses. I like how Costa is trying to take the traditional amber/brown lenses, and lighten them up a bit for better use in low-light conditions. While in Alaska, these lenses served me well from 8:00pm until 11pm or so, when it got too dark for sunglasses of any kind.
The lens technology here is the same 580 polarized glass that you’ll find in the Pescador, so you know you’re getting high-quality stuff. The catch here is the $269 price tag, which strikes some folks as steep. Again, I have a hard time criticizing price for gear that works so well to protect your eyesight.
- Surprising quality
- Solid lenses
Native is a brand of sunglasses I first discovered when rummaging through a Cabela’s on a lunch break years ago. I picked up a pair, and wore those until the lenses were scratched beyond recognition. They’re still in my truck, and I break them out from time to time if I need a lens that really cuts glare.
The bronze lenses on Native sunglasses are really dark, so you’re limited in when to wear them for maximum efficacy. However, at $89, that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.
The frames aren’t as light as you’ll find with high-end models, and these lenses are only offered in plastic, but for less than $100, it’s hard to beat the value Native provides.
- Discreet, subtle frame
- Smith quality
If you’re looking for a lower-profile pair of shades that still provides wraparound protection from UV rays, then the Redding sunglasses are your new best friend. I own a previous incarnation of these frames – the Redmonds. Paired with this amber/copper ChromaPop lens, you’re in for a treat with the Reddings on hand.
I love how lightweight these shades are, especially if you opt for plastic lenses. It almost feels like you’re not wearing sunglasses at all, most of the time. And while the clarity and pop isn’t quite the same from plastic as it is in glass lenses, you’d be hard-pressed to find fault with the view in the Reddings, either.
Depending on the frame and lenses you choose, you’re looking at a price of $219 – $229. More than reasonable for a good pair of performance sunglasses.
And there you have it – my list of the best sunglasses for fishing in 2021. Whether you’re looking for a pair to add to the boat, or a new do-it-all pair that looks great on the water or out to eat, this list has you covered.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the host of the Spencer Durrant: Unhooked Podcast, News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.