How Do Polarized Sunglasses Work for Fishing

A Fishing Guides’ Secret: How Polarized Sunglasses Help You Spot Fish Like Never Before

How Do Polarized Sunglasses Work?

Polarized lenses are covered with a chemical treatment that prevents the glare that bounces off the surface of the water from entering your lenses. The glare is also known as horizontal light. Depending on the quality of your glasses, the treatment will either be embedded into the lens or applied as a film on the outside of the lens. 

The chemical treatment is applied to the lens in a vertical pattern and it blocks any horizontal light from passing through the lens. The blocking of the horizontal light by the vertical chemical treatment allows you to see and look below the surface of the water.

Horizontal light is what’s reflected off of any horizontal surface. Asphalt, screens and water all have the ability to reflect that horizontal light and make it difficult for people to see. That blinding glare is especially frustrating to deal with when fishing. It doesn’t allow you to see any sort of movement below the surface of the water.

If anglers spend too much time fishing without a set of polarized lenses, it can be damaging to the eyes. Polarized glasses are extremely beneficial for long-term eye health.

Looking at fish without polarized sunglasses
Looking at fish without polarized sunglasses
Seeing fish with Smith Guides Choice polarized sunglasses
Seeing fish with Smith Guides Choice polarized sunglasses

Polarized Sunglasses & Fishing

Polarized lenses have a variety of benefits for anglers. Not only do they protect your eyes, but they realistically will help you land and identify more fish.

Natural Filtration System

Polarized lenses essentially act as a filter for your eyes. The lenses filter out any of the glare that’s bouncing off the surface back towards you. As a result, you’re able to see past the surface and into the water. Trout fly anglers often rely on sight fishing, and it’s almost impossible without a set of polarized lenses.

See Below the Surface More Clearly

Polarized lenses will also help you see more clearly through the surface of the water. What can look like a stick below the surface without the proper lenses, may be a large fish sitting amongst fallen timber.

Polarized lenses can make a difference even on days where there is minimal glare on the surface of the water. Maybe it’s low light or the water is especially clear and it’s easy to see things occurring. You won’t understand what you’re missing until you put the polarized lenses on and catch a glimpse of what’s happening. You’ll start seeing baitfish, insects, crustaceans and even larger fish that are still and waiting for their next meal. 

What Sunglasses Do I Recommend?

A great pair of polarized sunglasses is a game changer. Spending a little bit more for quality sunglasses is well worth it. Think of it this way – you might have hundreds of dollars wrapped up in a fly rod that just sits in the closet. You can wear sunglasses all the time. My Recommendation? Check out the Smith Guides Choice Link to Smith Optics Below 👇

Learn More About Fish Activity

Polarized lenses will also help you see the activity of the fish. If you take time to look below the surface of the water at fish, you’ll learn quite a bit about their behavior. You’ll see how they feed, what happens when shadows are cast over them, how they sun themselves, what they do when other fish are nearby along with other tendencies.

Many professional guides and experienced anglers recommend for inexperienced anglers to take a trip to the lake, river, pond or stream and spend time watching activity in the water. This is difficult to do without polarized lenses. This time is valuable and will provide you with valuable insight.

Learning these things is vital to becoming a better angler. Polarized lenses allow you to do this at all times of the day regardless of the glare and reflection off of the water.

Look at the Water at an Angle

Polarized lenses work best when you’re looking at the water from an angle. With the light coming from the sky and below the surface of the water, it can cause the vertical pattern of the chemical treatment to not work as well if you’re not staring at the water at an angle. Generally, fishing is done directly from shore or on a boat, so you will likely not have trouble getting the chemical treatment on the lenses to work.

Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Lenses

While normal, non-polarized sunglasses are able to decrease the general brightness and intensity of the conditions, they aren’t able to reduce the glare. The light that reflects off the surface of the water is known to cause all sorts of problems for anglers, so it’s not recommended that anglers purchase sunglasses without polarized lenses. Polarized lenses generally cost a bit more than non-polarized lenses, but they’re well worth the investment.

Guide Pro Tip: A single fly fishing trip can cost hundreds of dollars. Buying gas, food, lodging, flies and a guide is expensive. A great pair of fishing sunglasses can be used for so much more than fishing. My favorite sunglasses? Easy Smith Optics Guides Choice. Here’s a shortcut link to Amazon to check prices and reviews 👉 Smith Guides Choice Sunglasses

Best Polarized Lenses

There are a few types of fishing sunglasses that anglers seem to prefer over others. While generic sunglass brands with polarized lenses are effective, fishing companies have perfected the lens formula.


The ChromaPop polarized lenses from Smith are a bit more affordable option for fly anglers. These lenses are able to block out the 99.9% of glare and are similar to Maui Jim in their abilities to resist the dirt, water and sweat that inevitably gets on your glasses throughout the day on the water. Read with this shortcut link to Smith 👉 Smith Guides Choice

Costa Lenses

Many fly anglers and offshore anglers love to use Costa sunglasses because of the quality of their polarized lenses. Their 580 lenses are able to block 99.9% percent of glare as well as harmful UV rays and other harsh lights that can cause damage to the eyes.

Maui Jim

Maui Jim takes the quality of many other fishing company lenses and adds their own flare to them. Their lenses also block out 99.9% of glare, but they’re also resistant to water and sweat, so they don’t get smudges as easily as many other lenses.

Last Cast (Sight Fishing)

Fly fishing with polarized sunglasses is a must. The overall benefits you get from them are almost guaranteed to help you land more fish throughout the day. While landing more fish is important, these lenses are going to protect your eyes and allow you to fish for longer without getting a headache. Investing in a quality pair of polarized glasses is well-worth it.

Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels

Sources and More Information

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