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October 26, 2001

Shades of Color

High-quality, polarized optics offer more than mere respite for squinting eyes they also provide protection from invisible hazards by blocking UV light

You see them after dark in places like North Carolina's Outer Banks and the Florida Keys: flats guides, charter captains and mates, with the marks of long hours on the water - sun-bleached hair, deeply tanned faces and white stripes across their eyes left by sunglasses.
"Sunglasses are among the most important tools for fishing," says Chris O'Leary, an avid angler who fishes Tampa Bay flats at least once a week. "A couple of times I discovered I'd forgotten my glasses after launching the boat. I drove home to get them because I'd rather lose some fishing time than spend a day on the flats without my sunglasses."
Various frame styles, lens types and colors offer a wide selection to suit all tastes, but one firm rule applies when choosing sunglasses for fishing: Lenses must be polarized. Not to be confused with Polaroid (a photographic process and trademark), polarized lenses contain filters that reduce glare from reflected light. Non-polarized sunglasses only reduce the amount of light entering the eye without solving glare problems. Eliminating surface glare allows an angler's vision to penetrate the water and distinguish otherwise hidden objects such as fish. But don't get the wrong idea. Polarized glasses do not give the user Superman's X-ray-vision powers: Fish and structure will remain unseen in cloudy water no matter what type of glasses you wear.

We Be Good, UV Bad
Anglers who complain of eye fatigue and headaches after a long day in the bright sun are most likely feeling the effects of excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
The same UV rays that cause sunburn can also inflict damage on the human eye. Ultraviolet radiation has been divided into three types according to wavelength (measured in nanometers or nm). The most damaging, UVA (320 to 400 nm), can harm the eye's crystalline lens. The 286- to 320-nm range encompasses UVB radiation. This segment of the spectrum causes sunburn and can irritate the cornea. Our earth's ozone layer absorbs radiation below 286 nm, thus eliminating most UVC rays.
High-quality, polarized optics offer more than mere respite for squinting eyes; they also provide protection from invisible hazards by blocking UV light. Kevin Carlson, president of Ocean Waves Sunglasses in Atlantic Beach, Florida, points out, "Dark glasses cause pupils to dilate, allowing even more UV rays to enter the eyes through unfiltered lenses. Make sure your glasses keep out 100 percent of UV wavelengths."
Nearly all new sunglasses carry a "UV protection" label, but the degree of protection varies. The FDA has set minimum requirements, but many companies go one step further by filtering out all UV radiation.

Colorful Language
Even the most optimistic fishermen need more than rose-colored glasses to increase the probability of making visual contact with their quarry. The rainbow of available lens tints includes offshore blue, 24-k gold, vermilion, sunrise, amber, clear-water copper and backwater green.
All these options do much more than help fashion-conscious fishermen wear color-coordinated combinations of hats, shirts and shades. "Sunglasses must deliver performance as well as protection," says Carlson. Lens tint holds one key to performance. It's no coincidence that three experts - Carlson of Ocean Waves; Amy Fugere, sales and marketing coordinator for Costa Del Mar sunglasses; and Rudy DeLuca, president of Fisherman Eyewear - all agree when recommending lens colors for specific angling situations. Flats fishing calls for yellow tones, including amber, copper and yellow-green, which enhance overall contrast and make it easier to discern fish or bottom details in shallow water. These tints also perform well during low-light conditions in the morning, evening or on hazy days.
Offshore anglers routinely spend long hours in brutal sunlight watching lines and lures running near the surface. Enhanced visual contrast - a valuable asset in shallow-water sight-casting - becomes less critical because fish usually show themselves when attacking baits. Dark gray polarized lenses deliver the best results in bluewater fishing by cutting glare and guarding against eye fatigue.
Recognizing that certain tints offer distinct advantages, some anglers carry two pairs of sunglasses in different colors: yellow for morning and evening hours, dark gray for bright midday sun. The H3O Sunglass System from Hydro Optics includes one set of wraparound frames and three interchangeable lenses in different colors, offering an innovative way for anglers to keep up with changing conditions.

Glass or Plastic?
Three basic types of lens material exist - glass, CR-39 and polycarbonate - with each presenting distinct advantages and disadvantages. DeLuca says, "Glass lenses are the most durable. They stand up to abuse by fishermen and resist scratching." And, according to Carlson, "Quality glass lenses provide superior polarization. Some plastic lenses may flex, resulting in imperfect polarization." On the downside, Fugere points out: "Producing glass lenses requires more work than plastic, so they carry a higher price tag."
Polycarbonate and CR-39 represent two very different kinds of plastic lenses. A hard-cast resin, CR-39 equals glass in clarity and, when hard-coated, becomes almost as scratch-resistant. Its optical quality is such that "CR-39 now accounts for 80 percent of the country's prescription eyeglass market," says Fugere. "It also weighs 30 percent less than glass, so most people find CR-39 lenses more comfortable."
Compared to other lens materials, polycarbonate scratches most easily but is the least expensive. High shatter resistance explains polycarbonate's use in safety glasses, but this feature isn't of primary concern to fishermen. "Anglers and mates should wear glasses at all times to protect their eyes from hooks or swivels that may suddenly snap back from a fish's mouth," warns DeLuca, "but glass lenses normally won't shatter from such an impact."
Once you've decided which lens you prefer, choose frames carefully. Stylish shades with small lenses afford little true protection because unfiltered light still enters the eyes. "I like wraparound frames or sunglasses with wide temples that block sidelight," says O'Leary. Indeed, wraparounds have become the favorite among anglers.
Carlson suggests that fishermen avoid metal frames: "Their thin temples don't block sidelight, and metal can't provide the same amount of wraparound as other materials." DeLuca also advises against metal-framed sunglasses because he knows anglers tend to be less than gentle with their eyewear. He warns, "Metal frames may bend, causing the lenses to pop out." Both men recommend nylon frames, which offer durability and more wraparound coverage. Wire-core nylon temples can be bent to shape for a custom fit.
Don't treat sunglasses as an afterthought or a simple fashion accessory. Polarized glasses keep your eyes comfortable during a day on the water, allowing you to concentrate on finding fish. These valuable tools must perform as well as your best rod and reel. Remember, what you see is what you catch.