Sunglasses might not be the first thing you think of when the discussion turns to must-have ice fishing gear. Maybe not even the last thing. But a pair of high-quality shades can help you catch more fish, protect your eyes, and keep you out of trouble while operating a vechicle on ice.
Serious anglers often consider sunglasses critical components of their open-water arsenals. Their glare-cutting polarization and vision-enhancing lens tints help us see fish, cover, and underwater structure, while warding off harmful UV radiation, reducing fatigue and eyestrain, preventing headaches, and helping spot potential water hazards above and below the surface.
While sunglasses may not factor into winter sight-fishing plans, protection from the sun's rays is equally important once the water's surface solidifies. And on the navigational front, lenses that limit glare in full sun or aid vision by increasing contrast and depth perception in overcast or other low-light conditions allow us to better see and read the icepack, drifts, and potential navigational hazards.
Let's start with health benefits. Don't let the short days and low sun angle fool you. Health experts warn that the harmful effects of solar radiation are just as intense in winter. Prolonged, unprotected exposure boosts your odds of developing a variety of visual maladies, including cataracts and macular degeneration. As if that's not enough, you can also suffer a sunburned cornea and vision problems including snow glare, snow blindness, and dry eye.
There's a reason ice anglers without sunglasses squint on sunny days. Snow reflects nearly 80 percent of the sun's rays, directing an abundance of bright light and harsh rays into unprotected eyes. Because UV radiation increases 4 to 5 percent for every 1,000 feet above sea level, anglers on high-country honey holes are at even greater risk.
Blocking high-energy visible (HEV) radiation, also known as blue light, can also improve your vision and protect your eyes. Although such light has lower energy rays than UV, research indicates it penetrates deeper into the eye and can lead to long-term damage. Look for lenses that absorb HEV, while enhancing helpful blues and greens. Maui Jim, for example, uses a proprietary blend of rare-earth elements to reduce HEV radiation without detracting from your view of the world.
Long-term damage aside, excessive glare can lead to "snow blindness," which produces symptoms such as pain, bloodshot eyes, hazy vision, and the feeling of sand in your eyes. Dry eye, a different condition, arises when the eye doesn't generate enough tears, causing redness and irritation. It's not limited to wintertime, but wearing sunglasses can limit flare-ups.
Lens color, polarization, and material factor into the selection process. Blue mirror is a standout in brutally bright conditions, though neutral gray is another good option in full sun that also yields rich colors and sharp contrast. In general, gray and black lenses are good for a variety of conditions. They minimize glare, reduce eye fatigue, and provide true color perception.
Yellow lenses, on the other hand, excel in low light, such as fog or overcast conditions. Amber also is a good choice for enhancing contrast and depth perception under cloudy skies, while copper lenses also cut glare and boost contrast. Green lenses are general-purpose options that dim glare and brighten shadows. A green mirror combo is good for bright conditions. Shades of rose, red, and pink are hard to beat for improved depth perception and contrast, which makes them ideal driving glasses, especially in cloudy or snowy weather.
A critical concern for open-water fishing, polarization also is important on ice. It reduces glare, which is high-intensity light reflected off a smooth surface, like ice or snow. It's more potent than ambient light and reduces visibility while causing eyestrain and headaches. Not all sunglasses are polarized and not all polarized glasses block the same amount of light, so check before you buy.
"Gray polarized lenses with ice-blue mirror is probably the best all-around color in our lineup," says Dr. Gary Nesty of Solar Bat. "It has the lowest light transmission possible in a lens that's suitable for driving. That said, our Mossback green tint brightens and heightens contrast in overcast and rainy conditions. We also offer gradient polarized lenses with either amber or Mossback green on the upper 55 percent of the lens and high-contrast yellow on the lower part."
Lens material is important, too. Glass and polycarbonate plastic are common choices, and both have pros and cons. Glass provides the highest clarity and scratch-resistance. Plastic is typically lighter and easier on the pocketbook, but is more easily scratched.
Of course, there are different grades of both materials, along with added protective treatments, which allow you to fine-tune your search for the perfect hardwater shades. For example, Maui Jim's "SuperThin Glass" lenses, one of the company's lens options, provides stellar optics and is 20 percent thinner and lighter than standard glass. Likewise, Costa Del Mar's C-Wall molecular bonding process boosts scratch resistance on plastic lenses, while also repelling water, oil, and sweat for easier cleaning.
Fit For Duty
Chuck McGannon, a northern region sales rep for Costa Del Mar, says fit is a key consideration when selecting fishing sunglasses. "One size doesn't fit all," he says, "which is why Costa offers more than 60 frame styles in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes." Their top-selling frames for fishing include Fantails for men, and Caballito and Isabele for women. Frames with removable side shields, like Costa's Man-O'-War, help block light at all angles while offering added protection from snow, ice crystals, and anything else that might blindside your hardwater game.
Along with a proper fit, it's important to find frames that don't slide down your nose. Non-slip frame treatments such as Costa's Hydrolite nose and temple pads help, as do rubber paddles around the ears. "Keep in mind, metal frames are more likely to slip," McGannon notes.
Dollars And Sense
As with many products, you get what you pay for. If you take the time to weed through options and choose top-quality frames and lenses that fit your styles of fishing, you're probably going to be satisfied with the results. Drop $20 on the first pair you lay eyes on, probably not. But there's nothing wrong with having inexpensive spares tucked away. If you misplace or mistreat your go-to glasses, the cheapies can save your eyes in a pinch. Alternatively, you could invest most of your sunglasses budget on lenses for bright sunlight and keep a pair of high-vis yellow ones in your gear bag that provide maximum contrast for darker days.
*Dan Johnson of Isanti, Minnesota, is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications and director of All Creation Outdoor Media.