How important are your sunglasses when sight fishing?
The answer is: very important. Although sight fishing employs a large range of skills and muscles, your eyes bear the biggest burden, constantly scanning moving water in direct sunlight. Reflections on the water, reflections off the back of the lens, and glasses that slip down or pinch your head can all lead to a massive headache after hours of extreme concentration peering in to the water. Lens color can also make or break your success in spotting redfish in the Louisiana marsh, which is often somewhat stained water, if not outright muddy. To that end, it makes sense to be working with the best pair of glasses that you can access. For the past year or so, I've been using a pair of Kaenon sunglasses, and while I have found the lens clarity and tint functional, the fit on my head is off, and the interior coating of the lenses have started to delaminate, which has triggered a new search for the best pair of glasses for sight fishing the marsh.
Finding a good fit:
Right off the bat, I knew I needed to find a pair of glasses that fit better than my current Kaenons, which constantly slip of my nose when I'm out on the kayak and sweating. Apparently, I have a fairly wide head, but have a perhaps unusually short distance from my eye sockets to the back of my ears, causing the arms of my current glasses, and many other pairs on the market to extend past my ears. I often wear a hooded shirt when fishing, which in turn pushes on the arms of the glasses as they extend past my ears, pushing them down my nose. With that in mind, I tried a few pairs of glasses out at the local store, Puglia's Sporting Goods. The first thing I tried was a couple of pairs of Costa's, but they all felt the same as the Kaenons, with arms that extended well past the back of my ears. Eventually, I found the Maui Jim World Cup glasses to be a nice fit. I was short on time, so I didn't pick anything up, but knowing that the Kaenon's were too big, and the Maui Jim's about right, I set our to see if I could find out the specifications of each. As it turns out, most manufacturers list the dimensions of their glasses in a series of 4 numbers - Lens width, lens height, bridge width, and arm length. For example, the dimensions of my Kaenon Burny glasses are 62 (lens width), 42 (lens height), 19 (bridge width), 125 (arm length), while the dimensions of the Maui Jim World Cup glasses that felt more comfortable are 64, 40, 19, 115 - similar, but with a shorter arm length. I spent some time looking around on a couple of brand's websites, but the Maui Jim World Cup model is the only one I have found that has a 115mm arm length, with 125-135 being much more common.
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to work on the assumption that for the task of sight fishing on a typical sunny day in the Louisiana Marsh, you are going to want some shade of brown/amber/copper glasses. Each manufacturer has slightly different names and totally different tints to their version of this style, but what you definitely don't want is a neutral/gray or blue lens, which was made painfully obvious to me recently as I bumbled through half a trip with a pair of neutral gray polarized lenses, before giving up and reverting to my Kaenons. I just couldn't see the subtle hints of red/copper in the water anywhere as well with the gray lenses. I've noticed that the Kaenon's have a bit more of a rose tint than either the Smith or Maui Jim lenses, and will be interested to see how that shakes out in real world application. The bottom line is that each manufacturer has a different take on what exactly constitutes a brown/copper/amber lens, and it is up to the consumer to check out a few and decide what is best for them. Here's a few photos that illustrate the difference between these three manufacturer's offerings. first pic is a vacuum sealed redfish on the half shell - doesn't really do it justice, but since I don't have pet redfish, it'll have to do.
Round up: Maui Jim World Cup vs. Kaenon Burny vs. Smith Colson
Maui Jim World Cup:
- Lens Width: 64
- Lens Height: 40
- Bridge: 19
- Arm Length: 115
- Base Curve: 8
- Lens Color: HCL Bronze
- Frame Color: Chocolate Stripe Fade
- Lens Material: Glass
- Light transmission: 16%
- Lens Width: 62
- Lens Height: 42
- Bridge: 19
- Arm Length: 125
- Base Curve: 8
- Lens Color: c12 Copper
- Frame Color: Tortoise
- Lens Material: ? SR91 (seems to be some kind of plastic)
- Light transmission: 12%
- Lens Width: 60
- Lens Height: 43
- Bridge: 16
- Arm Length: 120
- Base Curve: 8
- Lens Color: Polarchromatic Copper
- Frame Color: Black
- Lens Material: Glass
- Light Transmission: VLT = 13-20%
Clearly, I am much, much more familiar with the Kaenon glasses after spending over a year with them, sight fishing in a ton of different conditions. While I like the contrast and color, I've grown pretty tired of the constant adjusting I need to do to keep them in position, and I'm not overly impressed with the lens durability, as they have accumulated a pretty hefty collection of scratches and started delaminating as well. To be fair to Kaenon, they agreed to fix the lenses (which I'll be shipping off soon), and the fit issue is relative to the model. I certainly would be willing to try another pair of Kaenons in the future. One thing I'm still unclear on is what material the lenses are actually made out of. Kaenon is a little bit short on details, but I think it is some sort of plastic rather than glass. It's a point that certainly merits further research. They are also the heaviest feeling glasses of the bunch, and I definitely develop a bit of soreness after a long day of wearing them on the water. Another gripe of mine about these glasses was that they seemed to allow a fair amount of light to hit the back of the lens and create ghost reflections, which can really fatigue your eyes over the course of a day.
Maui Jim World Cup:
When I first tried these on, I figured they would be the ticket. They wrap nicely around my head, provide shorter arms that terminate at the right place behind my ears, and provide a great amount of protection from light that wants to come in and hit the back of the lenses. The anti reflection coating on the back of the lenses also seems really effective. I first tried a pair of neutral gray lenses in the matte black frame, but it was pretty quickly obvious that they were not going to cut it for sight fishing. I was then a bit puzzled to find out that I could only get the HCL Bronze lenses in a frame color called Chocolate Stripe Fade. I would have much preferred matte black, but went ahead and picked up a pair. As soon as I unboxed them, I noticed that the frame material has a tendency to pick up a bit of light - the lightest, most transparent part of the frame is directly underneath both lenses, and seems to light up a bit when in direct sun, which clearly isn't optimal for sight fishing. In terms of contrast and color, I would say that these are the least aggressive lens of the three, with a pleasant tint and medium contrast. The lenses seem to be extremely clear, and they are a bit lighter feeling than the Kaenon's, but not by a lot.
When I first pulled these out, I was a little surprised at how light they felt in comparison to the other two pairs. They're a little rounder in shape, with a slightly smaller bridge size (measurement over the nose). As soon as I put them on I noticed how high contrast the lenses are. These are probably the least "honest" lenses in terms of contrast and color, but they sure do pop. They also have a variable light transmission feature, which is supposed to adapt to let more or less light in, based on the light conditions, from 13-20% transmission. By comparison, the Maui Jims are 16%, and the Kaenons I believe are 12%. I'm pretty interested to see if I can perceive this working in actual fishing conditions. The intensity of the contrast at first is a little jarring, as if the depth of field and clarity of the world has been bumped up a notch, but I can totally see it being a great lens for picking out those stubborn fish in less than ideal conditions. I'm a little concerned about the comfort of the arms, which are a little on the thin side, but time will tell.
Conclusion: time on the water will tell
I think it is obvious that both the Smith Colson and Maui Jim World Cup glasses are worthy replacements for my Kaenons, but I really have to get them out in real life conditions in order to have a definitive answer as to which will be the everyday pair. If I was just wearing glasses out around town, I'd pick up the Maui Jim pair, which are a little more natural of a color, and sit pretty much perfectly on my face. On the other hand, I have a feeling I might be a little blown away by the contrast and punch of the Smith glasses when I get them out in the marsh, even if I don't feel like wearing them while driving or putzing around the city. My plan for the next blog post on this topic is to get a few real life photos in the marsh, maybe even with a pet redfish, that will really show the difference in how they render colors and contrast.