Julien Jarry (courtesy of Owen Burke)
Fishing shades can often look like your grandfather’s cataract sunglasses, but they don’t have to.
Smith Optics’ Barra sunglasses ($169) are a subtle hybrid between utilitarian angler and out-and-about urbanite.
I wore them on my boat, the trout stream, and while driving to see how they fared. They shined through it all.
Any angler worth their quiver of fishing rods knows that wraparound frames are the best bet for saving your eyes, keeping the crow’s feet to a minimum, and, yes, spotting your prospective catch. But, let’s face it: There’s no avoiding them being mistaken for Grandpa’s cataract glasses. For just such reason, I keep a pair of much more muted shades in my car so that the second I’m off the water, I’m back wearing my more neutral Persols or Ray-Bans.
But I don’t always have room (or forethought) to bring a second pair of more stylish shades along on my outdoorsy exploits, where I’ve come to learn that a pair of wraparounds is a near-essential piece of apparel. Still, I also just like the idea of paring down my pile of gear a little. That being the case, I’m always keeping an eye out for shades that will do the trick fishing, but won’t repulse my city-slicking friends (these New Yorkers, let me tell you …).
My hunt will likely never end, but this spring I’ve found a pair that comes close, and that’s reason enough to rejoice. Smith’s Barra sunglasses are primarily designed for fishing, but will leave your street-faring comrades none the wiser.
Like many wraparound sunglasses, the Barras have a lot of curvatures (six points, to be exact), and are equipped with Smith’s patented ChromaPop technology, which, in lay talk, works to separate confusion between the way light passes information to our brains. If that confuses you as it does me, read here. But, to keep things simple: Fishing, and specifically sight fishing, requires a keen ability to separate shades (specifically between the colors blue, green, and red). Fish will often appear as just shadows, and even more often, slight variations in hue from the waters in which they love.
Barras come in a classic Wayfarer-style, and 11 different colorways, from mirrored orange lenses down to gray, smoky ones. While mirrored lenses are a dead giveaway for fishing glasses, they do wonders cutting glare, and are a compromise worth considering when buying a pair, depending on how much you plan on fishing with them. For me, it was a simple decision since I have a couple other pairs, but if you’re only going to go with one pair of shades this summer, consider carefully.
The other sneaky little fisher-friendly feature on these shades is that, while they’re not a wraparound, they do have a little edge which is unnoticeable to most, but makes all the difference in catching not all, but a good portion of the stray light that enters your eyes from the edges of the frames.
They’re plastic lenses, so you’ll have to be careful with them (they’ll scratch more easily than good glass, like what you’d find in a pair of Costas), and clean them especially well (otherwise they’re prone to delamination). But they’re lightweight, and they’re extremely technical (you wouldn’t get that much curvature in glass lenses, at least not without paying dearly).
And, if you require a prescription, they’re amenable.
My field notes
I took the Barras (in Gravy, Copper, with a mirrored bronze lens) out fishing in several different conditions. First, they came along fly fishing on a bluebird day in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Standing atop a bridge over a world-renowned trout pool, I stood with four other seasoned anglers (whom, I might add, are all decidedly better trout anglers and spotters than I), and I was the only one able to note a trout hugging the bottom of the stream. I wasn’t getting any reflection at all like I normally do with non-mirrored shades. The mirrors, per usual on just about any pair of shades, were doing their job, but so were the little tabs on the slide of the frames that cut the stray light.
Then I brought them out the next day, which held a mix of fog and overcast skies. They still worked, but weren’t quite as effective. I might have ditched the mirrors for such a day, but then I was still impressed with how illuminated everything looked in contrast with how it did when I pulled them away. Green leaves were still popping with near fluorescence, and I kept feeling duped into thinking it was a much sunnier day than it was. It’s nice to be able to see in Kodachrome when Mother Nature is edging on the drabber, almost black-and-white side of things.
Finally, I took them out on the salt for sunset, between thunderstorms. We had low light, but it occasionally beamed through the clouds. Still not a hint of glare, and I could still see down into the murky estuarine waters as well as I ever could with any other polarized lenses.
I guess I ought to tell you they’re comfortable, too. Very comfortable. I find that when I’m wearing sunglasses for 10 or 12 hours, especially wraparounds, I’ll start to get a headache from the temple pieces. Ingeniously, Smith Optics opted to put silicone tips on them so that they give a little, and don’t hug your temples so firmly (they’ll still stay on nicely, mind you). It’s a nice, simple touch that goes a long way on a long day. They’ve also got automatic locking hinges so you don’t have to worry about them wobbling or flinging off.
All in all, these are geared toward brighter days, but they seemed to do the trick for me in all of the conditions I encountered last weekend. Oh, and when I got home to Brooklyn (where the hippest of the hip reside, don’t you know), I even received not one but two compliments — something I can’t recall ever having happened with even a single pair of fishing sunglasses before.
The bottom line
If you’re going to be hopping out of the boat and into a bar and grill or some sort of social setting where style matters, these shades are the most neutral option for anglers that I’ve found yet. The mirrored lens is a little flashy once you’re off the water, at least where my more subdued style sensitivities are concerned, but they make all the difference when you want to put them to work. Your only trouble now is in finding your own preference of colors.
Pros: ChromaPop technology, prescription-friendly, lightweight, suitable in most lighting conditions, somewhat balanced style between outdoorsy and urban (in other words, they’re not bug-eyed wraparounds)
Cons: Not cheap (but certainly still reasonable), no option for glass
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