After a season guiding on the tea colored waters of Haida Gwaii, I decided it was time to research to see if they were making any lens colors that we could utilize. Stalking the Yakoun river in the winter posed many challenges for us, as we are guides who rely heavily on seeing fish. We had little to no success spotting fish from the shore with our lenses, so we took to climbing trees along the banks which was very effective.
The main problem is that the winter sun would not rise above the river until mid day and would only be available for about 2 hours. That means we were staring at a tea colored river at a perpetual first light scenario. Since then I have looked into my options for polarized lenses.
The first thing I looked for was an old lens I used to wear 15 years ago that Action Optic used to make called “First Hour”. Its was an excellent lens that would be ideal for winter steelheading. I knew they no longer made this lens, but hoped there was something comparable on the market. I was disappointed to find out their isn’t, at least not from Smith Optics. The “First Hour” lens was a very light brown polarizer with a high 28% VLT. It was a good lens for the fisherman who wanted effective polarization and a higher transmission level for some of the lower light conditions. It was discontinued due to low sales volume. No love here for winter steelheaders.
If your wondering what VLT means, it stands for Visible Light Transmission. It is measured as a percentage. Its basically how much light gets to your eye. A really dark lens for skiing in extreme sun may have a VLT as low as 4-10%, where as a yellow fishing lens maybe as high as 30%. The other rating you will see is protection from Ultra Violet - A, B, and C. Apparently UVB is the really bad one that causes the most risk of eye cancer. Any good pair of sunglasses will have this.
The polarchromic lenses have gotten better over the past several years, and they can offer a wide scope of VLT. The tint copper has become a very popular choice for polarized lens now, and I think most people will agree for fishing rivers, it is actually better than brown. Most of the recent technologies have been focused on making a lighter, more scratch resistant plastic lens. In my opinion the leading company in this field is Kaenon. I have found all the new lens colors by Smith Optics like the ignitor are totally designed for bright conditions with a VLT of 12-18%. Our only low light option is the yellow lens which I have never liked because it alters the natural colors too much.
I will be retreating back the same lens color I have been wearing for 10 years which is the copper polarchromic. I prefer Kaenon sunglasses over all the rest now. They have cornered the best new technology which is a lens made out of something called SR-91, similar to polycarbonate but much stronger and very scratch resistent. Kaenon offers an amazing lens for low light which they call the Copper 50. It allows 50% of light to your eyes. This in my opinion is the best low light lens you will find on the market today.