I’m busy prepping for a trip to the upper Zambezi with the enigmatic Ewan ‘Ethan’ Naude and his famous Loomis hat. We’re heading to Wildman Safaris and Royal Barotse Safaris in mid October to target Tigerfish and Upper Zambezi yellowfish, Labeobarbus codringtonii up near Sioma Falls.

To say I’m frothing is an understatement… Having had very much a fishing-trip less year so far, I’m relishing the build up.

Boxes are filling up with the usual tiger suspects, as well as a few experimentals and specials, like Platon Trakoshis’ Bully Beef as well as a modified version of the Cage Fighter among others. Then I’ll wire them up on that man Leonard Flemming’s specifications.

LeRoy Botha has also been commissioned to cook up some Yellows fodder.

Another thing I’ve been delving into however, is eyewear. Lens colour in particular…

We all know polarised sunnies are indispensable pieces of kit. To radically paraphrase the science:

Polarised lenses contain millions of parallel rows of minute iodine crystals or dichroic dyes. These horizontal rows of iodine crystals block out horizontal polarized light waves, letting only (non-polarised) vertical light waves reach the eye. This blocks as much as 50% of the light passing through a lens and while you can still see ‘clearly’ in brightness it (most importantly) eliminates glare off the water.

Colour choice, lens material and shape are all crucial considerations. Here, in a perfect world, are the lens colours I would pack for the trip:

GREY: For good clarity in bright, sunny midday conditions. These lenses won’t distort colours while providing light and glare reduction. We’ll be fishing from shore (up at the deep gorge at Sioma) and off the boats, this is the go-to all day choice for both. Some options include the Costa Green Mirror and Silver Mirror, as well as Oakley PRIZM Shallow Water Polarised (personally the finest polarised lenses I’ve ever used).

To date the best I’ve ever used

Another new option on the market that looks pretty interesting is the ChromaPop Glass Green Mirror from Smith Optics. This glass lens features a brown base with a mirrored exterior, which – according to Smith – is 10% darker than standard brown lenses for ‘added visual comfort on super bright days.’ The lens has a brown base which means detail and contrast will still be good for sight fishing, estuary and stream use.

Smith's new Glass Green Mirror
Smith’s new Glass Green Mirror

AMBER: For early morning and late evening sessions. Amber lenses excel during variable light and overcast conditions where they help increases depth perception and enhances contrast. As we’re going in October, there is a chance of overcast/rainy days. Kaenon is one of of the most respected brands globally and produce a brown lens designed specifically for fly fishing.

“I changed from a brown to grey and have really regretted it,” says James Williams of Wildman Safaris. “I found the brown/amber lens so much better than the grey as I just found they dealt with the glare and the lower light conditions better.”

Head guide on the Zambezi for Wildman, Thomas Danckwerts agrees. “The pair I now own are made by Smith. They’re Drakes with brown/amber Techlite Polychromatic glass lenses. I bought them after reading a host of good reviews online with most people claiming brown lenses to be the color for freshwater. They also claim to provide better contrast between certain wavelengths of light (green, red and yellow if I remember correctly). I can remember first putting them on and was convinced there was more contrast in the colors. Everything seemed to ‘pop’,” he says.

“I first used them fly fishing for trout in Australia and New Zealand. Later for yellows on Sterkfontein, trout in the berg and now for tiger on the Zambezi (although no real sight fishing takes place here) and I’ve never regretted my decision. Even here where I’m not necessarily using them to spot fish they have saved my eyes from the terrible glare created by the hot African sun, smoke and white sand. They work beautifully in all kinds of weather but again don’t help in fading light where I suppose clear lenses would be the best bet!”

So there you go, if you’re packing one lens colour only for the Zambezi, word is to go brown/amber.

Polarized lenses
That hat has super powers. Almost no need for eyewear, even.

These are broad sweeps and there are of course alternatives and whole spectrum of lens colours available:

Browns and greens act very much like base grey – perfect for day-time use. The darker coloured lenses cut through the glare and reduce eyestrain in moderate-to-bright conditions.

Yellow, gold and rose act like amber, excelling in moderate- to low-light conditions. They provide great depth perception, enhancing contrasts in tricky, flat-light conditions. This is also good for shallow water sight fishing on creeks. Could come into play if we’re sight-fishing for yellows in riffles etc. Options here include the Smith Panchromatic Igniter Rose

Blue Mirror lenses (often with a grey base) are best for offshore/deep sea applications which won’t come into play up on the Barotse. Maui Jim does a Blue Hawaii which boasts a blue flash mirror lens over a neutral grey base. Skeletonoptics, a popular US brand, have an SA agent now and are also worth checking out.

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