Published Aug 9, 2022 2:22 PM
Fishing and travel are a natural fit. Wherever you end up, there are new waters to seek out, so the addition of a dedicated travel fishing rod to the arsenal makes sense for aspiring travel anglers. The problem for many years was the lack of quality rods to meet the carry-on restrictions for fishermen traveling on planes. Multi-piece rods were much less common and inferior to more conventional rods; they were also more likely to break.
Thankfully, advances in technology and design have changed the landscape of angling travel. Rod companies are now able to provide traveling anglers with quality options, and the best travel fishing rods fish like their one-piece counterparts.
Travel fishing can be as exotic as a once-in-a-lifetime globetrotting adventure, or as simple as a subway trip to the city pond or lake. In both scenarios, a more compact, travel-friendly fishing outfit will make transit to the destination easier. Before buying a travel fishing rod, consider what species of fish you’re targeting, spatial limitations, mode of transport and the all important time versus money equation.
What type or types of fish will you be chasing, and where will you be fishing? An ideal rod for panfish or trout will be outgunned and frustrating to use when targeting big stripers or redfish. Rods and their counterpart reels (meaning the reel you always use with that rod) may be great in freshwater but not up to the abuse they’ll endure in a marine environment. I like versatility in my gear but not to the point of compromising my overall enjoyment. To this end, I think it best to establish realistic expectations and fully understand what my travel rods can and cannot handle.
The first leg of the journey is a commercial airline behemoth with spacious overhead compartments that will easily accommodate your travel rod case. But the final hop comes via a de Havilland Beaver where space is severely limited. Or, perhaps you’re hiking into the backcountry for a multi-day camping and fishing adventure. In each of these scenarios, spatial limitations are different, and in each case it’s important to identify how compact your travel rod (or rods) need to be. This is a question best asked and answered before you depart.
Mode of Transport
In a perfect world, my rods never leave my oversight when I travel to fish. But often that’s just not realistic. So, I opt to plan for the worst and hope for the best. I like when rods come with a crush-proof case. If they don’t, it’s best to invest in a specialized travel rod case that will accommodate the rod or rods you plan to take. When trips require multiple transfers, the added peace of mind alone merits the investment.
If carrying a rod or rods onto an airplane, I find out the airline’s maximum dimensions for carry-on items. If I have any doubt about carry-on options, I make sure the cased rod I’m traveling with will fit in my checked baggage.
Time versus Money
This is an important equation that has additional variability based on a person’s disposable income and priorities. I once commented to a guiding client that I thought everyone should have one area of life where they indulge themselves. His response was, “Why just one?”
Realistically though, most anglers need to evaluate how often, and for how long, they’re likely to use a travel rod, and then factor that into their decision about which rod is best for them. An angler who might, or might not, use the rod once a year on a family vacation will want a different rod from the fisherman or woman who embarks upon one or more dedicated destination fishing trips each year.
Best Budget AND Best Combo
Why It Made the Cut
- Length(s): 5 feet (light power), 6 feet and 6 feet 6 inches (Both medium power)
- Numbers of sections: 5 foot rod is 3 pieces; others are 4 pieces
- Line Rating: Light: 4-10 pound; Medium: 6-15 pound
- Strong, durable and sensitive graphite and fiberglass construction
- More economical than buying individual components
- Strong and durable Ugly Tuff stainless steel guides
- Shakespeare four-bearing spinning reel, with double anodized aluminum spool
According to Shakespeare lore, the Ugly Stik received its now world-familiar moniker when a product management executive took one look at the first prototype blanks and said they were the ugliest he’d ever seen.
The most updated version is more aesthetically appealing, but it hasn’t lost its rugged durability or the signature clear tip segment. The Ugly Stik Travel Combo comes in three lengths and two power options (light and medium). Each rod is fitted with a solid Shakespeare four-bearing reel with oversized bail wire for added durability. And the entire combo is at a price point that won’t break the bank.
These travel outfits make a solid choice for those trips focused on activities other than angling where you just might be able to fit in a little fishing anyway. They also make excellent entry-level outfits for kids and beginners. From personal experience, I’ll also say that these rods can handle those unexpected trophies that have a knack for biting when you’re just helping the kids catch a few bluegills.
Best for Bass
Why It Made the Cut
Quality materials, exceptional design and enhanced versatility with two complimentary tip sections.
- Length(s): 7 feet
- Numbers of Sections: Four pieces—butt section, midsection and two tip sections for increased versatility
- Tip Sections: medium light—for 1/8 to 5/8 ounce lures and medium for 1/4 to 3/4 ounce lures
- Line Rating: medium light: 6-12 pound; medium: 8-14 pound
- Two tip sections offers great versatility
- Fishes like a one-piece rod
- Excellent sensitivity
- Doesn’t include a crush-proof case for checked luggage protection
Abu Garcia was smart to partner with Mike “Ike” Iaconelli in designing this rod. Twenty plus years as a bass tournament professional coupled with his additional experience as a city fishing enthusiast provided the ideal experiential foundation for crafting top notch travel fishing rods.
The Ike Signature Series Travel Spinning Rod is an exceptional value and an incredibly versatile fishing tool. Quality components are a significant part of the winning formula. The rod blanks are constructed from 36-ton graphite and finished rods have stainless steel guides and a high quality reel seat. The use of a continuous graphite ferrule is key to allowing this rod to fish like a one-piece rod. If all of this isn’t enough, then add in the best feature—the versatility provided with interchangeable tips. This combination allows you to fish an extended range of lures and finesse baits. Anglers looking for a more powerful bass fishing tool should consider checking out the casting rod version.
Best for Saltwater
Why It Made the Cut
A premium fishing tool designed by hardcore anglers for hardcore anglers.
- Length(s): 7 feet in two power options, medium-light and medium
- Numbers of Sections: three
- Line Rating: Medium-light: 6-12 pound; Medium: 10-17 pound
- Multi-taper design offers a superior blend of durability and performance
- Nickel-Titanium RECOIL guides
- High quality cork grip
- Light weight
- Difficult to find stock, at the moment
Very rarely will I say that a rod has the potential to enable a competent angler to catch more fish. The G. Loomis Escape GLX rods are an exception to this rule. Hands down, these are some of the finest fishing rods made today.
G. Loomis has been making fishing rods focused on performance since 1982. I bought my first GLX rod in 1999 and I still fish it today; I think that says a lot about both the quality and durability of the GLX line of rods. Loomis’ rod building expertise has led to superior travel rods that compromise nothing in a multi-piece design. Their proprietary Multi-taper Design process strengthens potential break points while reducing material application elsewhere. The result is strength and sensitivity. The Nickel-Titanium RECOIL guides used on these rods are amazingly tough and the cork grip provides a comfortable feel over days, months and years of fishing.
These rods are amazingly lightweight, given their strength, durability and ability to subdue large saltwater fish. This lightness in hand translates to greater comfort over a long day of fishing. The last cast of the day feels as effortless as the first.
GLX Escape travel spinning rods are available in two models. The medium power model is what I consider the ideal saltwater rod, able to handle large inshore species such as permit and bull redfish. In freshwater, this rod will handle most of the salmonid species, bass and pike. The medium-light model is also a phenomenal light saltwater rod, ideal for small bonefish, puppy drum and schoolie stripers. This rod is also a great crossover rod, whether for large trout, shad or smallmouth bass.
Why It Made the Cut
Decent telescopic rods are hard to find and the KastKing Blackhawk II stands out.
- Length(s): Casting —7 models from 6 feet, 8 inches to 8 feet; Spinning—7 models from 6 feet, 6 inches to 8 feet
- Numbers of Sections: All models are telescopic
- Line Ratings: 6-25 pound, depending on the model
- Multiple models for diversity and flexibility
- Quality materials and construction
- Quick assembly
- Still not as good as quality multi-piece rods
- Segments can loosen after significant casting/fishing time
Though I’m not a telescopic rod fan, I see the usefulness of the concept, and the KastKing BlackHawk II is the best telescopic rod I’ve seen. These rods are particularly well suited for anglers who need the added convenience provided by a telescopic rod and aren’t logging serious hours of fishing associated with dedicated travel fishing trips. In other words, they’re ideal for when you’re on vacation and, suddenly, you have an hour or two to go fishing.
KastKing has provided an outstanding array of options, in both casting and spinning rod models. This selection is a great service for potential customers who need to find rods to fit a wide variety of angling scenarios, as well as the inevitable personal preferences.
The BlackHawk II rods are built using KastKing KastFlex 24-Ton Carbon Matrix blanks, with a solid glass tip. Snug-Fit ferrules, stainless steel line guides, graphite reel seats and comfortable EVA handles are used to create a nicely finished rod.
For more information on telescopic rods, we have a rundown of the best telescopic options out there, as well.
How I Made My Picks
My first travel-to-fish trip happened when I was seven. We ventured north to fish for northern pike and bass in the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River. Since that first trip, my wanderlust has persisted, spanning three continents, five countries, eleven states, and three Canadian provinces. I’ve carried rods to all of those places via airline, bush plane, panga, train, car, taxi, subway and hiking boots. In between those adventures, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with fishing industry professionals about travel fishing rods and other assorted gear. Cumulatively, this distilled experience proves highly useful in evaluating travel fishing tackle.
In writing this review I considered the following attributes:
- Fishing Performance – comparative to one-piece rods
- Materials and Construction
Q: Can I carry-on a fishing pole?
According to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), fishing rods can be carried on, as long as they meet the airline’s criteria for carry-on items. However, it’s best to always work with the specific airline you’ll be traveling with to fine-tune your carry-on planning. If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to also check with air carriers you’ll be flying with in the destination country or countries.
Adhere to their requirements, and your rod should remain in your hands from home to destination and back.
I always want to travel with my rods in a hard, crush-proof case and my reels safely stowed in my carry-on fishing bag. Even if my travel rods are compact enough for airline carry-on, I still prefer to carry them in the protective hard case, as plans can sometimes change at the flight check-in. If I have to check the rods, at any point in the journey, I know they’ll be safe. Many people think about the flight process but don’t consider the auto travel on either end of the flight. In my experience, the transition points are when unprotected gear gets broken. Careful packing of your rods and reels extends the safety to these travel transition scenarios.
In the “for what it’s worth” column, I’d rather arrive at a fishing destination without my clothes than my rods and reels. But happily this can be avoided by using a change of clothes as padding around your rods in the travel case. This way you arrive with your rods, reels and at least one spare outfit.
Q: Can you carry-on a 4-piece fly rod?
Yes, most conventional 4-piece fly rods will meet airline criteria for carry-on luggage. I’ve traveled with 4-piece, ten foot fly rods to Chile, Mexico, England and remote north western Canada. I’ve never had any difficulty carrying-on my fly rods. That being said, it’s still always best to check with the airline in-question in advance. If you’re working with an experienced fishing travel service, they can also provide their experience traveling to your destination. For additional thoughts on this topic, check out our in-depth breakdown of the best fly rods.
Q: Can I fly with fishing lures?
According to the TSA, fishing lures are defined as “sharp fishing tackle that may be considered dangerous.” They recommend sheathing or otherwise securing hooks; the lures should then be securely wrapped and packed in your checked baggage.
Based on this information, any hooks, lures or flies in your carry-on could be confiscated.
For anglers, the problem with this approach is the fear of arriving at a remote fishing destination with nothing to fish.
To alleviate this concern, I pack a small selection of must-have flies or lures that I put in my carry-on bag—think of it as an emergency kit. I keep the selection small enough that I can accept the loss if it’s ever confiscated. The bulk of my fishing lures are packed safely in my checked bag and include duplicates of the essentials.
Whether you’re embarking upon a bucket-list adventure fishing trip or hoping to get in a little fishing while traveling with the family, it all depends on your tackle getting to the destination unbroken and functional. That defines why travel rods have become so important for modern anglers, and the importance extends beyond airline travel. Try carrying a one-piece rod on a busy subway and you quickly realize the value of travel rods for close-to-home fishing.
Though many travel rods still fall short of their one-piece counterparts’ performance, advances in technologies and economies of scale have closed this gap. In some cases, the best travel fishing rods are indistinguishable from one or two-piece rods. To decide which travel rod is right for you, evaluate your target species, consider spatial limitations, mode of transportation and time versus money. Then, just add water and enjoy the fishing.