The anticipation of a fly fishing trip puts a smile on any angler’s face. The days before the trip are spent organizing gear, planning out the days and hoping the weather holds. Depending on the destination, flying may be necessary. Flying with fishing gear can be stressful. If something goes wrong or missing, it can be an expensive fix in both time and money.
I’ve flown with my fly fishing gear both as carry-on and checked baggage. At the end of the day, it’s vital to pack and plan to ensure you can still fish even if some of your gear is misplaced. As soon as you land, all you’ll be thinking about is hitting the water.
Can I Bring Fly Fishing Gear on a Plane?
Yes, you can bring fly fishing gear on a plane! It’s actually surprising how many things you’re allowed to bring with you when you fly.
If you’re bringing long rods that are shorter than 115 linear inches (length x width x height) then they can qualify as checked baggage. If they’re any larger than this, then they’ll be considered an oversized bag. Checked bags cost you anywhere from $35 to $50. An oversize bag fee will likely cost you around $80. Obviously, checking your baggage can lead to some items being misplaced, but more often than not, you’ll be okay.
Many airlines allow for you to bring fishing poles if they fit in your carry-on bag, but I have flown multiple times on airlines just carrying my fly rod tubes. I haven’t brought any more than two on a plane, but I have never been questioned by TSA or an airline. I’ve flown with them on small planes in Northern British Columbia and commercial flights across the United States.
Link to TSA to get the most updated information – TSA Screening What Can I Bring – Fishing Pole
As long as you aren’t bringing an excessive number of tubes onto a plane, you can include them with your carry-on or personal item.
You’re also able to bring flies and reels onto the plane. As long as you’re not bringing excessively large hooks, you’re good to go. TSA allows flies, but if an agent deems, they are unsafe, then they have the right to confiscate them. Most trout, salmon and steelhead flies are going to pass through just fine. Beware of exceptionally large saltwater and freshwater flies! Size 0-22 hooks should be okay.
Also, your reels and any excess line is also okay to bring on the plane with you. As long as it’s not too sharp or pointy, you’re going to be able to fly with it.
What Gear Do I Need to Fly Fish?
Your fly fishing gear list is going to depend on where you’re fishing. However, more often than not, you’ll have to bring waders, wading boots as well as rods, reels, line and flies.
Get a Fly Fishing Checklist in this article Beginner Fly Fishing Gear Checklist
Also, make sure you have gear that will keep you comfortable on the water for an extended time. Waterproof jackets, performance shirts and a hat are all other necessary things to have a successful day on the water.
Don’t forget about the other accessories you need to bring as well! Nippers, forceps, sunglasses and a net are going to help.
Is it Better to Check or Carry Fishing Gear?
Overall, it’s best if you can carry-on your fishing gear. By carrying on your equipment, you’ll have peace of mind that you know exactly where it is and how it’s being treated. The worry for many anglers with checking bags is not having a full understanding how the gear is being treated by airline workers.
While there are limitations of what you can carry-on a plane, you can get quite a bit on with you. You could carry on a rod tube or two, reels, lines, some clothing and quite a few flies. This gives you some reassurance in case the airline happens to damage or misplace any of your items.
If you check your gear, understand the extra time it takes to retrieve your bags and the possibility of issues regarding the condition. Sometimes you’ll have to check some of your gear. If you’re checking long 2-piece fly rods, or making an exceptionally long trip, make sure to pack everything into as few bags as possible. The fewer the bags, the less chance you have of losing anything!
Again, the biggest thing to try and avoid is being left without anything once you land. By bringing enough in your carry-on you can at least get by if something does happen. Don’t pull all of your eggs in one basket if you can possibly help it.
Read about what each of the airlines say about taking fishing gear on an airplane:
- Delta Airlines – Taking Sporting Equipment
- Southwest Airlines – Special Luggage
- American Airlines – Special Items and Sports Equipment
- United Airlines – Sports Equipment
- JetBlue – Fishing Equipment Policy
What Fishing Items are NOT Allowed on a Plane?
While you can get away with quite a bit, there are a few things that aren’t going to be allowed on a plane. Obviously, you can’t bring a knife or multi-tools. These are going to have to go in checked luggage or purchased when you make it to your destination. Thankfully, these things aren’t overly expensive and you can even make-do without them on your excursion.
You also have to be careful with bringing pliers on the plane. Pliers are sharp and can do some damage. Depending on the sharpness of your forceps, TSA may make the decision to take them away. I’ve had agents take a look at mine multiple times so I make sure to bring the dullest pair I own.
The final thing to consider and pay close attention to are your flies. If you’re saltwater fishing, some of those extremely large flies aren’t going to be allowed. It’s quite frustrating to have those large flies taken away because they’re not only expensive, but they’re often very specific to the water you’re fishing. If possible, put these in a checked bag or purchase flies when you make it to your destination.
How to Protect a Fishing Rod on a Plane
If you’re flying with your fishing rods, you need to make sure they’re protected. Anglers know all about how fragile fishing rods are. Plus, they also seem to break at the most inconvenient times. You need to do your best to prevent this if at all possible.
Companies like Plano and Flambeau make telescoping rod cases that are handy. These cases can fit single rods up to 8.5 feet. For most fly rods, you may have to break them into two pieces, but some can fit all as one piece. These cases are nearly indestructible so you can rest assured that even if they throw it around, your rods are going to be okay.
The rod tubes that most fly fishing companies send with their rods are good options for prediction. They’re often PVC pipes covered by a hard nylon material. If you’re carrying your rod on, this is plenty to protect it. If you’re checking your rods and you only have the tube, do your best to put it in a bag with the rest of your clothing and gear. They’re not as strong and it’s better to be safe than sorry when traveling with fishing gear.
A couple pieces of gear that I would recommend for traveling with a fly rod.
- Flambeau Outdoor 6095 Bazuka Tube (LINK to AMAZON for more reviews and price) – I’ve used one of these for years and my equipment has always made it to my destination safe.
- Plano Airliner Telescoping Rod Case (Amazon Link) This rod tube is a little smaller in diameter, but the telescoping action can make storage easier.
Protecting Your Reels for a Flight
To protect your reels, make sure you put them in one of the soft neoprene reel cases. Also, put them in your carry on or personal item.
This is your best option for keeping them safe. Wrap them in some socks or a t-shirt for some extra padding.
Are Hooks Allowed on a Flight?
TSA actually says directly on their website that small flies are allowed in your carry- on. If you’re bringing size 0-20 hooks, you’re likely going to be okay to bring them on the plane. If your fly has quite a bit of material on it and the hook isn’t showing as much, that’s even better. Also, with your flies, make sure they’re placed in a box and even wrap them up if possible.
If a TSA agent sees that you’ve put in the extra effort to make the hooks safe and unlikely to harm anyone, they’re much more willing to let you bring them on the plane.
If you’re bringing oversized hooks, TSA suggests to put them in your checked baggage. Any sort of large and sharp object isn’t going to please TSA. Take the extra precautions and put those extra large hooks into your checked bag.
Do I Need Fly Fishing Luggage?
Companies like FishPond and Orvis make fly fishing specific luggage. These roll bags are usually at least 35 inches long to ensure that you can fit your rod tubes inside of them. They even have places in the luggage to secure the rod tubes, reels and other valuable equipment.
While it’s not absolutely necessary, it’s nice to own a piece of luggage built specifically for your gear. These companies understand how delicate the majority of the equipment is and they’re going to create it with the ultimate protection in mind.
Recommended Fly Fishing Bags
- Fishpond Dakota Carry-On Rod and Reel Case – (Great Reviews on Amazon) Fishpond is a proven name in the fly fishing business with bags, slings and belts designed for fly fisherman.
- Orvis Safe Passage Carry It All – (Links to Amazon for Current Prices) Orvis has been making everything for the fly fisher for years. The Safe Passage has separate dividers for rods, reels and gear.
Most fly anglers are fairly OCD about their equipment. Everything is put back in the same place so that access is easy and no time has to be wasted when getting ready to hit the water. Do yourself a favor and purchase one of the large roll bags from these companies. You’ll be pleased that everything is safe.
Alternatives to Flying with your Fly-Fishing Gear
Some anglers choose to not fly with their gear and this is totally okay. It saves you the worry and hassle of the process and allows you to enjoy the travel.
You can choose to ship your fly fishing gear to your destination. Around 40 pounds of gear costs $100 or so to ship to a hotel in West Yellowstone, MT with UPS. Checking a bag both ways is going to cost around $100 as well so depending on what you prefer, you can do either. This process is very reliable and you can expect your gear to be in great condition when it arrives.
You can also ship with FEDEX! The prices are similar to UPS. It’s not a bad idea to check with both to see if there is any significant difference in price.
Hotels or lodges are going to make sure your gear stays safe until you arrive.
Some Tricks I’ve Used for Traveling with Fly Fishing Gear
Like any sort of travel, there are methods to make your life a bit easier. The less you have to worry, the better.
One of your first options is to hire a guide service that’s going to provide everything. All you have to do is get to the destination and be prepared to land fish. The guide service is going to ensure you have the proper rod, reel, line and flies. Plus, it’s likely going to be some fairly high-quality gear that may be even better than what you own.
Just showing up and fishing is really easy! You’re on vacation! Let others worry about the gear and accessories.
Another option is to mail your gear to the destination and carry-on a travel fishing kit. You can pack one rod tube, a reel or two and some flies into your carry-on in case anything goes wrong. This is less gear for you to worry about.
A final option is to stay at an all-inclusive fly fishing lodge. Lodges like the Madison River Lodge in Montana have packages that allow you to stay and rent gear. Again, all you have to do is show up and you’re good to go. Experts are going to put together everything you need for a long day on the water. You’re not only staying at a beautiful location, but you have experts on hand to help you make the most of your journey.
Travel is always stressful regardless of how little or much you bring. The first time you travel with gear, you’ll find yourself scrambling and anxiously waiting to get everything to your destination.
However, the more you do it, the more you’ll learn about what’s important to you and the methods that work. Remember that you’re traveling to fish! This is one of the most exciting things you can do.
More Nymph Fishing Articles – WHY because NYMPHS Catch Fish!
- Best Rod, Reel and Line for Nymph Fishing – All about the equipment to nymph fish.
- How to Tie and Fish a Traditional Nymph Setup – An introduction to rigging up for nymph fishing.
- Nymph Fishing Styles Explained Traditional, Euro and Indicator – An overview of nymph fishing techniques and when to use them.
- Reading the Water for Nymph Fishing – Learn how to recognize the right conditions to fly fish with nymphs.
- A Complete Guide to Stillwater Nymphing – The title says it all, learn how to nymph fish lakes.