Travel fishing rods are easy to pack for a trip, and the good ones fish like a one-piece rod. Over the past several decades, rods have gotten longer because more length typically equals better casts and more leverage on big fish. For example, the 5-foot 6-inch pistol grips that dominated bass fishing into the 1980s have been replaced almost entirely by rods that are 7 feet and up. Unfortunately, luggage costs and rules have also exploded at this same time, meaning that it’s not always feasible to take an oversized 7- or 8-foot rod tube on distant trips. That’s doubly true if you’ll be getting on a floatplane or your luggage size is otherwise restricted.
Travel rods aren’t solely for air travel, though. If you’re an urban angler getting on a subway, they may be your best choice. If you want something to keep in your car or backpack in case you pass by a tasty-looking fishery, they’re prime choices. In the past, the options were often limited. Either manufacturers took an existing blank and added rudimentary ferrules, or it was a bargain basement combo that required a staple remover to get out of the package and that couldn’t stand up to farm pond bluegills. Fortunately, many manufacturers have recognized the need for better travel tools, and they’ve heeded the call.
I get to do a lot of traveling with fishing rods as a writer and host of exotic fishing trips. I’ve been to the Alaskan wilderness, through the Amazon jungle, and on every major bass lake in the U.S. and Mexico. Those destinations require a plane ride, and while I don’t always pack multi-piece rods, it’s given me the chance to test out many of the best. Here are my picks for the best travel fishing rods.
How I Tested the Best Travel Fishing Rods
I’ve taken these travel rods all over the globe and all over the country, fishing for species both exotic and mundane. More importantly, though, I’ll admit that I’ve abused them. They’ve been shoved in suitcases, walked through dense forests, and used for lures outside of their supposed range. That’s the nature of the travel game. Coming home from Mexico, officials forced me to check a carrying case that I’d carried on for the trip South of the Border, and my rods returned in one piece—or rather in their original configurations of multiple pieces. When possible, though, I like keeping them at my side, and I’m usually able to do so. It also enables me to bring a rod and reel or the occasions when I travel for a non-fishing purpose but might be able to sneak away to make a few casts.
Best Travel Fishing Rods: Reviews & Recommendations
Best for Bass: Abu Garcia I.K.E. Signature Series Travel Casting Rod
- Length: 7 feet
- Packed Length: 28 inches
- Three pieces
- Comes with both medium (1/4-3/4 ounce lures) and medium-heavy (3/8-1 ounce) tip sections
- Soft travel case included
- Versatility means you only need to carry one rod
- Comfortable E.V.A. handle
- Great value
- Included case isn’t crushproof; should not be checked on airlines
Abu Garcia, worked with Bassmaster Classic champion Mike “Ike” Iaconelli, to design the Ike Signature Series Travel Rod. Ike is known for his wins on the pro bass circuit, but he’s also known for his urban angling adventures. Traveling by bus, bike, plane, and train to those urban fishing spots were the inspiration for his travel rod.
The best feature of the rod is the included interchangeable tip sections that provide different actions. They are a tremendous value, since the rod doesn’t sacrifice on components. They include 36-ton graphite blanks, stainless steel guides, and a premium Fuji reel seat. Ike carried this rod worldwide on his television fishing exploits for a wide range of species, but his heart remains with bass, and that’s where this rod excels, for everything from soft plastics to crankbaits to spinnerbaits. Anglers who expect to use finesse presentations can buy the spinning version.
Most Innovative: Daiwa Ardito-TR Travel Casting and Spinning Rod
- Length: 7 feet
- Packed Length: 28 inches
- Handle converts from spinning to baitcasting
- Three-piece rod, includes six total pieces
- Lure Weights: ¼ to 1 ounce
- Extreme versatility
- Handles wide range of lures
- Sensitive yet strong graphite construction
- Included case not crushproof; should not be checked on airlines
Daiwa has built a rod—and specifically, a rod handle—that will accommodate both spinning and baitcasting reels when configured appropriately. That means you don’t have to choose one or the other when you’re limited to one travel rod. What’s most impressive is that they’ve somehow developed a blank that doesn’t feel awkward in either role. It includes X45 graphite construction that prevents blank twisting and truly performs like a one-piece. I took this rod to Zambia for tigerfish, where it performed admirably with a baitcasting reel, and then used it at home to skip Senkos under docks with a spinning rod. It’s not truly a finesse spinning rod, but could handle light baits with plenty of backbone to extract hard-pulling bass from gnarly cover.
Best for Inshore: Falcon Traveler Coastal Spinning Rod
- Length: 7 feet
- Packed Length: 28 inches
- Medium action
- Lure weight: ¼ to ½ ounce
- Three pieces
- Bargain priced
- Durable full cork handle
- High-quality components
- Some anglers may not like the moderate action
If you’re chasing redfish or speckled trout on the Gulf Coast, or bonefish and snook in the Everglades or Keys, you need a rod that will simultaneously make pinpoint presentations that also has the heft to muscle outsized, super-strong fish away from cover. This rod is light but mighty and fits the bill. The Coastal Traveler series also has a baitcasting model in the lineup. They’ll both do double-duty in freshwater, although Falcon also provides Lowrider series travel rods for that purpose. All of them include cork handles (full in the case of the Coastal, split-grip on the Lowriders), Fuji K-Frame tangle-free guides, and a blank through reel seat. All come with a crushproof, three-section Cordura-coated case with the rod’s specifications printed on the outside.
Best Budget: Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Travel Spinning Combo
- Lengths: 5 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 6 inches
- Comes with matching reel
- Three or four pieces
- Rod and reel packaged together for the price of one
- Four-bearing spinning reel
- Strong guides will stand up to braided line
- Cloth rod and reel travel bag cannot be checked
The Ugly Stik brand has been synonymous with strength and value for decades, and Shakespeare continues to refine the products while keeping them at rock bottom prices. These three spinning combos—one light action, two medium action—all come with a four-bearing reel and rods that combine graphite and fiberglass construction. While the cloth carrying case may not be crushproof, this combo will stand up to just about anything you can dish out. That makes it a great option for kids or beginners, but you’ll be surprised at the wide range of species it can handle across the globe without any fear of failure.
Best Finesse: Wild Side Light Spinning Rod
- Length: 6 feet 3 inches
- Packed Length: 22 inches
- Action: Light
- Five pieces
- Ultra compact
- Innovative ferrules maintain one-piece feel
- High modulus graphite
Wild Side’s U.S. distributor Arundel Tackle claims that this rod is “made for the overhead bin, NOT baggage claim.” It comes with a rectangular carrying case that weighs a mere 2 ounces and will slide easily into your carry-on. More importantly, they’ve somehow taken a five-piece rod and eliminated any traditional multi-piece imprecision. That might be because they use refined spigot ferrules that do a solid job of maintaining a one-piece flow. This has become a go-to Ned Rig rod when I’m bass fishing at home, but it has so many other uses where it’ll excel. These include stream trout fishing, pan fishing, and light saltwater use. The high-quality cork and E.V.A. split handle are comfortable for all day fishing and match up with any lightweight spinning reel.
Best Premium: Megabass Triza Travel Rod
- Lengths (casting): 6-feet, 6-inches; 6-feet, 8-inches; 6-feet, 9-inches; 7-feet; 7-feet, 2-inches
- Available in five baitcasting and two spinning models
- Three pieces
- Lure Weights: 1/32 ounce to 3 ounces
- Wide range of actions for a full range of techniques
- Built one at a time for attention to detail
- Gorgeous peacock wood reel seats and hand-drawn graphics
Megabass makes everything from the best swimbaits to some of the nicest production rods available. The Triza Travel Rod has typical Megabass quality in a rod that fits in a backpack. Megabass has a lot of experience making travel rods for their Japanese customers, who are often more constrained in terms of space and transportation, and therefore demand them. These premium travel rods are now widely available in America and cover just about every bass fishing technique under the sun—while at the same time being superior for some saltwater and multi-species use. They’re a gorgeous piece of art that would look great displayed, but they’re too solid to sit on the sidelines. Megabass claims they are constructed to their “Triangle” ideal—with a tip section that maximizes tension, a belly section that maximizes torque, and a butt section that maximizes torsional rigidity. These are workhorses that present like show horses.
Q: What is the difference between a travel rod and a standard rod?
While most standard rods are one or possibly two pieces, most travel rods are three or more pieces. Alternatively, they may be telescoping. Either way, they “collapse” or “compress” or “break down” to lengths that will fit in a suitcase or in a small separate carrying case. That makes them easy to take on a plane or stuff under the seat of your vehicle for impromptu fishing adventures.
Q: Do regular rods still travel?
Many anglers believe that one-piece rods are superior in all instances and will do whatever they can to take them on long-distance fishing trips. Of course that is possible, and there are hard-sided carrying cases that extend up to nearly 10-feet long to transport them. One problem, however, is that the airlines are increasingly restrictive on checking such bags. Even when they allow it, they may be costly. Furthermore, rough baggage handling may result in destruction of or damage to your valuable gear.
Q: Can I carry a fishing rod on a plane?
Typically commercial airlines will not allow you to carry full-sized rods on airplanes, but they’ll often allow you to carry properly-cased and appropriately-sized travel rods on board. In fact, the T.S.A. guidelines explicitly state that fishing rods are permitted in carry-on and checked bags but note that “passengers should check with the airline to confirm that the fishing rod fits within size limitations for carry-on items.” Some foreign airports and foreign carriers will not allow the same, so be sure to check ahead of time and carry a crushproof case that can be checked if necessary.
Things to Consider When Buying a Travel Fishing Rod
What will you be fishing for?
The same travel rod that excels for panfish might be a liability chasing big saltwater fish in the surf. Today there are enough specialized options that you should be able to cover most extremes and many technical presentations. The trouble comes when you need to do double duty. That may require the purchase of a second rod, or perhaps even making compromises—using a single rod that is a jack of all trades but a master of none.
How compact must it be?
Fewer ferrules or connectors usually (but not always) means better performance. However, the ideal travel or “pack” rod will fit into a small case, which may or may not need to fit within your suitcase. Take careful measurements of your possible dimensions, adding a slight bit for the padding of the case and any internal rod sock that protects your tool.
How will I carry my travel rod?
The best possible scenario is to keep your rod or rods with you at all times, in a padded, crushproof case. That reduces the chances of loss and breakage. However, in the instance that you need to check it, make sure it fits in your other luggage or run the risk of paying a surcharge. Many of these rods come with tubes or cases. Some are better than others, so don’t hesitate to invest in an aftermarket product for peace of mind.
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As I’ve amassed an arsenal of travel rods over the past several years, I’ve seen a shift in my thinking. Previously, I reserved them exclusively for exotic travel to places like Zambia, Mexico, Brazil, and Alaska, and then relegated them to a garage shelf when I returned home. Increasingly, however, I’ve found myself using some of them in my day-to-day angling, in places where I could still take a 7- or 8-foot one-piece rod but now choose instead to take the multi-piece tool.
Many of the more inexpensive multi-piece rods are still notably less fluid than their one-piece counterparts, but that’s not always the case. Furthermore, if you’re a one-piece snob, you may be surprised at how refined these options have become.