Taking Fishing Gear on Board? Here’s What You Need to Know

If you’re planning on taking a long-distance fishing trip and you want to fly to get there, you’re probably wondering whether you’ll be able to get through security with all your fishing gear intact or not in this brand new day of TSA inspections. Since most fishermen have a specific setup they like to run with, not having access to your equipment is going to hurt you on the water. 

So what do you do if you have fishing gear you need to get on board a plane? Here’s what you need to know: most telescoping rods, lures, and fishing gear can be taken onto a plan in either checked-on baggage or as a carry-on item, but one-piece rods, saltwater large game lures/hooks, and more dangerous pieces of gear such as fishing knives have to be checked in your baggage. 

Traveling with your favorite fishing gear can be nerve-wracking since you never really know whether it’ll end up at your final destination, and if you’re traveling specifically for a fishing trip, arriving at your destination without your gear can cost you hundreds of dollars in replacement equipment or rentals you weren’t budgeting for. 

Read on to find out more about the safest ways to get your fishing gear on board a plane without losing your equipment or causing a ruckus with security.

Can I Bring My Fishing Lures on a Plane?

One of the first questions you might ask when flying with your fishing gear is this: can I bring my lures, hooks, and other sharp pointy fishing tackle on a plane? The answer is yes, fishing lures can be either brought in your carry-on luggage or checked in your baggage, provided they don’t appear to pose a threat to other passengers in the eyes of airport security workers, according to TSA

For smaller lures and hooks, such as freshwater lures and fishing flies, it is perfectly acceptable to bring these in your carry-on luggage. For the sake of simplicity, it’s probably best to pack any fishing lures located in your carry-on in their own, easy-to-open container, such as a fly-fishing box. 

This will make it easier for TSA agents to inspect your carry-on luggage should you be chosen for an inspection during the security check-in process. Another tip for carrying fishing lures in your baggage is to make sure any sharp ends are carefully covered with foam or some kind of buffer to prevent anyone from being accidentally snagged going through your bags. 

For larger lures and hooks such as those used in offshore saltwater fishing, you will need to check these lures in your luggage rather than add them to your carry-on, since these larger sharp objects can be pinged by TSA as potential weapons. This means that if you catch an agent on the wrong day, your large hooks and lures may be confiscated during bag inspection.  

Can I Bring My Fishing Accessories on a Plane?

Another question you might have about packing fishing gear onto an airplane is whether or not you can bring your fishing accessories onto the plane with you. This includes pieces of gear like pliers, forceps, fillet knives, and line snips.

It can also include small fishing accessories such as the following: 

  • Multitools
  • Scales
  • Lip grippers
  • Hook removers
  • Scaler

Whether you can bring your gear onto the plane in your carry-on luggage or not is entirely dependent on exactly what kind of gear we’re talking about. As long as they are under seven inches in length, non-lethal fishing accessories such as forceps or line snips can be kept in your carry-on luggage. 

When it comes to sharper implements used in fishing, however, such as the knives you use to clean fish, scissors for cutting line, or any other sharp fishing accessory that is larger than seven inches in length, you’ll want to pack those items in your checked luggage to avoid having them taken by airport security during carry-on inspections. 

As with your sharp fishing hooks and other tackle, any sharp items that you pack away in either carry-on or luggage should have their sharp ends covered with a soft material and taped down. This is especially important in carry-on luggage to indicate to airport security that these items are not intended to be used as an impromptu weapon of some kind. 

So what do you do if you have a piece of fishing gear that you’re not sure whether or not will be confiscated if it’s put in your carry-on? When in doubt, check it. For fancier or more expensive fishing accessories, it’s not worth losing the piece to security just to have it in your carry-on. There’s no fishing to be done in the friendly skies. 

Can I Bring My Fishing Clothing on a Plane? 

Since fishing clothing such as waders or boots are not dangerous in any way, these items can be of course packed either as carry-on or in your checked luggage. 

It can actually be advisable to carry-on items like fishing boots since these items can be somewhat difficult to pack efficiently in larger checked luggage and can take up an unnecessary amount of room when packed this way, whereas it is easy to strap your boots to your carry-on bag without being forced to pay the money to check another bag. 

If you’re going fishing on a trip of several days or weeks, you’ll want to take the opposite advice of what is usually suggested in travel and pack more clothes than you think you’ll need, rather than less. This is because unlike other tourists, you’re bound to get wet, so you’ll want to be able to change into something dry at a moment’s notice without having to worry about your dwindling wardrobe options. 

Depending on where you’re going fishing and at what time of year, you’ll want to bring at least some of the following types of clothing for your trip:

  • Clothing that is easy to layer 
  • Waterproof footwear
  • High-quality rain gear
  • Polarized sunglasses

Of all the fishing gear you bring on a plane with you, fishing clothing is easily the least threatening of your equipment. 

That being said, if you have a habit of sticking lures or other tackle in your waders or overalls, be sure to check all of your pockets before you get ready to board your flight. You don’t want airport security to find a pocket-knife or other sharp implement tucked into your gear you didn’t know about. 

Can I Bring My Fishing Rod on a Plane?  

Whether you can bring your fishing rod on the plane in your carry-on or have to check, it will depend on what kind of fishing rod you’re bringing with you. One-piece fishing rods are too long to bring to your seat as carry-on baggage, so if you’ve got a one-piece rig, it’s, unfortunately, going to have to be checked with your checked baggage.

This also means that since a one-piece fishing rod isn’t going to fit in your traditional suitcase, you’re likely going to incur an extra checked baggage fee for your rod tube. This can range from $25 to $100 depending on your flight and where you’re flying out of. 

If you’re planning on taking a lot of fishing trips where flying on a plane will be necessary, it can be worth it to invest in a travel fishing rod that can be telescoped down to fit into a small carry-on bag. Regardless of whether you prefer a medium-action or a light-action rod, you can most likely find a travel version of it available somewhere. 

If you bring a one-piece rod and decide to check it in your baggage, you’ll not only have to pay an additional fee to check it, but you’ll also need to consider what happens if you get to your destination and your luggage has somehow ended up lost in transit. You may be forced to buy or rent a fishing rod on-site to replace the one lost in your luggage, which can be inconvenient at best and costly at worst. 

Travel Rods vs. Traditional Rods

Travel rods pose one solution to the issue of bringing a fishing rod on an airplane with you, but they’re only a partial solution. Unfortunately, many users of travel rods report that these rods can be somewhat flimsy or cheaply constructed in comparison to traditional one-piece rods. 

It’s understandable that people would get upset when their travel rods don’t perform as well as their regular rods, especially since most people end up having to buy a separate travel rod on top of their normal setup. But when your only alternative is paying up to a hundred bucks worth of extra fees in checked luggage for every fishing trip you take, hauling along your normal rod is going to cost you over the long haul. 

A major benefit of travel rods is that they are often sold as part of a travel fishing kit, which means they usually come with a convenient carrying case for carry-on transport along with some basic tackle and other essentials. If you’re only going to be doing some fishing as a side activity while vacationing for other reasons, a travel fishing kit may be the extent of what you’re going to need. Be sure to read this article for more info on telescopic travel rods, what we think about them, and our recommendations should you decide to get one.

If you’re taking a trip specifically to do competitive game fishing, however, you’re going to want your best gear with you, and that might mean paying the extra (and taking the risk) of checking your best traditional one-piece rod. It’s all going to come down to your individual situation and whether you think you’ll need the “firepower” or not.  

Bringing Your Rod as a Carry-on Will Restrict Your Other Carry-on Luggage

Unless an airline allows you to carry-on your rod as a personal item rather than a carry-on bag (and most airlines will not) your rod is going to count as your one carry-on piece of luggage that most airlines allow a passenger to have. 

That means if you want to bring a backpack or a laptop case with you in addition to your fishing rod, you may be out of luck even if your rod is the compact portable kind. The rod will still count against your total number of carry-on items, so you might be forced to choose or pay extra to check something at the terminal. 

Rather than allowing a fishing rod as a carry-on item, it’s more likely that an airline will classify a fishing rod as “specialty baggage,” which comes with its own set of weight/size restrictions and associated fees. So while it may be laxer on the size restrictions than regular checked luggage, it may be more expensive to check. The smaller and less intrusive a rod is when it’s packed away, the more likely you’re going to be able to carry it on and store it under your seat without trouble. 

Overall, telescopic travel rods and their cases are much easier to bring onto a plane as carry-on luggage versus large one-piece rods, so if you’re planning on boarding a plane during your fishing trip, investing in a smaller or more portable rod just for the trip can be a good idea, especially if you plan on making such trips on a regular or semi-regular basis.  

Rod Tube Length and Airline Regulations

Another consideration you need to think about when figuring out how you’re going to get your fishing rod onto a plane is your rod tube, at least if you’re planning on bringing along a large or long rod instead of a travel kit. A rod tube is a cylindrical hard travel case where you can store your rod to prevent it from being damaged during travel. 

Airlines have different regulations regarding the length of rod tubes they’ll allow to be checked in as luggage, but most airlines will allow rod tubes up to 115 inches in length and will usually allow up to two rods per tube to be checked. 

How to Make and Pack Your Own Rod Tube

You can always get a prefabricated rod tube to store your fishing rod in, and most multipiece rods usually come with one. A cheaper option is to build your own rod tube that you can pack as checked luggage, especially if you have a one-piece rod you need to pack that you can’t bring as a carry-on. 

To pack your fishing rods for checked baggage, gather the following supplies:

  • A cardboard packing tube long enough to hold your rod, or a PVC pipe (cut to size to fit your longest packed fishing rod with an inch of clearance)
  • Bubble wrap to prevent damage to the rods in transit
  • Packing paper
  • Packing tape

When you’ve decided which rods you want to take with you, you’ll want to remove the reels, wrap them up securely with tape and bubble wrap, and store them away in your luggage. Take each individual rod and wrap the sheets of bubble wrap around it until the rod is completely protected, then seal the bubble wrap with packing tape. 

Once each fishing rod is wrapped, slip it down into the cardboard tube, then shake the tube a little to make sure the fishing rods aren’t sliding around inside of it. If the rods move too much inside the tube, they could have their rod guides bent or suffer similar damage. If the rods are moving around, add extra bubble wrap until they fit snugly on the inside of the tube. 

If you are transporting the rods in a piece of PVC pipe, close the pipe off with a PVC end cap. If you are transporting the rods using a cardboard mailing tube, take a piece of thick cardboard and cut it to the size of the end of the tube, then tape it down vigorously until there is no chance that the end will come open or loose.   

Finally, be sure to clearly label the outside of the cardboard tube to discourage overly enthusiastic TSA agents from tearing into your makeshift rod case to figure out the contents of your mystery package. 

TSA Agents Have the Final Say 

Regardless of what the official specifications for individual carry-on items is, the main thing to keep in mind when trying to get your fishing gear through airport security is that the individual TSA agents running the floor during the inspection of your bags are going to be the ones who have the final say on whether or not an item passes muster.

That means that even if a small freshwater hook is technically supposed to be allowed according to TSA regulations if your TSA agent thinks that it is located in a compromising position in your bag or deems you to be somewhat shady, that means they can confiscate it anyway. 

It isn’t likely that this will happen, but be aware that TSA agents have the power to do it, and they’re within their right to do it. Arguing against a determination banning or confiscating your carry-on fishing gear will only end up your getting pulled out of the line, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you think that a piece of fishing gear might be questionable in your carry-on, don’t pack it. 

Another factor that will determine whether your gear is assessed as a danger to the flight is how you’ve packed it. A fly fishing box where sharp objects are carefully packed away and all lures are presented in plain sight behind a transparent deck of plastic is going to get through security much more easily than a fillet fishing knife you thoughtlessly shoved down in the bottom of your travel backpack. 

Consult Airline Authorities Before Packing Your Gear

There are some general rules you can abide by while packing your fishing gear to prevent any kind of brush-ups with airline security, but if you have any question at all whether or not a piece of fishing equipment will be permitted on board, you can always contact the airline you’ve purchased your ticket through to make sure that your gear meets the necessary guidelines.

Different airlines have different rules regarding weight limitations as well as the size and dimensions of your carry-on and checked luggage. 

To prevent having to deal with any nasty surprises at the airport that can potentially make your trip more stressful or even keep you from getting on your flight, make sure that everything you’ve packed is acceptable with the airline ahead of time. You can even verify this via email for a paper trail record of you verifying the requirements just in case there’s any trouble at the gate. 

Rule #1: Don’t Put Anything in Your Carry-on You Can’t Stand to Lose

That favorite fishing fly that your grandfather passed down to you and his father before him? You better check that in your luggage rather than your carry-on. The safest thing to do when bringing your beloved fishing gear on a flight is to assume that anything found in your carry-on during inspections can be taken from you with or without good reason. 

So if you have any fishing gear or lures that have sentimental value, your best option is to check it in your luggage or (if you want to be completely safe) just leave granddad’s best fly at home on the mantle. The memory of using the fly or other piece of heirloom gear on a great fishing trip isn’t worth the risk of losing that piece of memorabilia forever in case of an airport mishap. 

Rule #2: When in Doubt, Rent it Out

While it can be very tempting to bring your most special gear on a cross-country fishing trip, it might not be the smartest course of action. If you’re visiting an area that is well known for its fishing tourism, chances are you can rent some pretty good fishing equipment on a daily basis wherever you’ll be setting up shop. 

Renting equipment can be kind of a crapshoot if you don’t research your venues beforehand, but if you do a little bit of shopping around before your trip, you’re likely to have local access to fishing gear that is equal to your own, and maybe even a little bit better.

Not only is it convenient to be able to pick up this equipment on site when you get ready to go fishing rather than having to drag it through airports (and airport security), it also saves you the risk of having any of your personal fishing gear damaged or lost in transit, or having it confiscated from your carry-on. 

Deciding to rent fishing gear or not can be dictated largely by what kind of rental situations are available in the area you’re visiting. If you’re taking a bush plane out to some remote Alaskan fishing spot without even a small town nearby, you’re obviously not going to have access to the same kind of rental gear as someone going fishing in Destin, Florida (also known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”). 

Rule #3: Don’t Forget Your Paperwork

In the rush to make sure you have your fishing gear, don’t forget that you’re also likely going to need documentation to fish legally wherever you’re going. This means that you can’t leave home without the following:

  • Passport/driver’s license 
  • Fishing license

The state- or region-specific fishing license is particularly important, as is knowing local fish and wildlife regulations regarding the types of fish you intend to catch. In some cases, these catch limits can vary not just from state to state, but even from waterway to waterway. 

Not following local bag limits and species catch-and-release laws can lead to fines, suspension of fishing license in a state, or even jail time. Ignorance of the law as a tourist is not going to get you out of the associated charges, so be sure to plan ahead and fish legally. 

Since you’re flying on a plane, you’re likely to have your passport and driver’s license prepared already, but in the hurry of trying to make your flight on time, it’s easy to forget your fishing license. If you can get one easily at your destination, that’s not a problem, but it is something you need to consider well before you hit the airport, especially if you’re going to be spending most of your time in the bush. 

Bringing Fishing Gear on Planes Just Takes Common Sense

Bringing fishing gear on your cross-country flight might seem like a lot of added hassle that might be better avoided, and in some cases, it can be. If fishing isn’t going to be the main purpose of your vacation or you have a lot of additional luggage to check, biting the bullet and purchasing a rental rod on-site might be the most convenient and cheapest of your options. 

But if you want to bring your own personal fishing gear on a plane, just taking a few preventative measures with your packing to avoid conflicts with airport security and airline regulations can make your cross-country fishing trip a far more pleasant experience.

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