The good news is that it is entirely possible to travel by air with your fishing gear. The bad news is it’s complicated and may require you to buy some special bags to transport your gear safely. Let’s take a quick look at the ins and outs of getting your gear on the airplane safely and legally so you can enjoy your favorite hobby in a new way.
Packing your Rods
The biggest challenge when it comes to flying with fishing gear is deciding how you will handle your rods. Is it better to check your rods or carry them on? Generally speaking, anything that can go in a carry-on should go in your carry-on.
With that being said, one-piece rods are never going to fit in your carry on so you may not have a choice in the matter. For these, invest in a durable cylindrical carrier with a TSA approved lock.
Checked luggage notoriously takes a beating, so don’t skimp on a good carrier.
What You Need to Know About Checking Fishing Rods
Rules for checked luggage, and specifically for checking fishing rods varies by airline. Remember to check both your airline and TSA guidelines before packing your gear.
Some airlines like Southwest Airlines have very specific restrictions on the length allowed for checked fishing rods. Other airlines might restrict the number of rods to no more than two, or charge additional fees on top of the regular checked luggage fees.
Checked luggage fees range from $25 to more than $100 per piece with many airlines. If you are traveling with full fishing gear on top of several bags for clothing and toiletries, it can get very expensive. An alternative would be to invest in a good quality travel rod that you can carry on.
What You Need to Know About Fishing Rods as a Carry On
Even if your travel rod in its carrying case exceeds typical carry-on dimensions, there is a bit of good news. Many airlines are flexible with these delicate possessions and will allow it to be a carry-on. However, the discretion is always up to the airline, so have a backup plan if you are forced to gate check your rods before boarding.
Packing your Reels
Compared to rods, your fishing reels are a lot less complicated to travel with. Like other small valuables, the best place for these is in a carry-on.
TSA guidelines are pretty clear that reels are ok to travel in a carry-on, but they don’t specify about the fishing line that may be on the reel or extra spools that you may have with you.
In all cases, the final decision will be up to the individual TSA agents, so be prepared to check all of your fishing equipment. Or, you might choose to buy new fishing line when you arrive at your destination or pack an extra spool with your checked luggage just in case.
Packing Your Miscellaneous Gear
The waters get murky again when we talk about packing your tackle. Sharp fishing lures seem like something that could be a weapon, so are they allowed on an airplane? The official TSA guidelines say that small fishing tackle is permitted in both carry-on and checked luggage.
TSA goes on to say that large fishing lures and hooks are considered dangerous and should be properly sheathed, secured, and packed in your checked luggage.
But here is an important question – what is considered small or large?
TSA guidelines do not give any definitive measurements; rather, this is a choice given to individual TSA agents to determine what is or is not acceptable.
Checking Fishing Equipment as Sports Gear
There is a silver lining with some airlines. Fishing gear, including rods, reels, nets, boots, and tackle, may qualify for special sports equipment rules which allow passengers to check these bags for free or at least a lower cost.
This doesn’t mean that you are free to bring your whole collection and stow it away in the plane’s cargo hold. This policy is determined by the airline, so it is important to check with the specific airline you will be flying before making any assumptions.
But generally speaking, most airlines consider fishing gear to include the following:
- Two Rods
- One Reel
- One Net
- One Pair Boots
- One Tackle Box
Some airlines are pretty friendly when it comes to checking fishing equipment. Policies may change, so please check the airline’s policies directly on their website before booking, but here is a list of airlines that we found who do not charge an additional fee for checking cumbersome fishing equipment.
- American Airlines
- Allegiant Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Jetblue Airlines
- United Airlines (Note: not to exceed 80 inches in length)
*If you’ve got personal experience that differs from our research, please let us know!
There are a few additional airlines that may or may not charge an additional fee for your fishing equipment, depending on the size. For these guys, the consensus seems to be a maximum length of 62 inches to avoid the fee, with an additional fee for anything measuring over 62 inches in length.
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
In most cases, these fees mentioned above will be in addition to the regular checked baggage fees so you can see how your fishing gear can run the price up with some airlines. Choosing the right airline is half the battle. The other half is packing smart to avoid surprises, extra fees, headaches during travel.
Best Practices for Flying with Fishing Equipment
Flying with fishing equipment presents a unique set of challenges. Some of the equipment, like full-size rods, are quite large and cumbersome. Some of these probably exceed maximum dimensions for checked luggage and can incur additional fees if you do not prepare ahead of time.
Some fishing equipment is potentially dangerous and likely to be considered a weapon by airport security. Planning ahead and arriving as early as possible to allow extra time going through security are both necessary. If you are the hot-headed sort that will be short-fused with airport security and airline staff, this is probably more hassle than it is worth to you.
The Final Determination is Always in the Hands of the TSA Agent
The bottom line is that if the TSA agent you encounter at the airport is not particularly knowledgeable in fishing and tends to be on the more cautious side, you can expect a little bit of trouble getting questionable items into your carry on or possibly even checking some of your luggage.
Come to the airport armed with a backup plan so that you don’t encounter issues twenty minutes before your flight boards. If you have to check something unexpected, know what the fees are before you get to the airport and be prepared to compromise.
Avoid Traveling with Items You Cannot Stand to Lose
While you can check most of the equipment that you will need for your fishing trip, there is the ever-present danger that your equipment will be lost or damaged. The reports of airlines handling checked luggage poorly are far and wide, so if you do check your fishing equipment, do your best to protect it.
Another nightmare situation that happens often enough with checked luggage is that it simply goes missing. In some cases, the missing luggage never turns up, and in others, it just misses your trip all together and doesn’t catch up with you for a week or two.
And, while carrying valuable items on is much safer, there is also the risk that you will encounter a TSA agent who doesn’t agree and confiscates your items. If you land yourself in this predicament, most airlines will allow you to simply ship the items back home so you won’t be out permanently. But there are no guarantees. A particularly prickly confrontation could result in TSA confiscating your valuables for keeps.
If you are an avid fisherman, consider investing in a good-quality set of travel equipment that is separate from your regular equipment. This way, you can have the best of both worlds – the comfort of your own equipment on vacation and the security of not traveling with your best gear.
The Bottom Line on Traveling with Fishing Gear
Traveling by air with your own fishing equipment is possible, but it is a little bit of a hassle. Travelers should try to carry on as much as possible, simply just for the security of valuable equipment. Travel rods can fit into standard carry-on bags, and longer, one-piece rods can usually carry-on as a fragile valuable with permission from the airline.
Reels should be no problem to stow in your carry-on bag, while fishing line and tackle should be packed away in your checked luggage. Plan carefully about what you will travel with and don’t put any obvious no-no’s in your carry on like knives or large hooks.
As long as you follow these rules, plan ahead according to your airline’s policies, and appear to be a knowledgeable fisherman, it should be fairly straightforward to fly with your gear, at least on domestic flights. International flights are another beast, but many have done it successfully.