Carry-on luggage and fly fishing

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Carry-on luggage and fly fishing

You have dreamed, planned, invested time and money getting ready for your fly fishing adventure. The anticipation builds. You have gone over your what to bring check list again and again.  As you start packing it hits you, this is no longer a pipe dream, it is real and it is going down. As with all air travel you are regulated to regulations and policies that pertain to your carry-on and check-in luggage. The questions that will swirl thru the mind of many fly rod anglers that travel via airplane are,  will the airline and security let me carry on the airplane fly rods, fly reels and flies? What about fly lines, leaders and tools? 

The answers may vary with country, airline, size of the airplane and many  other factors.  The simple answer to carry-on fly rods, reels, line, leader and yes flies is "yes." Boarding commercial airlines in the United states and many other countries  my number one goal  with carry-on is to carry-on ample  fly fishing gear and flies to get me by if my luggage is a no show.I typically distribute my flies and gear into two distinct baggage categories. The first and most important is carry-on. What will they allow me to carry on? Boarding planes in the United States I have had very few issues with carry-on gear that consisted of rods, reels, flies and leaders provided I stay within the carrier and T.S.A guidelines. Most of the issues I have had in security are with tools such as pliers or snippers. I now leave all tools in checked luggage. When I walk thru security. I consider what I wear and put in my pockets as bonus  carry-on fly fishing attire and gear. I have been known to look like a fly fishing catalog model going thru security. I may be sporting a hat, shoes, sunglasses, pants, shorts, shirt and wading jacket that I may  be wearing while fishing as soon as I depart the plane. I have seen some really cool fly fishing carry-on cases that will hold 4 piece rods reels and other items but being the Hobo that I am I prefer a soft dry bag backpack for carry-on. I can stuff more stuff in these soft dry bags compared to those high dollar fly fishing carry-on hard cases. A a soft  bag is much less difficult to stow in the overhead or under a seat as it will contort in a ways those hard cool cases will not. A bonus to  the soft dry bag backpack is it can and is often used when you are fishing.I keep at least two 4 piece rods in the factory tubes (shorter the tube the better) and stuff them in or fasten them to the dry bag with zip ties. I have even carried on up to 3 or even 4 rods in short tubes attached or stuffed in my dry bag backpack. I will have backing, line and leader loaded reels and  a condensed selection of flies and leaders.  The only issue I have had with flies was a time I tried to carry-on some large shark fly patterns. The T.S.A agent took a long hard inspection at these patterns and would not allow them. Her interpretation of these flies was the size of the hook was just too large and these flies could be used as weapons. In the end she allowed me to carry on  all of my other fly patterns with a smile. Rule number one while going thru security is to never start a heated argument  or spirited debate with a T.S.A or security agent as ultimately your flies are at their mercy.

Below is an example of one of my dry bag backpacks that  has dual use for a carry-on bag

  During your air travel and connecting routes the size of the plane often will change so it is a good idea to do some homework on the different carry-on sizes allowed on the different planes you may be in.A good rule to follow is to start with a carry-on bag that will work on the smallest plane you will be boarding during the trip. I can go a week on a fishing trip without a toothbrush  so all of my non essential fishing items that wont fit in  my carry-on will go in my checked in luggage. I can always purchase a toothbrush but a nice fly rod in Honduras may be hard to find.The baggage I check  will contain the bulk of my flies, additional reels,  rods, lines, leaders, tools and larger items not allowed on plane. I use the space of my carry-on bag for fly fishing items that are allowed within. With the exception of camera, passport and necessary travel documents everything else for the trip is checked in baggage.

Anglers who travel via airplane will need to learn that airline employees will focus on the size and weight of your carry-on luggage and the T.S.A or security will focus on the content. It is always a good idea to contact the airline yourself before the day of departure and get the latest details regarding carry-on rules. T.S.A has a web page that will help keep destination fly fishing anglers up to date on the current "what you may carry-on" regulations. Keep in mind that there may be some T.S.A agents that interpret items differentially than other agents. I have found if you abide by the T.S.A current published guidelines and treat the agents with respect there are few surprises, Here is a link that will inform fly rod anglers of the current carry-on T.SA guidelines.


I have for the most part been lucky in regards to carry-on luggage. Yes, carry-on luggage issues may come up but with a little preparation, research and planning most  issues can be avoided or at least limited. Once you get your fly rod , reel and some flies on the plane the only thing you have left to worry about is a Corona drunk air traffic controller that may be guiding your plane into your final fishing destination or locating a store where one can purchase a toothbrush if you are inclined to brush your teeth.



airlines carry-on policy. Stay up to date with the latest T.S.A carry-on policy by visiting the site