Air travel with fishing equipment: Rules, information and tips

Allen company rod and reel carry on case approved for airplanes

This Allen Company rod, reel and tackle case available from Amazon is airplane carry on approved. Click the picture to check it out.

There are a lot of questions around what kind of fishing equipment you can take on an airplane and how you can carry it. There is so much of this online in fact that it can be difficult to figure exact what is and isn’t allowed.

Today, I’ll tell you what I’ve found out through my own research and experience. Hopefully, it’ll help you out.

According to JetBlue, the Transportation Security Association (TSA) says “Small hooks for fly fishing or fresh water hooks are acceptable” in carry-on luggage, but “deep sea fishing hooks” are forbidden. What exactly passes as a deep fishing hook is anyone’s guess. Of course a size 22 dry fly wouldn’t apply, but I’ve seen some pretty massive hooks used for freshwater fish like catfish and rays before.  Fishing tools, like line snips and forceps, are allowed to be carried on as well, as long as they are less than seven inches in length. Waders, boots, gloves and any kind of clothing can of course be carried on. Pack scissors and knives in your checked baggage.

Fishing poles that fit in the overhead compartment and otherwise conform to carry-on luggage size requirements are allowed to be brought on board. Some airlines will even allow you to carry rods that don’t fit their carry on requirements on board. Contact them ahead of time to find out. Most recommend that you carry valuable rods, reels, lures and flies on board to avoid damage, loss, or theft.

Whenever possible, I carry my pole on the plane with me. A few companies now have decent travel rods that come in useful cases. My typical set up, which I picked up from Cabela’s a while back, allows me to bring a 6.5 foot medium light rod, reel, and a small box of tackle all together in one package without problem. This works in a variety of applications. I have seen some travel rods that left a lot to be desired. Make sure you do your research before you shell out money on junk.

There have been many reports of hassles with the TSA when trying to carry on some fishing items, but this is one area where I’ve actually not had any trouble. I’ve carried circle hooks up to size 3/0, plugs (like Rapala countdowns) up to seven inches in length, and lead sinkers up to 4 ounces without so much as a second glance. There have been some accounts of the TSA confiscating braided fishing line, but others have taken it on board without problem. The only consistent thing seems to be inconsistency.  You may want to print out a copy of the TSA’s stated regulations on fishing equipment and carry it with you.  They state:

“Fishing equipment should be placed in checked baggage. Some tackle is sharp and dangerous. Expensive reels or fragile tackle such as flies should be packed in your carry-on baggage.”

I wouldn’t suggest putting any lures in your carry on that you couldn’t stand to lose, just in case they are confiscated. You are usually given the option of mailing things you can’t take on board back to your home, but you still can’t use it on your trip, so plan ahead.

If you have a long rod that doesn’t break down, or simply don’t want to carry your rod on board, you can pack it in a hard rod case and check it in. There are cases with fittings for locks. Be sure you use a TSA approved lock though, otherwise they may cut it off if they decide to inspect your luggage. You can also use a piece of PVC pipe with a screw top.

I’m certainly not here to promote any airlines, but I will point out that JetBlue offers to check your fishing rod and other angling equipment for free, as long as it is within their limits. From their website:

There is no additional charge for fishing equipment; however, one item of fishing equipment will count as one of your checked bags. Fishing poles are exempt from the standard size requirements (62″) but should still follow weight and other equipment guidelines.  One item of fishing equipment is considered:  two rods, one reel, one landing net, one pair of fishing boots (properly encased), one fishing tackle box.   Please note: all equipment should be packed in a hard-sided container.

Most other airlines will accept it as checked baggage, but may charge extra if they consider it “over sized” (and many do). A few airlines I contacted seemed to have no idea whether or not there would be an extra charge, and even suggested that the information could only be found out “when you actually show up at the airport to check in.”

So, if booking a flight with plans to go fishing, it’s worthwhile to do some research in advance. Even if you find a cheaper ticket, you may end up paying more in total once additional baggage fees are added on.

What about international travel? The TSA sets the rules in the United States, but other countries have their own regulations which are often different. For example, you won’t have to take off your shoes when going through a security check if traveling from Japan to Korea, or from Thailand to Hong Kong. You won’t have to throw out your bottle of water either. If you fly from Mexico or South Korea to the United States however, you can’t bring a bottle of water on board, even if you purchased it beyond the security checkpoint. In my experience with fishing equipment (like rods, line, sinkers, swivels, etc.), it can usually be brought on board no matter where you are. Larger hooks have the highest probability of causing problems. I do know that Mexico does not allow you to carry on pliers of any size.

Traveling on an airplane with fishing equipment is certainly a hassle, but it can be done. Sometimes you don’t have a choice if you want to wet a line at your destination.

  1. Jack Schofield

    I am flying to Upstate NY in Feb. last spring when we went, i didnt have any issues with a tenkara rod, landing net, forceps and tackle. Next trip i plan on bringing an 8wt 4pc rod and 2 tenkara rods (well one is a keiryu rod ill use for slinging czech nymphs and live bugs). And a landing net. I want to bring my 4wt fly rod but its 2pc and we arent checking baggage.

    When i flew to Puerto Rica, they made me take off my glasses. Then because i “was acting odd” when i couldnt see the glass scanner. Im certified legally blind without my glasses. So of course i was acting odd, im walking blind into a glass tube i cant see. They yanked me from the scanner and they grabbed me to that back room of there and the rubber gloves came on. I raised hell and caused a big scene. My glasses (which i placed on top of my jacket in the bin) got bound up in the conveyer of the carry-on xray machine and it shut the whole line down. I started to panic because my glasses turned up missing and if there is one sure-fire way to make a grown man cry thats lose his glasses in a crowded airport by himself who has extreme social anxiety and cant read 14″ letters from 10 feet away. Backup pair in the car but there was no way i was gonna find my car or a bathroom for that matter.. it was a horrible experience. I started screaming curse words for my glasses and they told me to calm down or they would detain me. I didnt calm down. A cop came up and asked what was wrong, as i explained they took my glasses and lost them, the lady at the xray finally got them out of the rollers. They were bent nearly in half and a lense popped out. They told me to keep moving and they all walked away like nothing happened. Another reason to hate all TSA employees wish them bad luck, headaches, and diarrhea for eternity. The other people in the line were asking me if i was okay. A fine mix of social anxiety and panic was great. To the bar i went.

    When i flew from PR back home, i walked thru an old metal detector. That was it. 1 guy watching it. “Any weapons, drugs, or exposives?” Nope. “Okay go on”. I was utterly baffled. No dogs, no xray, nothing. Just a crappy metal detector and when it went off, no F’s given. Out to the tarmac and on an airbus. I could have smuggled a suit of armor on the plane.

    • Angler

      Thanks for the comment. It sounds like you went through quite the ordeal. Airport security can be ridiculous. Depending on where you board a plane you can either be subject to a full body x-ray or not even asked to remove your shoes!

  2. cdgreen

    A Hawaiian Airlines customer service rep just told me that I CAN NOT carry-on a flight from The Big Island to California, my cased fly rod of 39 1/2 inches. Which contradicts this site: . I guess I’ll have to check it in and pay for an addt’l check-on item, which totally bums me out as I don’t know if I can afford it.

    • Angler

      That’s pretty rough. Airlines can make their own rules up too beyond what the TSA requires. Plus the TSA can change it rules and there are even agents who don’t know what the rules actually are. It makes for a big confusing mess. I don’t know about you but it doesn’t leave me feeling safe. Only imposed upon.