Traveling With Fishing Gear
If you're like me, every trip is a fishing trip - whether it's the original purpose of the trip or not. Family vacations are planned around peak fishing in the area of our destination. Reunions or weddings somehow include a morning of fishing at the nearest body of water. Even weekend getaways magically offer a few casts here and there. To say I have an understanding spouse is an understatement of grand proportion.
In the post-9/11 climate American travellers are now subject to, we have learned to adapt to many new regulations and security procedures when we travel. Like it or not, these new regulations aren't likely to change any time soon, but a prepared and informed traveller can still enjoy travel in and out of the United States. Here are some hints that will make travelling with gear considerably less painful.
Know before you go: A little research before your flight can save a lot of hassle the day of your trip.
Do Your Research Before You Fly
It is important to understand that whether or not an item is allowed isn't up to a single person, or a single agency in many cases. Any item going on an airplane must pass the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) guidelines first and foremost. Once you've confirmed that the items you wish to bring are ok with the TSA, check with your airline to see what their policies are. If there is a gray area, ask to speak to the baggage handling department at your local airport.
The general breakdown is something like this: fishing rods can be checked or, in some instances, carried on. This usually depends on the length of the rod tube or case. Obviously, 4 and 5-piece rods have a better chance of being considered carryon luggage than six foot plus, one-piece rods. Fishing tackle including lures, hooks, knives, and multi-tools will have to be checked. Reels and flies can usually be carried on.
In a recent trip I took, I called the airline to make sure I could bring my rod case (about 7 1/2 feet overall length) as a checked bag. Baggage for the airline confirmed that this would be ok. Their maximum allowed length for baggage was considerably shorter, but because of the narrow diameter of the case, they were wlling to make an exception. I asked the supervisor to make a note of this exception on my reservation. This saved me a hassle not only at departure, but the same note was attached to my return reservation.
Sometimes, information you get prior to your trip isn't completely accurate. Try to understand that there are a lot of restrictions and regulations in place, and everyone is just trying to do their job. Dispite the TSA's regulations specifically allowing your box of lucky flies in your carryon baggage, the security agent working the x-ray machine could understandably confuse the rule on flies with the rule on hooks. After all, most flies do indeed possess hooks (with few exceptions). Arguing with the agent won't get you there any faster - or at all, if you argue too loudly. You've got a few options at this point: donate your flies to the TSA and pass through, run back and try to catch your checked bags before they've been inspected, or pop the fly box into a padded envelope and mail them to your destination or home.
You're probably not the only person nervous about checking bags with thousands of dollars worth of fishing gear inside. After all, the process is only as safe as the least trustworthy or careful person handling your gear. While hundreds of thousands of people fly every day without incident, there's always a chance your gear could be misplaced, lost, damaged, or stolen.
A well packed bag will help you avoid much of the potential damage to your gear
One of the most common problems that cause gear to be damaged is poor packing. After you've packed your gear, ask yourself if you would be confident nothing would be damaged if you tossed your bag or case down the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial, then kicked it back up to the top. If you wouldn't feel comfortable in this scenario, you haven't packed well enough. Remember also that TSA agents can and will be searching the contents of the baggage, so if there's a trick to getting your rod out unbroken, there is a chance it will get broken. One of the rod cases I use requires a Ph.D in physics to open, so I make it a point to demonstrate how to open it when I hand it off to the agent. The TSA agents just want to do their job; a quick explanation on the contents and operation of your baggage can save you some shards of shattered graphite in your rod case when you reach your destination.
Some travellers aren't aware of these just yet, but TSA-approved luggage security locks are now available at many retailers and online. These locks can be opened by combination or by a universal TSA key. A set of these typically cost under $10 - a small price to pay for some peace of mind.
Above all else, travel insurance is your best bet. Many companies offer ample insurance to cover all your gear should it be lost or stolen, and some even offer reimbursement if your baggage arrives later than you. This is particularly useful when your fly rods arrive the last day of your Bahamas bonefishing vacation, as it should at least cover the cost of the gear you've been renting all week.
For more information, visit the Transportation Security Administration's website.
For more fishing stories, tips, and reports, chech out our Inshore Fishing Forum!