What Are Some Good Travel Rods?

Rods for the Traveling Angler
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Flying with fishing rods is universally recognized as a painful experience. If you put your beloved one-piece in a tube and hand it over to the airlines, the results are iffy at best. It may get lost or stolen—the former more common than the latter but still inconvenient. And it may get broken—luggage compartments and conveyers are made to hold big, heavy, rectangular suitcases, not long, skinny rod tubes. If that tube is not made out of heavy-gauge nobreakinium, they may find a way to return that stick back to you in splinters, and if you’re going where buying another rod on-site is difficult or impossible, you risk ruining your trip.

A better solution is what is generally known as a “travel rod”, a multi-piece rod that breaks down into sections small enough to fit your carry on. If it never leaves your sight, it won’t get broken. Not only that, but once you get to your destination, it’s very easy to tuck into the rental car, the jeep or the float plane—and then into a backpack if you’re going to a really remote location.

Travel rods used to be awful little things, including some that telescope into the handle—suitable for catching bluegills and perch or chasing a possum off the back porch, maybe, but not much more. That’s no longer the case—you can now find some really nice travel rods sized from ultra-light, the sort you’d slip in a backpack and follow a brook trout stream up past the 10,000 foot mark, to medium-heavy actions suitable for hauling a snook out of the Florida mangroves. Fly, spin and baitcaster versions are available.

They also stay together a whole lot better than early versions of these rods used to—the ferrule fit is critical on a rod that may have four to six sections, tight enough that it doesn’t come loose during casting or fighting a fish but loose enough so that you can get it to come apart when the fishing is over and you’re on the road again. Ferrules are THE critical part of a travel rod, of course, because they create hard spots in the blank and affect the bending, which can take away the smooth feel in casting. An imperfect ferrule can also lead to breakage under the stress of fighting a fish.

The quality of graphite is a factor in the action as well, and a few companies like St. Croix build their travel rods to the same standards as their premium-grade one-piece models. The best are noticeably lighter than the competition, longer-casting and with more consistent actions.Good guides are also a plus, even though your travel rod won’t get the day-after-day wear of a duty rod you use for your regular trips at home. Graduated in the right sizes, the guides or “hardware” is the most expensive part of a good rod, and one that some builders try to scrimp on. The best don’t, and that’s why they’re more expensive. Smooth wraps and quality guides with durable inserts are the mark of a quality rod, whether it comes in one piece or six.

The guide inserts have to be tough, especially in this age of braided line, which can cut like a sharp knife under pressure. Highly-polished silicon carbide (SiC) inserts are the favorite of most top-shelf makers, in part because it can be polished glass-smooth, but also because this material is extremely durable. SiC is a man-made ceramic that’s so durable it’s often used as the plating in bullet-proof vests. Fuji, among others, uses this material extensively in their guides.

A quality cork handle is also a plus—the tendency for a few years was to use black synthetic grips, which are cheap and durable, but just don’t have the same feel as a smooth premium cork grip. They don’t look as good, either, for those who enjoy the aesthetic of a nice rod.Pretty rod wraps are not necessary to fish well, but again they’re something many anglers appreciate. More important is that they’re covered in multiple coats of epoxy to keep the thread from wear after a few seasons. A deep gloss with no thread pattern showing through on the outside is the mark of a better quality wrap. (Not so much on the blank itself, though—too much can actually affect the action.)

Airlines have varying rules on what you can hand-carry aboard, but all will allow a rod tube up to 22” long as a “personal item”, and some will allow longer. Be safe and stick to the 22” rule and you’ll never run into problems.A 6’ four-piece rod breaks down into sections 19 to 20 inches long (more than the expected 72 inches because the ferrules overlap), which are just right to fit into most carry on suitcases—check the fit, though, because some carry-on’s have a bit less length inside than others even though they are nominally the same. A 7-foot four-piece model is going to be in sections at least 22” long, which is close to as long as you can actually fit inside your carry-on bag, though you can likely carry it in a tube on most airlines. Longer rods, including most fly rods, will be in more sections to keep them manageable, typically five or six, some up to 8. In general, fewer ferrules mean a better casting rod and also fewer problems with the rod coming apart in use.

Most travel rods come in a cloth sleeve that keeps them together but provides little protection. A tube to protect the rod will go a long way toward keeping it whole. One source is painting supply shops—the PVC tubes used to hold rolled up canvas work really well for this. They’re light in weight, have removable end caps, and can be cut to length with a hacksaw to fit into your carry-on. A 26-incher is about $10 plus shipping from Blick and other sources: https://www.dickblick.com/cart/

Multiple ferrules have to fit smoothly but tightly in a travel rod to assure it stays together when casting and fighting fish, but comes apart easily for packing. (Photo Credit St. Croix Rods)One travel rod I’ve had personal experience with is the St. Croix Triumph, available in both spinning and baitcasting models from ultra-light to medium-heavy. I’ve caught everything from brookies, rainbows and browns to largemouths, bluegills and sea trout, along with one accidental whopper catfish, on the 6’ spinning model, and found it functions pretty much indistinguishably from my best one-piece sticks.

The St. Croix Triumph series rods in spinning and baitcasting models cover the spectrum from ultra-light suitable for chasing brook trout to heavy-action models suitable for catching big bass, redfish and snook. (Photo Credit St. Croix Rods)The 6-footer weighs a scant 3.5 ounces and comes in what St. Croix designates as “light” action, suitable for casting 1/16 to 3/16 ounce lures. That’s pretty much the sweet spot for cold water trout, and also allows me to throw a wide variety of quarter-ounce jigs and jerkbaits for sea trout and largemouths.

I use a 1000-size Shimano Stradic reel on this rod, loaded with 6-pound-test mono for high country trout, or 8-pound-test braid for bass and inshore saltwater fish. A heavier, longer model would allow larger lures and longer casts, but would not be able to handle the cold water trout lures I like including the 5/32- ounce Rebel TracDown Minnow or the smallest Rapala’s. See details at https://stcroixrods.com/products/triumph-travel-spinning.

Shimano’s S.T.C. spinning series provides fast action rods ready to take on heavyweights in fresh and salt water.

Shimano also makes a good series of heavier-action travel rods, mostly marketed in Europe but now available on the Internet—see them here:Neither St. Croix nor Shimano make fly rods—L.L. Bean, Orvis and Cabela’s, among others, carry good multi-piece models for fly-fishers.

Colorado offers lots of beautiful trout streams, but getting there with a rod intact can sometimes be a challenge. (Photo Credit Trout Unlimited)