How to pack for your next fishing trip
July 05, 2024

How to pack for your next fishing trip

Summer time vacation season is here and that means some fly fishers will be headed out to the rivers to get some fishing in. Others might be getting ready for some epic travel — what better time to go on an adventure.

Still others might be planning more traditional sum trips to places like the Rockies, Alaska or the venerable fishing lodge hidden in the black spruce forests of the boreal north. 

No matter where you’re headed this season, you’ll eventually find yourself packing for a fishing trip. Here’s our best advice for packing smartly before you hit the road or the airport check-in counter. 

Minding that 50-pound limit

Most airlines have a 50-pound limit for checked baggage. This weight limit can be a bear for gear-loving fly fishers. But there are ways to shave pounds and ounces while still bringing the gear you’ll need for a week on the flats or in the woods. 

Let’s start with the basics: 

  • Your waders and wading boots/flats boots are likely going to be your heaviest items. While you likely can’t make them lighter, you can pack them so they’re compact. Roll your waders neatly, from the booties up, to remove any trapped air. Once they're in a nice, neat roll, wrap the straps around them and secure them. For your boots, tuck the laces in and place them in the bottom of your duffel next to your rolled-up waders. If the ankles of the boots can fold in, make sure you do that. You’ll need the extra space. 
  • Be mindful of the rods you’ll need, and don’t travel with rods you don’t need. If you’re headed to a saltwater destination to chase bonefish and permit, you likely only need two rods — a 7-weight for bones, and a 9-weight for permit. For freshwater adventures up north, you might need a 4-weight rod for grayling and brookies, and maybe a 7-weight rod for pike or big rainbows. Before your leave, check in with your destination lodge — often, they will have gear available, which can greatly reduce your packing burden. 
  • If you haven’t already, invest in a chest pack or a sling pack and use it to store the small, but important items, like nippers, tippets, leaders, pliers, fly boxes and such. Some anglers use backpacks as carry-on luggage. If you do this, put your smaller fishing items inside one of your wading/flats boots, and use your backpack as storage for traditional travel gear, like your laptop, tablet, medications and any compact camera gear. When you get to your destination, remove the travel gear and store it in your duffle. Then, put your needed fishing items in the backpack for the duration of your stay. The best part about using a durable backpack? It won’t count against your 50-pound weight limit.
  • Pack lightweight clothes. Consider quick-dry fishing pants, lightweight fishing shirts and hoodies, flip-flops or slip-on deck shoes to wear around the lodge. Pack quick-dry underwear (cotton is a killer, both for weight and its lack of quick-drying capability), a light rain jacket and lightweight shirts and shorts. If you need heavier pants, like blue jeans, wear them on the plane. Don’t add their weight to your duffle. Need warmer clothes for a trip north? Roll your sweatshirts or hoodies up and pack them in the bottom of your backpack. Again, meeting that weight limit will save you from excess baggage fees.
  • Before you repack to head home, make sure your waders and boots are dry — packing them wet will add weight, and make your entire bag smell. Most lodges and camps have “wader shacks” where you can hang your gear to dry after each day spent fishing. If not, hang waders and find a heater vent you can put your wet boots next to overnight. 

The gear you need vs. the gear you want

As noted, if you’re up against a weight limit, be mindful of the gear you need vs. the gear you want. If you’re driving to your destination, pack whatever you like, so long as you’re comfortable and there’s room for everything in the car or truck. 

But if you’re flying, you need to separate the essentials from the luxuries. Here are some ideas to help you decide what to pack, and what to leave home.

Essentials and nice-to-have items

Here’s a good checklist of the little things you’ll likely need on your average week-long fishing trip — above and beyond the obvious, like fly rods, reels, boots, waders and such. Remember, there’s a 3-ounce limit on liquid items:

Personal items:

Prescription medication and medical equipment (CPAP machine, for example)

Toiletries (razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, hair care products, lip balm, etc.)


Insect repellent

Polarized sunglasses

Ballcap or floppy hat

Rain jacket/rain gear

Phone charger

Outlet converter (for overseas travel)

Small first-aid kit (band-aids, blister pads, aspirin, gauze, etc.)

Extra shoelaces


Some cash for emergencies and tips


Fishing necessities:

Extra leaders and tippet (wire leader for pike/barracuda)

Stocked fly boxes — check with your lodge or guide for needed patterns

Backup fly lines for reach fly reel you pack

Stainless pliers/hemostats


Fly floatant

Line cleaner

Wader repair kit/small roll of duct tape

Buff or face gaiter

Sun gloves or waterproof gloves

Any needed fishing licenses

Pocket knife/pen knife


Now, if you have room, here are some things you can throw in that are nice to have, but not necessarily essential:

Nice-to-have items:

A good camera (other than your phone)

Extra memory card

Spare camera battery

Extra reel spools

Portable fly-tying kit with materials and hooks

Extra rain jacket

Extra hats/beanies to stay dry and warm

Spare sunglasses

Spare Buff/face gaiter

Flashlight or headlamp

Some tips to reduce checked baggage weight

So, you’re all packed and ready to go. But you’re worried the bag you’re checking still might be too heavy. Don’t fret. If you’re OK with heavier carry-on bags, you can transfer some of that ounce-eating gear to your backpack or small carry-on. Most airlines allow for a carry-on bag and one personal item. Take advantage of the space. Here are some ideas: 

  • Put your fly reels in the bottom of your carry-on or backpack
  • Secure one fly rod to your backpack and carry it on (a good idea if you have a tight connection and might be worried about lost luggage)
  • Remove your camera bag and use it as your personal item
  • Remove all lithium-ion batteries from your checked bag
  • Put heavier shoes/sandals in your carry-on bag


Final word

Traveling to fly fish is an exciting aspect of our craft, and we’re lucky to have lots of options, from luxurious saltwater lodges manned by expert staff and five-star chefs to spartan, remote fishing camps where shore lunch is probably the best meal of the day. 

But, before we can enjoy the fishing and the overall experience, we have to get there. Packing smartly will help you save money and time. Put in the time during the packing process, and check and double-check your list. 

It’s absolutely worth the time to pack wisely. If you’re judicious with your gear, you can likely get just about everything you want and need into a normal duffle or rolling bag. Just be smart, and don’t be afraid to sacrifice a luxury item or two in order to make weight. 

Finally, allocate your gear among your checked bag, your carry-on and your personal item. You’ll be surprised at how much gear you can take with you if you take the time to pack for a fishing trip correctly.