Traveling with Tackle

Plan ahead to reduce stress and save time

I’ve been through a lot of airports over the years covering fishing stories for a number of magazines and what I’ve learned is that with a little planning you can really prevent some colossal headaches. While ramped up security is warranted at airports since the 911 tragedy, it can also cause some problems for anglers if they’re not prepared when they get to the airport.

So far, the one thing I’ve learned is that security policies vary greatly from airport to air port, and even from airline to airline when it comes to checking tackle on an airline for a fishing trip. On my last marlin fishing excursion to Mexico my luggage on this outing included a rather large Plano eight foot rod case loaded with two 50 pound marlin boat rods, and two inshore lighter rods for light tackle rooster fishing.

In my carry on bag I had two cameras, two Shimano Tiagra 50 pound reels, and two Shimano 700 Calcutta reels, and about fifty Mustad hooks ranging in size from 1/0 to 8/0. In addition this mess of tackle I had big game swivels and about fifty yards of both 20 and 50 pound fluorocarbon leader, along with some clothes and a shaving kit. If that wasn’t enough I was also dragging along a large, wheeled cooler to bring my fresh fish fillets back home in.

My first stop was the airline ticket counter, where a ticket agent made me cut the zip tie I had securing the rod tube and pull all the rods out. Once the rods were removed she shined a light into the tube and once she was convinced all I was carrying was rods I was able to place the rods back in the tube. Of course, the rods didn’t go back into the tube very quickly, much to the displeasure of the people waiting behind me in line. I was then instructed to open my cooler, which was full of kid’s clothes for the local Mexican orphanage. Clothes on the flight down, fish on the return trip, seems simple right? After 15 minutes of, “No, I swear I’m traveling alone” and, “No, I don’t have any young children with me” and “No, they’re not traveling under another name” I was finally given my boarding pass. I thought to myself, “Wow, it should be smooth sailing from here.” Boy, was I wrong!

Welcome to the tackle-eating X-ray machine. After the Homeland Security luggage screener finished opening my bag and dumping my reels out of each padded case the security screener says, “You can’t take these hooks on a plane! What are you crazy or something?” About that time an armed inspector is giving me the watchful eye, waiting to see if I’m going to take her hostage with a 10/0 marlin hook.

I was told the hooks could be confiscated or I could go back and check them at the ticket counter with the rest of my luggage. Since I needed the hooks I was off to the ticket counter with the armed troop escorting me the entire way. It’s a good thing I got to the airport early on this particular day, because otherwise I’d have missed my flight because of my oversight in packing my tackle. After placing the hooks in the checked cooler with the kid’s clothes I was off to the dreaded X-ray machine for a second time.

On my second trip thru the X-ray, body-cavity search line they dumped the reels out again, inspected everything thoroughly, and let me run for my flight. After all this hassle when I got to Mexico my hooks weren’t even in the cooler. Someone had stolen them!

The bottom line is that you should always be prepared to have to your tackle checked, so plan ahead, as it will save on stress at the airport. If you think you’re carrying something in your carry-on luggage that could be used against someone, like a knife, hooks, fishing line, or anything else similar, security is probably going to think the same thing and take it away or make you re-check it.


Plan Ahead

Here are a few successful travel tips I can pass along:

-Take cameras and film on the plane with you, as you can’t lock your luggage that is checked thru at the ticket counter any longer. The film that you put in your checked luggage will also be damaged by the powerful x-ray machine used on checked luggage, so carry film on the plane if you want quality vacation pictures.

-When packing reels put them in padded cases or rolled up in a towel in the middle of your luggage to prevent damage. It also helps to take the handles off big game and halibut reels to save space and to keep them from getting bent in transport.

-Hooks, spoons, and leader material should be in checked bags. My 50 pound Garrote leader material made it through on this trip, but on other salmon trips to Alaska I have had leader material confiscated.

-To reduce the amount of stress in your travels get to the airport as early as possible to avoid possible security delays. It’s much easier passing time drinking a cup of coffee than wondering if you’ll make a flight.

-Use a stout rod tube if you plan on checking rods. Lighter rod tubes can get crushed under heavy luggage, leaving you with broken rods on the other end.

-Use travel rods when possible. Most of these come with their own tubes that are the right length for carrying on the plane.

-Check ahead with the airline to see what tackle items you can bring on the plane and what need to be checked and pack accordingly.


Most of all, be patient and remember that the chances of the airline or security person your talking to knowing anything about fishing tackle is very low, but the chances of them calling an armed guard if you start screaming at them in anger is very, very good. I’ve seen anglers do this in the security line and let me tell you, it isn’t pretty! Remember that their hard work ensures everyone’s safe vacation.

Check ahead with the airline to see what tackle items you can bring on the plane. Most of all be patient, remember the chances of the airline or security person your talking to knowing anything about fishing tackle is very slight, but the chances of them calling an armed guard if you start screaming at them in anger is very very good.

Remember that their work ensures everyone’s safe vacation.


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