How to Choose a Fly Fishing Travel Bag

With a myriad of fishing travel bags on the market, it can be bewildering to decide what you need and why. Working on assignment for fly fishing magazines, I’ve had the chance to field test a lot of fly fishing travel products.

Waterproof or not?
While waterproof bags like the Simms Dry Creek Duffel series or the Patagonia Guidewater Duffel sound great in theory, there’s a problem: rubberized material and airport conveyor belts don’t really mix. They can also be very heavy. My Simms Dry Creek Duffel (the extra large size) is very smartly designed, but could benefit from some reinforcement in the bottom; multiple holes patched with duct tape show the mileage I’ve put on this bag, and maybe the quality of the conveyors once my bags roll out of sight. Meanwhile, Patagonia’s Guidewater is made of heavier material, but is also physically heavier (a consideration with airlines tightening weight restrictions), and has a typical waterproof zipper (read: hard to open and close). If you’re not going to be hauling your luggage over open water, skip the waterproof bag (or just buy a smaller carry-on size for the boat).

fishpondchinook.jpgGet the Wheels!
Another consideration is how you’re going to haul this stuff. You fill a large or extra large duffel with gear, and it can quickly weigh 50-60 lbs. Bags with wheels are an absolute must for serious airline use; terminals like Miami International and Dallas-Fort Worth are enormous, with (in some cases) actual miles between gates. Wheeled bags like Fishpond’s Chinook also often contain built-in rod storage in their solid bases. Or, consider getting a dedicated rod tube, like the Sage Multi Fly Rod Case (or one of the zillion off-brand models), which you can take on most flights as a carry-on for peace of mind.

Go Light

Finally, the kitchen-sink approach is great for car camping, but most anglers travel with way too much stuff. Do you really need to bring the tying kit? Will your vest be necessary on a saltwater flat? If you take the time to pull out just the stuff you need, you can often get away with nothing but a carry-on, the simplest way to fly (and the fastest, and the cheapest). For a three day trip with light clothing, a camera, and a couple fly boxes, I’ll sometimes take only a Patagonia Great Divider (probably the best-constructed piece of gear I have ever owned; darn near indestructible). If gear is being provided for me, I’m a huge fan of the new Recycled Waders Messenger Creel; it’s light, the right size, and still very water resistant thanks to being made of actual recycled waders.

Do you have a favorite fly fishing travel product? Share it with us in the Comments section!

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  • Joe Dudra

    On the last trip to Mexico in May, American, at either JFK or Cancun, broke the hard plastic base on a Simms hard bottom duffel, creating a protruding sharp edge, and crushed the wheel on a Fishpond rolling duffel. It almost doesn’t matter the style, make or construction of your gear, they seem to find a way to cause damage in baggage handling. Having watched the ground crews load the hold many times, it reminds me of the old TV commercial of the gorilla tossing the suitcase around it’s cage. Going light is great, and wheels are a must for heavier loads, but most of the fault lies with the airlines, not the construction of the bags. Their systems are apparently not designed for odd shaped or long heavy bags with wheels and strap handles the come apart and catch on things.

  • Carl G

    You have forgotten an entire genre. Backpacks allow for easy transportation of all of your equipment and can be taken as a carry on. I have a LL Bean remote waters backpack with chestpack attachment. I can carry 2 4 piece rods, 4 reels, my waders/boots, a fishpond chestpack with a hydration bladder, all of my raingear or cold weather gear, 4 fly boxes, and 2 days worth of spare clothing. The pack has a seperate compartment for the boots, so they don’t muddy up your other equipment, and a built in rain cover. The pack doubles as a light camping/ hike in pack (probably its original design purpose).

  • Peter

    the problem with carry-on? In returning to the US from Puerto Vallarta in January, the security guard at the airport wouldn’t let me carry on my flies (the hooks were dangerous). I had to go back and put them in my luggage!!!!

  • Zach Matthews

    Ah ha! Carl – stayed tuned; we’re going to discuss fly-fishing backpacks in a couple days!

  • you left out a couple of stellar bags by just picking the low hanging fruit. l.l. bean’s rolling duffle that lefty krey endorses is fantastic if over-priced. and i use the same bag the usa fly fishing team does: the clear creek rolling duffle. and it is a stellar performer in the rolling duffle category.
    joe’s right: the airlines will eventually tear up a granite boulder if you check it in at the ticket counter enough times. it’s just a statistical fact. quality of construction means nothing to those goons. i figure if it survives 2-3 flights without major damage, then there’s nothing “shoddy” or “flimsy” in the mfg. i saw STEEL guncases busted open at the hinges and dented nearly in half come off of flights back when i was picking up hunting clients at airports. now explain that?!? they do this stuff on purpose trying to see what’s inside. they know their employer has insurance and if there’s something they want to swipe, it’ll be covered. they don’t think about ruining someone’s trip.

  • Brian

    I work for a VERY busy airport in the southeast and routinely drive the aircraft ramps and the baggage handling area underneath the concourses. The bottom line is this: the airlines don’t care a damn about your checked luggage. They do not enforce ‘due diligence’ handling requirements on their employees. Passenger luggage is viewed as an annoyance – it does not make the airline any money so they feel no obligation to treat it well. Bags get dropped, thrown and crushed all day long. What you see going on plane side is just the tip of the iceberg. There seems to be only three classes of cargo that get respect: perishable food, pets in carriers and human remains. My advice is if you can carry it on then carry it on. If you have to check the item make sure it is a strong hard sided container and that any fragile items are well padded/protected. For the record, the only type of container I have not seen destroyed has been the Pelican-type hard sided cases. All else is fair game!

  • Real low hanging fruit: MountainSmith’s Travel Trunk.
    It’s not a ‘fly fishing brand’ and it’s one of MountainSmith’s less popular items too. I’ve been using one to carry my gear…I take that back…stuffing beyond capacity with ALL my gear…for over a year. It’s been in the belly of a plane, in the back of my truck, in the dirt, in the mud, etc. etc. and doesn’t have a scuff on it.
    As for the lack of ‘popularity’? Well that allowed me to pick it up via an individual liquidator on eBay. Price? A cool $40, shipping included.