Best Backpacking Fishing Poles

Backpacking Fishing Poles

Some of the best trout fishing I've ever had was on backpacking trips. I've had days where I caught and released well over 100 trout in an afternoon, having hooked one on practically every cast. I've had trips where we caught multiple 22-inch-plus cutthroat trout from the shoreline on light tackle to cook up on the campfire. One weekend I swore to my group I wouldn't eat a thing I didn't find along the trail, and had a very decent meal of trout and wild chanterelles for dinner. And maybe the best yet was a 6-pound bull trout caught in a ravine off the trail in a fishing hole not much larger than a bathtub. The opportunity for experiences like this means I almost never set off on a backpacking trip without a fishing pole.

As with the rest of your backpack though, every ounce matters. So whether you're just looking to kill some time in the afternoon, or trying to feed a group of people, it's important to choose a rod that will pack up as well as it fishes.

Inspiration Lake, The Enchantments. The fish here are generally small, but the scenery more than makes up for it.
Inspiration Lake, The Enchantments. The fish here are generally small, but the scenery more than makes up for it. | Source

Number of Parts

This is likely the most important. The more pieces your rod breaks down into, the easier it will be to pack and travel with. The only thing more frustrating than having your over-sized fishing pole strapped to the outside of your pack and snagging on every tree branch you walk under is snagging your rod on a branch and having it snap in two.

Most rods are either one or two pieces. Unless you want to carry your rod in your hand the entire day (which you don't), one piece is pretty much out of the question. Two pieces are a viable option; however you will likely need to select a shorter rod length to ensure the two halves fit nicely into your pack without extending beyond the top of it.

Four pieces are ideal. A four-part rod will allow you the best combination of packability and function. It can easily be broken down and stashed anywhere on your pack with no concern of snagging overhanging brush as you're hiking through the woods. You will likely spend a little more money on a four-piece rod, but the ease of carrying it more than makes up for it in my opinion.

One other option is telescoping rods. They do offer the smallest footprint for packing; however the process by which telescoping rods are built and manufactured sacrifices a lot of performance. If you require the absolute smallest packed rod possible, telescoping rods are the answer, but if a four-piece rod will fit into the space you have, I would strongly recommend not using a telescoping rod. Telescoping rods also tend to be heavier than take-down rods.

What Do You Think?

Multi-part or Telescoping fishing rods for travel?

  • Multi-part
  • Telescoping
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This one is a bit of a trade-off. Longer rods take up more space in your pack, and generally weigh a bit more, but this can easily be offset by selecting a four-part rod.

The big advantage of a longer fishing rod is for casting. The longer a rod, the more leverage you have, the more energy the rod can store, and the longer you will cast. Since almost all of your fishing while backpacking will be from the shore, this can really be a huge advantage. If you're only fishing small creeks and pools, the extra casting distance from the longer rod won't be particularly necessary, but for alpine lakes it can be the difference between reaching the fish and not reaching the fish.

A rod between 6'6" and 7'6" is best. With a four-piece system, even a 7'6" rod will break down into very manageable sections less than two feet long, which can easily be packed and strapped to the outside of your pack. The difference in weight for the longer rod will be no more than an ounce.

A nice sized brown trout
A nice sized brown trout | Source

Spinning Rod vs. Casting Rod

This one is simple. Get a spinning rod. The names "spinning rod" and "casting rod" refer only to the type of reel you'll be using with the rod, not what you're be using the rod for. As far as I'm aware, there are no travel casting rods on the market.

A spinning rod and a spinning reel are the right tools for the job here given the weight of the lures you'll be using. Most backpacking fishing will involve casting lightweight lures, such as spinners and spoons, which will cast much more freely and effectively with a spinning rod and reel.

If you're buying online, the rod will be labeled as either casting or spinning, so no need to worry there. If you're buying in a store, the simplest way to tell the difference between the two is the "eye" on the rod closest to the handle or reel seat. Spinning rods will have a relatively large first eye (~1"); casting rods will have a much smaller first eye (<0.5"). The difference in size of the eyes does have a practical reason, which has to do with how the line comes off the reel when casting.

Fiberglass vs. Graphite

This one is also pretty straightforward. Graphite rods are lighter and more sensitive than fiberglass, and have generally superior casting. Fiberglass rods tend to be a little tougher than graphite rods, but unless you plan on also using the rod as a walking stick, this shouldn't matter.

Cost differences shouldn't be much either. Graphite rods used to be more expensive than fiberglass, but they're pretty cost competitive now. All the highest-end backpacking and travel fishing rods, as well as fishing rods in general, are graphite.

One of many alpine lakes in the Washington Cascades. Almost all lakes in the Washington Cascades are full of catchable trout. Cutthroat trout are some of the most common.
One of many alpine lakes in the Washington Cascades. Almost all lakes in the Washington Cascades are full of catchable trout. Cutthroat trout are some of the most common. | Source


My recommendations:

  • Four pieces
  • 6'6" to 7'6" in length
  • Spinning rod
  • Graphite

When it comes to fishing, there's rarely a best option, but this time there arguably is.

St Croix Triumph Travel Spinning Rod

Back when I worked at a fishing outfitter, we couldn't keep enough of these rods on the shelf. Any time someone came into the shop looking for a backpacking fishing rod, we would show them these, and they would end up buying one. The are very lightweight, pack down in four very compact pieces, have a great feel, a sensitive tip capable of detecting strikes from all sizes of back country fish, and still have enough backbone to handle the big ones. I've bought a couple myself and they have since been my only backpacking fishing rods.

They come in a variety of sizes and power ratings. For a well rounded, ready-for-anything rod, I would suggest the 6'6 four-piece ML (Medium Light) model. Pair it with a 500- or 1000-series ultralight spinning reel and you have the best backpacking fishing set-up in the mountains.

Oh and just in case you do drop your pack on it and something happens, St Croix covers the rod with a lifetime warranty. Free replacements if it's their fault (a product defect, etc), $55 if its your fault (car door, etc), and they'll ship you a new one and you're right back to fishing. And you can keep doing that. Pretty cool right? I haven't broke mine yet but it's nice to know it's covered.

Fishing the Washington Cascades

The video below has great information on some of the backpacking and fishing opportunities in Washington state.


Have a favorite backpacking lake to fish? Lucky lure you always take backpacking? Questions regarding other backpacking fishing gear? Let me know in the comments! Thanks!

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Comments 2 comments

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 7 weeks ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

I enjoyed your hub. I carry a fly rod most of the time. One typo I want to point out, only because this is an excellent article. This sentence, "Graphite rods are lighter and more sensitive than graphite, and have generally superior casting. " Graphite used twice seems to be an error. If not, sorry. I'm voting for this article in the Hubbie awards.

huntnfish profile image

huntnfish 7 weeks ago from Montana/Washington Author

Hey cam, nice catch, all fixed! And thanks for the vote!!

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