HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- Four pieces
- 6'6" to 7'6" in length
- Spinning rod
Backpacking on a Budget– Okuma Voyager
So maybe you're a backpacker first and fisherman second. Or maybe you're not even a fisherman at all (yet). At the shop we always had plenty of customers who just wanted a rod that was reliable enough to get their line in the water and land a couple trout, but probably wouldn't see much use outside of a hike-in mountain lake here and there– function and reliability without investing too much on a fishing set-up. If that's the case for you, you're best bet is the Okuma Voyager Spinning Travel Kit.
The kit comes with a lightweight 5-piece graphite rod, spinning reel, and travel case. Just a heads up, the reel doesn't come spooled with line, so you'll need to pick up some 4 - 6lb monofilament to spool up with.
Best Bang for the Buck– 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.
This isn't just a great backpacking fishing rod, this is simply a stellar spinning rod all-around, easily outperforming most other traditional one or two piece 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.
My Top Recommended Backpacking Spinning Rod– St Croix Triumph 4 Piece Travel Spinning Rod
The Ultimate Splurge– G.Loomis Escape Travel Ultralight Spinning Rod
If money is no object to you, or you must simply have the absolute finest travel spinning rod available anywhere in the world, here it is. Gary Loomis rods are an absolute work of beauty. All rods are made is Woodland, WA, with the highest level of craftsmanship and quality control. Using custom top-of-the-line graphite blanks, these rods are the perfect example of lightweight, sensitive, fast-action performance fishing.
They don't come cheap, and while you may be wondering, "Why in the world would I strap such an expensive rod to a backpack?" you'll change your mind the first time you hook a lively wild cutthroat on this ultralight rig.
Besides, even if something does happen to your rod, even if you sit on it, drop your pack on it, or use it to fend off a bear attack (not recommended), G.Loomis will send you a brand new one. Its one of the best warranties anywhere in the world of fishing products.
G.Loomis Escape Travel Spinning Rod
I Have a Request
I would love to hear your feedback. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below, I'd be glad to help!
Better yet, if this helped you catch some fish recently, send me a picture using the 'Contact the Author' link at the top of the page and I'll feature you and your catch on an upcoming post! Thank you!
Fishing the Washington Cascades
The video below has great information on some of the backpacking and fishing opportunities in Washington state.
Dave D on March 17, 2019:
I know some will say its to heavy or not sensitive enough. But how about the 6 ft UglyStik 4 pce Pak rod. I now use it as my only rod. Have been for several years now. Its caught from 6 " to 40" pike. Cheap and tough and catches fish. Ive broke nearly everything else in my travels. this one is the Energizer Bunny of rods.
huntnfish (author) from Washington on June 13, 2018:
Hey Dale! If high mountain lakes are the plan, I think between Ultralight, Light, and Medium light, I'd recommend the Light.
The biggest thing to consider here is the weight and types of lures you will be using. The medium light won't work well with any lures under 1/8oz, and I often find myself pitching smaller, lighter lures in cold,clear lakes and streams.
If you have any more questions, feel free to send me an email using the "Contact the Author" link on the page.
Wishing you luck on the water!
Dale Smith on June 12, 2018:
your recommendation is clear but I am a newcomer--would you choose a light or ultra light St Croix Triumph 4 piece rod if fishing for smaller trout in high mountain lakes in CO? After looking at the lengths I am thinking you may be recommending medium light to get the 6 extra inches in length. I would appreciate your input
huntnfish (author) from Washington on March 13, 2018:
You absolutely could, I've certainly done it, but its true you aren't going to load up the rod as much on casts, which will shorten your max casting distance. For the Medium Light model I wouldn't go any smaller than 1/16th on the lure. In addition to lure weight and rod weight, reel and fishing line will make a big difference here too. A reel with a slightly larger spool and some fresh, smooth casting, 4lb test line, like P-Line CX, and you'll have no problem casting a 1/16th oz lure on that rod.
Also worth considering is lure shape. A 1/16th oz bullet shaped lure, such as a Panther Martin spinner, will cast much better than a 1/16th oz Rapala.
Your other option is just to size down on the rod. The next size down in the St Croix Travel Triumph line is the model number TRS60LF4, which is 6" shorter and designed for 1/16 to 5/16 oz lures. You'll get a bit more casting distance and control out of this model when fishing with lighter lures, but depending on the fish you'll be catching, it might start feeling a little under-powered in the fight.
Ultimately, either one would be a great option.
Hope this helps!
David on March 12, 2018:
The st. Croix medium light lists lures from 1/8 Oz to 1/2 Oz, but for many lake trout which are stocked, max lure would be 1/8, usually less like 1/16. Can this be used with lighter lures? I have a rod that is rated 1/4 - 3/4 Oz, and it is near impossible to cast anything smaller than 1/4, which is pushing it. Thanks for the help.
huntnfish (author) from Washington on November 09, 2017:
Hey James, the Presso is a great backpacking option, 4 pieces, well built, and quality components. The only thing worth considering is that all 4 piece Presso models have ultralight power ratings, with line weights in the 2 - 6lb test range. If most of the fish you'll be casting to are ~14" or less, it'll be a great fit, and I think you'll be very happy with it. However, if you think you might hook into some beefier hard hitting cutthroat, bull trout, or other large species, you might find the rod lacking backbone to fight the bigger fish. It can be done, but you'll need to be patient while fighting them.
Thanks for reaching out, and good luck out there!
huntnfish (author) from Washington on October 16, 2017:
Victor, check my article about ultralight spinning reels here: https://hubpages.com/fishing/Top-3-Best-Ultralight... If you're going for extreme lightweight, the Shimano CI4 is hands down the top of the line. Its pretty expensive though, so in a more reasonable price range I love the Shimano Sedona. Either a 1000 or 2500 size, depending which size rod you select. I have one thats been catching fish for 12 years and still works like new.
Victor on October 15, 2017:
I am a recent saltwater to backcountry convert. Trout has pretty much ruined me. I would be curious to hear your best spinning reel pairings to the st. croix? Thanks in advance!
huntnfish (author) from Washington on September 04, 2016:
Hey cam, nice catch, all fixed! And thanks for the vote!!
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on September 03, 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.