How to Pack For a saltwater fly fishing Trip

Author: Kristian Cole


When you consider how much gear is involved with a saltwater fly fishing trip, packing your bags can seem a bit overwhelming. From sun protective clothing, tools, flies, terminal tackle and a wide array of differently weighted rods, reels and fly lines; it can often be difficult to sift through what is necessary and what should be left at home. Weather, fishing conditions, possible weight limits, and targeted species are always changing variables that require preparation and forethought. 

When you book a trip with our travel department you will receive one of our super detailed pre-trip planner & outfitting guides that will dive into every single gear related nuance specific to your destination.  Meantime, check out this  list of the most essential items all saltwater anglers should have in the bag no matter the destination as well as a few pro-tips based on 25+ years of international fly fishing travel experience.

All You Need


We recommend using your boat bag or backpack as your carry on.  You can swap out your traditional carry-on items or laptop for the fishing gear upon arrival.  We love the Patagonia Great Divider and the Fishpond Cutbank as the best options.


Other than inquiries about booze and Wifi, “should I carry on my flies and tackle” is the #1 question we hear just about every day.  In short, while you can probably get away with smaller bonefish flies, odds are slim that your grumpy TSA agent will allow big game hooks or anything pointy / sharp.  We recommend carrying on a reel or two and a rod if possible, but best to check all your flies, nippers, pliers, etc.  


For those that like to carry on all their rods and reels, we recommend the Fishpond Dakota, the Simms GTS Rod Vault, and the Patagonia Black Hole rod carrier as the top choices.  You can get all your rods, reels, a change of clothes, other personal items, passport, etc inside and they easily check in the overhead bin.    


We suggest you put any camera gear in your carry-on luggage (your boat bag or a hard Pelican Box.  Don’t forget lithium ion batteries cannot be checked, and some countries do not allow tourists to import drones.  Make sure to check on these regulations.  


We don’t hear this one as often anymore, but for those dinosaurs fishing three piece rods… sell them on EBay and fund a light lunch.  Three piece rods do not not fit in your duffel bag and are not permissible carry-ons.  Four piece rods are the norm these days.  


Today’s modern wheeled duffel bags (Patagonia, Simms, Fishpond) offer a hard bottom for protection and structure, but also provide a waterproof and soft outer shell for wedging your main main luggage into vans, buses, planes and boats. 


We are a huge fan of the Patagonia packing cubes. They allow you to separate all of your belongings by category including shirts, shorts and underwear, tackle, tools, etc into organized and compressed cubes for your duffel bag.  They also create good pillows for wrapping reels or any other breakable checked items.  


Sounds like an easy one… but be aware of the rules and regulations regarding traveling with lots of gear.  Mexico has a 4 max fly rod allowance for example, Dubai / UAE are sticklers for carrying on heavy monofilament, and some countries like Cuba do not allow drones.  


It won’t happen unless you forget to have a backup… but fly lines do break!  Odds are your lodge or guide has a replacement back at the house, but that does you no good when you are standing on the flat that day.  


Make sure you actually need heavy cumbersome boots for where you are planning to fish.  Odds are good you can get away with neoprene booties or just go barefoot.  Some destinations like Seychelles or Los Roques require the best foot protection imaginable, while some fisheries you will never get your feet wet.  Don’t take up 20% of your luggage space if you don’t need wading boots. 


Always throw in a couple of small trash bags or gallon zip-loc bags for packing wet wading boots and gravel guards for the trip home in order to keep mildew from spreading through your clothing. This is a much more pleasant way to unpack your luggage after a long travel day.  


If you are headed to the saltwater, odds are you are heading somewhere tropical.  Just about all tropical fisheries have health considerations with drinking water supply and sanitation and heavy sun exposure.  General bumps, abrasions, rashes, cuts and bruises in this environment are also the norm.  Here is a list of must haves in your toilet kit: 

  • Intestinal meds (Cipro is the best but must be subscribed) 
  • Dramamine 
  • Advil / Tylenol (any anti inflammatory) 
  • Legit bandaids and waterproof finger tape 
  • Sunburn relief lotions 
  • Talcum powder (rashes happen down there when wading)

Pro Tips


Pack lightly!  If you pack correctly, your clothing should only take up a few pounds.  Wear tomorrow’s clean fishing shirt to dinner and travel home in the same clothes you traveled in on the way down.  Plan on a load of laundry, and leave the clunky street shoes at home.  Just wear your sandals. 


Your vision is the most important facet of sight fishing on the flats.  Get ahead of this by really upping your game with good optics.  

  • Make sure you have EXCELLENT polarized glasses - including a backup pair.  Smith Optics are our favorites.  
  • We recommend a standard amber colored lens for sunny days as well as some yellowish “low light” lenses for cloudy days.  
  • Take an old retired / scratched pair of sunglasses and use them as your “runners” when moving spots or making a long boat run.  This will keep you from always having to clean your shades from boat spray or raindrops upon arrival at the new fishing spot.  
  • Rinse your sunglasses with freshwater from your cooler when cleaning off saltwater.  This is a much more effective means of cleaning (and salt will scratch your lenses).  
  • Stick a wad of kleenex or toilet paper into the empty leader pouch to use as a dry case in your shirt pocket for cleaning your glasses when on an extended wading session.  
  • Bring a lens cleaning kit and alcohol wipes to make sure you remove all salt, sweat and sunscreen.  
  • Sunglasses retainers or “croakies”