The best travel fly rods come in 6, 7 or 8-piece sections. The most important reason to choose a travel fly rod is portability. If you want a fly rod to easily fit into a duffel bag, carryon luggage, backpack, or even a fly fishing sling pack, a travel fly rod is for you.
While most fly rods are already very lightweight, travel fly rods excel with backpackers because they are so easy to stow into a backpack. Once you invest in a true backpacking fly rod, hauling a 4-piece fly rod in the mountains seems mildly annoying.
Still, 4-piece fly rods that are 9’ long are already very portable — travel fly rods just take portability to a whole new level. Because the ferrels overlap, the standard length of a 9’ 4-piece fly rod section is around 28”. On the other hand, a 6-piece fly rod has sections that are only 18” long. That’s a huge gain in portability, and it just gets better with 7-piece or even 8-piece travel rods.
Best Travel Fly Rods: How Well Do They Cast?
Because of improvements in ferrel technology, travel fly rods are getting closer to the smooth performance found in 4-piece rods. Travel rods are not as fantastic as the best 4-piece fly rods, but they’re surprisingly good. I’ve found that with a firmer casting motion, travel rods will perform remarkably well. For instance, I was able to cast large October caddis flies with a 9’ 5-weight Cabela’s Stowaway 6 with good distance and decent accuracy [full review here]. At the other end of the travel rod spectrum, I was able to cast heavily weighted steelhead nymphs and egg patterns with a 9’ 8-weight ECHO TRIP.
Both rods performed even better when I used smaller flies.
Don’t expect any travel rod to be liquid smooth, but they’ll get the job done and let you focus on the fishing. As it turns out, I personally learned a lesson the hard way: Always Take the Rod.
Best Travel Fly Rods: The Manufacturers
There are three major contenders for the best travel fly rod that will fit most people’s budgets: Cabela’s, Echo, and Orvis. However, this isn’t the full story.
L.L.Bean has a travel fly/spin fishing rod combo — noted below — but the company no longer makes a dedicated travel fly rod. On the upside, the L.L.Bean outfit comes with two complete rods and reels, so technically you could choose the L.L.Bean option for the fly rod . . . and gain an extra spinning rod whether you want it or not.
In addition, Hardy makes a drool-worthy high-end travel fly rod in 6 pieces, but the price-to-value ratio is a tough sell unless you’ve got the budget to buy the “best” high-end travel fly rod.
On the small manufacturer side, Elkhorn makes a 7-piece 8’6” 4-weight, too. In any event, we always recommend that you avoid cheap knockoffs and only go with manufacturers who are in it for the long haul with brands they stand behind.
Let’s take a closer look.
Best Travel Fly Rod: Cabela’s Stowaway 6
There is a lot to like about the Cabela’s Stowaway 6 fly rod, starting with the wide variety of configurations. Cabela’s makes an ultralight 8’6” 3-weight as well as a 7’6” 4-weight. There is also an 8’6” 4-weight, which is a super versatile combination for smaller streams, as well as the most common 9’ 5w. In addition, you can pick up a 9’ 6w or 9’ 8w.
As for fit and finish, the Stowaway 6 is great. The cork and guides are good. While the varnish is a bit thicker than you see on truly high-end rods, it all comes together in a package that’s better than its price range would imply. The woven graphite reel seat looks fantastic in the sun. We’re big fans.
The action is medium fast, with a stiff butt section and relatively soft tip.
Meanwhile, Cabela’s offers a few different Stowaway 6 Rod/Reel/Line combinations if you’re looking for kit. One of the options last year was a combo with the Cabela’s WLX II reel, which is a great reel. Cabela’s doesn’t currently offer that combo (but might again in the future). Of the three current options, the Prestige Plus Fly Reel Combo is the most affordable. The Prestige Premier or RLS+ reel combo options offer upgrade drag systems along with Cabela’s upgraded fly line. All are great options — you can’t go wrong with any of them. Highly recommended.
Best Travel Fly Rod: Orvis Clearwater Frequent Flyer
The traditional 4-piece Orvis Clearwater Combo is a popular 4-piece combo, but the Clearwater Frequent Flyer version pours a similar design into a 7-piece fly rod configuration. It’s a great-looking rod with a rich green blank. While Orvis only offers four models, they cover the bases. You can choose an 8’6” 5w with a mid flex or a 9’ in 5w, 6w, or 8w with a tip flex profile.
Basically, a mid flex is similar to a medium or medium fast flex that bends most through the upper half of the rod. A tip flex bends most in the upper third or so of the rod. This means the Orvis Clearwater Frequent Flyer tip flex version is going to have a faster action than the 8’6” version. Pretty much all the other travel fly rods have medium fast actions — so the Frequent Flyer tip flex is going to be your best choice if you’re set on getting the fastest action possible out of a travel fly rod.
What about the combo? Orvis lets you add on a Clearwater large-arbor fly reel and fly line for a better online deal than buying the reel and line separately. If it’s a gift or you have buddies who don’t return borrowed gear, Orvis even lets you personalize your rod with up to 22 characters of text for an added fee.
These Orvis rods can all be configured with the combo Clearwater reel and line:
The ECHO TRIP takes portability to a whole new level with its new ultraportable 8-piece backpacking, travel, and backseat fly rod. ECHO builds the TRIP in just three configurations, which also cover 80% of the size and weight interest in this space. ECHO makes a 9’ 5w and a 9’ 6w, both of which are a rich green color. ECHO’s 9’ 8w has a fighting butt and is a dark blue, and ECHO also markets this rod for saltwater use.
The action is medium fast, and for a rod that has 8 pieces that are just 15 inches or so in length, the ECHO TRIP casts surprisingly well. As with all of these travel fly rods, you’re going to get your best results with a firm and intentional casting motion. Casting and overall action is similar to 6-piece rods — the TRIP just gets you a form factor that pushes the portability factor even farther. So cool.
ECHO doesn’t offer the TRIP in a combo package, but the ECHO ION Reel is a very good, very affordable reel.
Hardy makes some of the very best fly rods in the world, and the Demon Smuggler is aimed at frequent travelers who also want a high-performing rod with fantastic fit and finish. At just under $650, the Hardy Demon Smuggler is the most expensive travel rod on this page by a long shot. It is, however, beautiful and has a truly kickass name.
It is a 6-piece fly rod and Hardy offers an 8’ 4w, 9’ 5w, 9’6w, 9’ 8w, 9’6” 7w, and a 14’6” 10w.
The action is medium fast. The Demon Smuggler comes with a sweet aluminum rod tube.
If you’re in for a Demon Smuggler, pair it with the can’t-go-wrong Hardy Ultralite MTX Fly Reel and you’ll end up with an awesome travel combo. Long story short: If you have the budget, nab a Demon Smuggler and don’t look back.
Redington’s Classic Trout fly rod series is primarily a 4-piece lineup . . . BUT Redington offers two 6-piece versions of this rod — an 8′ 3w and a 9′ 5w. The Classic Trout is a moderate action fly rod, which can be helpful when fishing with tiny flies for skittish trout. On the other hand, we tend to prefer moderate-fast or fast-action fly rods, so choose the 6-piece Redington Classic Trout if you know you want a moderate action. That said, the Classic Trout rod looks great and has a good price-to-value ratio. It has handy alignment dots on each section, and the rod comes with a divided nylon rod tube.
Frankly we don’t know a lot about Elkhorn Fly Shop, but if you want to support small companies — or you live in Loveland, Colorado — Elkhorn Fly Shop produces its own line of fly rods (manufactured overseas). The company makes a 7-piece travel fly rod with a medium-fast action in an 8’6” 4w, which is great for backpacking. In fact, Elkhorn markets this rod as the ultimate backpacking fly rod, which isn’t surprising coming out Colorado.
Both Orvis and L.L.Bean make a nifty spinning and fly fishing combo. Both are a great value and aimed at those who just want to make sure they always have a rod handy. Better yet, both make for great backup rods as well as superb gifts.
Orvis Encounter Spin/Fly Combo — The Orvis Encounter Spin/Fly Combo comes with two interchangeable butt sections with two reels, one for spin fishing and one for fly fishing. The fly rod is a 7’ 5-weight while the spinning rod is also 7’ and aimed at lightweight gear: 2-6 lb test and 1/16 to 3/16 ounce lures. It comes in a padded case.
L.L. Bean Spin/Fly Combo Outfit — The L.L.Bean Spin/Fly Combo Outfit actually includes two separate rods — an 8’6” 5-weight 6-piece fly rod as well as a 6’ medium/light 4-piece spinning rod. Both include basic reels that come preloaded with line. Both rods come in a padded case with foam-molded cutouts for the rod sections and reels. As an added bonus, L.L.Bean includes a small fly box and a small lure box . . . which means you could keep this outfit in your vehicle all in the case and be ready to fish at a moment’s notice.