I get many questions about how best to pack fishing gear for a flight. After thousands of miles and having gear broken and/or lost, I've come up with these five tips.
1) On the question of how to pack rods... Do you carry them on or check them through? I don't trust being able to carry them on. I've had some flights where I breeze right through, and other nightmares where I had to adjust at the check-in gate. It's so inconsistent, I check rods through now, but only inside tubes, inside my luggage. I've had too many rods broken trying to pack them in sleeves only.
2) Assume TSA is going to go through your stuff. So don't leave items like pliers or fly boxes laying looses. Put them in your vest or pack, or put them in plastic bags, and then pack them.
3) Assume you will be five pounds heavier coming back than when you leave. If you want to avoid excess baggage fees, don't pack your outbound bag right at the 49-pound limit. When your stuff gets wet, it gets heavier. I always pack at 45 pounds or less on my way to go fish.
4) Buy light gear. For the reason I just mentioned, I usually travel with lighter, crushable rain jackets, and sometimes even lighter waders or boots. I'll trade an extra layer of Gore-Tex for a few pounds, unless I am going to a place where I know it will be dumping rain the whole time. There's a big difference with wading boots. Check before you buy. That extra pound or two won't matter as much in the river as it will at the check-in counter.
5) Check your flies, pliers, knives, etc. I could start a small fly shop with all the gizmos I've had confiscated. Don't try to carry on flies. You're asking for extra inspection, and if the hooks are large enough, they will be confiscated.