How to choose the best backpacking fishing rod for your needs
Choosing the best backpacking fishing pole is a challenging endeavor. The features that make an excellent backpacking rod are not the same as the ones for picking a good rod for a leisurely weekend trip – knowing the differences will make the buying experience considerably more straightforward.
Keeping the Weight Down
In backpacking, every ounce counts: you saw off the end of your toothbrush, eschew excess toiletries, and maybe carry a tarp to sleep under instead of a tent. All those lessons about shaving weight shouldn’t go out the window when you’re buying a fishing pole.
Materials are the most significant factor here; aluminum poles run-heavy, and carbon fiber/composite designs are considerably lighter. Lighter materials cost a bit more, so you’ll have to decide whether your body (which has to carry this heavy pack) or your wallet takes priority.
A rod’s durability is quite often tied to its weight too. That’s not to say heavy is always better, as carbon fiber is stronger than aluminum but considerably lighter. For a given material, heavier rods are usually more durable as they’re made from thicker tubing.
Fishing Pole Length Considerations
One of the most important considerations when choosing a backpacking fishing rod is the length. When it’s strapped to your pack, it should be as small as possible to not catch on any branches overhanging the trail.
When you’re ready to use it, you’ll want it to be considerably longer, making for more effortless casting. Long rods are harder to handle in dense brush or tight quarters; both of these are common occurrences along mountain streams. All things being equal, a shorter rod is better for backpacking.
How Does It Pack Down?
Backpacking rods need to pack down small, and there’s a variety of ways they can do it. One of the more common methods is telescoping, where the rod is made from a few sections, each one smaller than the last, so they all fit inside each other. It’s super compact, but the sections become very thin at the end of the rod and are prone to breakage.
Another typical design is the collapsible rod, which consists of several sections that screw together to reach the final length. The sections take up a little more space than the telescoping rod as they don’t fit inside each other. All of the sections are of a similar diameter, forming a more robust and more durable rod.
Collapsible rods also give better sensitivity – your ability to feel a fish biting down on your lure. A telescoping fishing rod is usually made from more sections than a similar collapsible fishing rod model. Each joint between those sections diminishes sensitivity. Telescoping poles are more often used by novice anglers that won’t notice or care about the loss of sensitivity.
How Much Power?
The power of a rod is a measure of how much it bends underweight; it’s used to determine the size of the lure that works well with each rod. Backpacking rods usually fall towards the lower end of the power scale, thanks to their compact design and lightweight materials. As such, telescoping rods typically have lower power for their size compared to collapsible rods.
Those just getting into backcountry fishing should stick to a medium power rod, which works in most situations. Higher power isn’t necessarily better; you need to tailor your rod to the size of fish you’ll be catching.
Go too light, and your pole will bend over with the smallest lure and could snap under the load of a struggling fish. Go too big, and you’ll get an overbuilt rod that’s too heavy, unresponsive to small fish, and too unruly to carry on your pack.
Fly Rod vs. Spinning Rod
This is a fairly obvious distinction. Are you casting with flies or lures? If you’re not familiar with the difference, it’s best to start with a spinning rod as the casting technique is simple. However, if you’re well versed in both disciplines, you simply need to decide which type of angling you prefer while backpacking.
The majestic dance of a fly rod might seem like the obvious fit for backcountry adventures, but it has several downsides. The first of which is the sheer amount of gear that goes with fly fishing; look at any angler with a fly rod, and you’ll probably see a chest pack. Everything necessary for fishing with a spinning rod fits in your pocket.
Fly fishing is inherently more complicated. That’s part of the fun – it takes skill to catch fish. In the backcountry, catching a fish might be more about having something to eat for dinner; that’s an easier task with a spinning rod.
For pure recreation, the fly rod can’t be beaten. If you’re carrying enough food to sustain yourself, and are doing catch and release anyway, by all means, enjoy that fly rod.
If you need something of a middle ground, Tenkara rods look very similar to a fly fishing rod – long and thin but without a reel. You still cast the line rather than the lure, but the procedure is considerably simpler for novices to learn.
Included Reel or Not
Many entry-level backpacking rods come with a spinning reel so that you can use them as a casting rod without another thought. If you don’t know much about gear ratios, baitcasting vs. spinning, or drag mechanism, just stick to the reel provided. It will do the job, and you can always upgrade later to something better suited to your needs.
If your well-versed in the features of reels, pick a pole that doesn’t come with one already attached. You’ll have the freedom to customize your setup and make it backpacking specific.
How Much Should I Spend?
That’s a highly personal decision, but a quality backpacking rod might set you back about $100. Remember, that’s just the rod your purchasing. You’ll still need a reel (unless it’s packaged with one), lures/flies, line, weights, and a variety of other fishing accessories. Be sure to factor that into your budget.
You’ll also need to face the fact that a backpacking rod has a much greater likelihood of being damaged. Whether it’s because you packed your bag too tightly, whacked it on a tree, or lost it while being chased by a wild animal, things happen in the wilderness. Your backpacking rod shouldn’t cost so much that you’re inconsolable when it gets damaged.
Conclusion: What is the best back fishing pole for backpacking?
If you’re just getting into backcountry fishing, the best backpacking fishing pole is going to be the Emmrod Packrod. It’s compact, lightweight, and very durable; you can’t beat its rock bottom price either. The only downside to it is that it takes some practice to cast with such a short rod. Your first pole should be a no-fuss setup, and the Packrod won’t give you a lick of trouble.
Those that have been around the block a few times with their fishing gear might want something more performance heavy though, and that’s where the Troutboy Black Warrior comes in. Sure, it takes up some space, but you need something with more power for bigger fish, and this graphite pole has got it.
If fly fishing is in the cards, then the Eagleclaw Trailmaster is a worthy contender. Since you can use it with a fly or spinning reel, you’ll have options, which is also essential when dealing with the uncertainty of the wilderness. For a truly lightweight fly fishing experience, go with the Dragontail Shadowfire.