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The Best Travel Rods Reviewed: Real Performance for Serious Fishermen

Written by: Pete D
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Anglers who travel a lot and want to get some fishing in or who need to pack rods in carry-on luggage know that real fishing tackle that meets their needs is in short supply.

Yes, you can opt for some of the products that promise performance - Plussino comes to mind - and you’ll see these rods recommended by sites where the writers probably don’t fish themselves. 

But if you want a real rod that can perform, casting and fighting like the rods you left at home, you’ll need to look carefully.

We’re here to help, and we’ve put together a list of some our favorites, as well as buying guide to get you on the right track.

Quick glance at the best travel fishing rods:

Related: 

Best Travel Fishing Rods Reviewed

St. Croix Triumph Travel Spinning Rod - Best Light/Medium-Light Power Travel Rod

Length: 6’ or 6’ 6”
Power/action: light or medium-light/fast
Line and lure weight: 6’ (4-8 lbs. 1/16 - 5/16 oz.); 6’ 6” (4-10 lbs. 1/8 - 1/2 oz.)
Material: carbon fiber
Handle: continuous cork
Guides: Sea Guide Atlas Performance SS304 stainless steel guides
Pieces: 4

Most anglers already know that St. Croix is a premium rod manufacturer, but you may be new to the sport and have no idea - and there’s nothing wrong with that!

For serious anglers looking for a “real” travel rod that can perform with the best of them, the Triumph is very hard to beat.

Available in two lengths, 6 feet or 6 feet, 6 inches, the shorter rod is light powered while the longer rod is medium-light. Both offer a fast action.

St. Croix has chosen a carbon fiber blank for these rods, and that means fantastic sensitivity. For panfish, trout, perch, flounder, specks, and the like, these rods will perform masterfully, allowing you to feel every bump, nudge, and nibble.

And when the fight does start, you’ll find the backbone of these blanks quickly, about 25% from the tip. And don’t be shy about that medium-light rod: it’s a real beast if you’re working with a good reel and a properly set drag, and you can fight any smallmouth in the world with it, as well as most largemouth.

Both rods wear premium continuous cork handles, though the shorter rod has a shorter handle.

The stainless guides that St. Croix chooses are excellent performers in the real world, especially if you skip braid, which can be abrasive to any guides.

Overall, this four-piece travel rod fishes like a premium two-piece, and that’s saying something.

Pros:

  • Excellent, sensitive blank
  • Good guides
  • Excellent handles
  • Fishes like a premium rod should

Cons:

  • ???

Fenwick HMG Travel Spinning Rod - Best Medium Power Travel Rod

Length: 7’
Power/action: medium-light or medium/fast
Line and lure weight: medium-light (8-17 lbs. 1/4 - 3/4 oz.); medium (10-20 lbs. 3/8 - 1 oz.)
Material: graphite
Handle: continuous cork
Guides: stainless steel guides with zirconium inserts
Pieces: 3

Fenwick is another brand that’s built a long-term, dedicated following by producing premium rods, and their HMG travel rod is no exception.

Where the St. Croix dominates on smaller fish, the Fenwick’s heavier power medium rod would be my choice for travel when I’m looking for species like snook, reds, blues, walleye, bass, and anything else that might test a medium-light rod to its limits.

That’s not to knock the medium-light Fenwick but rather to applaud the medium rod.

Capable with mono lines as heavy as 20 pounds, and more than able to launch a 1-ounce lure like a rocket, this is another rarity in travel rods in that it fishes like a premium rod rather than a toy.

Expect a beautiful, continuous cork handle and excellent stainless guides with zirconium inserts.

In a hard fight, you’ll appreciate those well-made guides, and you’ll find the blank’s backbone quickly, just as on the St. Croix. Sensitivity is excellent, too, making this a superb choice for the angler who travels and wants a heavier rod.

Pros:

  • Excellent, sensitive blank
  • Good guides
  • Excellent handles
  • Fishes like a premium rod should

Cons:

  • ???

Smuggler 7 Travel Fishing Rod

Smuggler 7 Travel Fishing Rod & Case. 260 cm (8' 6') 235cm (7' 8') nano-carbon fishing rod options. 7 Pieces 2 tips. For Spin Bait Carp Pike Sea Fishing

Amazon 

Length: 7’ 8” and 8’ 6”
Power/action: ???
Line and lure weight: 5-20 g. or 15-40 g.
Material: graphite with a fiberglass tip
Handle: split EVA fam
Guides: stainless steel with silicone inserts
Pieces: 7

Smuggler is a British company that’s put together a very portable seven-piece rod. Innovative in many ways, if space is truly at a premium, this is a rod you’ll want to look at.

Offered in two lengths, Smuggler is shy about stating the action and power you can expect, in part because British expectations and terminology differ on this point. But given that the larger rod can cast a 40 gram, or 1.4-ounce lure, I’d guess that it’s in the medium to medium-heavy range, with a fast action given the graphite blank.

The shorter rod can cast a 20 gram, or .7-ounce lure, and I’d make that about medium-light.

In either case, graphite is very sensitive material for a blank, and these rods should allow you to feel even the lightest strikes.

In terms of innovation, they come with interchangeable fiberglass tips that alter the feel as well as the action of the rods, allowing you a bit of customization.

Expect a split EVA foam grip and stainless guides with silicone inserts.

One thing that concerns me is that customers report quality control issues, especially with guide finishing. If you do pick the smuggler, check each guide carefully for polish and finish, and definitely contact the manufacturer if you get a lemon.

Pros:

  • Very compact
  • Good, sensitive blank
  • Good guides
  • Excellent handles
  • Interchangeable fiberglass tips

Cons:

  • Guide finish quality can be iffy

KastKing Blackhawk II

KastKing Blackhawk II Telescopic Fishing Rods, Spinning 7ft -Fast-MH Power

Amazon 

KastKing Blackhawk II Chart 

Length: see chart
Power/action: see chart
Line and lure weight: see chart
Material: Toray 24-Ton Carbon Matrix blank with a fiberglass tip
Handle: split EVA foam
Guides:???
Pieces: telescoping

Telescoping travel rods can be a nightmare, and most are made as gimmick offerings for new anglers who don’t know better. That needn’t be the case, and KastKing delivers a real rod that’s capable of actual fishing.

Now, to be fair to its premium competitors, you’re not going to get the sensitivity, backbone, fighting power, or durability of the St. Croix or Fenwick. That’s a simple fact, and I mean no disrespect to KastKing.

By design, a telescoping rod just can’t compete with a segmented rod.

But the carbon fiber blank on the KastKing is sensitive, and guide quality seems to be OK. I personally wouldn’t put much faith in the rods of medium power and above, as the joint construction on a telescoping blank is going to be abused by a hard fight with a big fish. 

Maybe it’ll take it; maybe it won’t - but I wouldn’t bet my fishing trip on it. The segments tend to loosen with casting - but don’t collapse. That’s not confidence-inspiring, because I’m sure that places greater stress on the joints, and with a heavy power rod and big, mean fish on the other end, I wouldn’t count on the rod to survive.

Instead, I’d stick to the lighter end of the powers - medium light and medium - and try not to push this rod too hard.

If that sounds like a serious reservation, that’s because it is. 

Now keep in mind that the Blackhawk II is about 1/3rd the price of the St. Croix and Fenwick, and if you’re just looking for an easy rod to pack and want to hit the water for a few hours, there’s nothing wrong with the product.

But as serious competition for the premium rods on our list, the Blackhawk II isn’t going to make the grade.

Pros:

  • Very compact
  • Good, sensitive blank
  • OK guides
  • Excellent handles

Cons:

  • The Segments loosen after casting, and I wouldn’t trust this rod in medium-heavy or heavy actions with big fish and hard fights

Goture Travel Fishing Rod - Best Budget Travel Rod

Goture Portable Fishing Rod Travel Fishing Pole Casting cast Fishing Rods 4 Sections Lightweight Carbon Fiber Poles M Power Medium Action 6.6ft

Amazon 

Goture Travel Fishing Rod Chart

Length: see chart
Power/action: see chart
Line and lure weight: see chart
Material: carbon fiber
Handle: split EVA foam
Guides: stainless with ceramic inserts
Pieces: 4

For anglers on a budget too tight for the St. Croix or Fenwick, Goture offers a nice travel rod at a reasonable price. Available in powers ranging from ultralight to medium-heavy, and actions that vary from medium, to medium-fast, to fast, these are dependable travel rods that won’t break the bank.

The blank on every rod in this lineup is made from carbon fiber, promising great sensitivity and plenty of backbone. Powers and actions are matched well, and there are some great surprises in this series, like a light rod with a medium action that would be just perfect for small crankbaits.

Expect well-made, split EVA foam handles that provide plenty of territory, even for big hands.

The guides are stainless steel with ceramic inserts and clearly designed more for fresh-water fishing than the salt. They’re small - I’d say a bit undersized for salt - but perfect for enhancing sensitivity for species like bass when using a worm.

One word of caution: the ferrules are meant for a .6” gap, meaning that they should not be tightened down till they touch.

Goture Travel Fishing Rod sensitive blanks

The carbon fiber blanks prove plenty sensitive and strong, and these are really good rods for the money. Anglers on a tighter budget should definitely give these rods a close look.

Pros:

  • Great price for what you get
  • Good, sensitive blanks
  • Good guides
  • Nice handles
  • Fishes well

Cons:

  • Not going to compete head-to-head with premium alternatives like St. Croix and Fenwick

What to Look for in a Good Travel Rod

Avoid the toys

When angling sites recommend products, there’s a real difference between content farms and those where the researchers and writers are fishermen themselves.

That’s a fact.

And just because a product is popular on Amazon doesn’t make it good.

telescoping travel rod

Many of the telescoping travel rods with awesome reviews are disappointing if you’re more than a once-a-year angler, and you can chalk up the positive responses to people who really don’t fish a lot not using these rods much or knowing what they’re missing out on.

That’s not to insult anyone, and if you just need a rod for a few days a year and space is tight, go ahead: you probably won’t be disappointed.

But if you’re a serious angler and you try one of these out, I promise you, you’ll burn with frustration.

That’s why our list is populated with real rods that are high on performance, especially the St. Croix, Fenwick, and Goture.

Modular probably beats telescopic

On that front, modular rods are almost always better than telescoping designs. 

Being more mechanically simple, there’s much less to go wrong, and as ferrule technology has improved since the 80s, you’re not sacrificing sensitivity much at all by increasing that number to three, four, or even five.

And to be painfully honest, companies like St. Croix and Fenwick have hard-earned reputations that they’re not going to sacrifice by offering underperforming designs.

What this all adds up to in the real world is that modular is usually the way to go.

Blanks

There are a variety of blank materials on the market, ranging from fiberglass and fiberglass composites to graphite to carbon fiber.

Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of each choice:

  • Fiberglass and fiberglass composites - are well known for being heavy but very, very durable. They tend to be very flexible as well, but they can be made stiffer through the introduction of carbon fiber or graphite.
  • Carbon fiber - is a common blank material, combining light weight with awesome stiffness and sensitivity. Not as durable to hard knocks as fiberglass, it’s still prized for its strength to weight ratio and its reliable backbone for hard fights.
  • Graphite - is the lightest and stiffest of the rod materials out there, but it’s also the most fragile. A hard knock against a piling or rail can result in micro-fractures, so blanks made from graphite need some care in handling. But they’re awesomely sensitive and very strong, offering a fantastic performance.

Guides

Good guides are essential.

When you have a fish on your line, the stress on the line and rod is transferred through the guides, meaning that they need to be strong. But they also need to be as smooth as they can be, protecting your line from the heat caused by friction. 

If your line gets hot, it will fail!

An easy test of guide quality is to take a length of the line, pass it through the guide, and saw like mad against the guide. Excellent guides will leave your line intact.

Handles

Whether you prefer the warm feel of cork or the durability of EVA foam, look for handles that are long enough to give you a two-handed grip and really put some muscle into a fight.

That’s a tall order on a travel rod, but the best ones deliver just that.

Final Thoughts

Good travel rods are in short supply, and if you’re a serious angler, it can be a frustratingly difficult task to find one that fishes well.

What we can promise is that if you pick one of the rods we recommend, you’ll be more than happy with your purchase. The St. Croix, Fenwick, and Goture rods fall at different price points and quality levels, and the premium rods are definitely better choices if you can afford them, but all three of these products are real tackle designed for real-world fishermen.

We can’t tell you which one is best for you - only you can do that - but we can guarantee that these three will put a smile on your face.

As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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