All photos courtesy of author.

Essential Packing List for a Fishing Trip

Insider Guides
by Shane Townsend Sep 15, 2011
Ask three fishermen how to get ready for a trip and you’ll get four answers.

The idea of fishing is simple: hook, line, and game fish.

The act of fishing though is far more complex. An angler’s craft reveals her personality and reflects traditions born of a unique place. One angler sits on an upturned-bucket and uses a cane pole and red worms to take shellcracker from the Pascagoula River.

Another casts wooly buggers with a fly rod to wrestle smallmouth bass from under the Nickel Bridge in Richmond’s James River. Sculling a dugout canoe, another angler uses a hand-line baited with armadillo bits to catch piranha in Bolivia’s Rio Pirai.

Whether you’re preparing to cast after work or for a five-day float, here are a few things to take along:

Fishing License & Regulations

Fishing - Photo courtesy of Shane TownsendIn the U.S., licensing requirements and regulations vary by state. Fishing abroad? Requirements vary by country.

For instance, our guide in British Columbia sold licenses on the boat but in Bolivia, there was no talk of licenses. So, it’s best to check with the tourism board.

Water & Food

On short trips, a water bottle and snack bar may get you by. Longer trips require more provisions and a water purification system such as a SteriPen or iodine tablets.

Fishing Gear to Match the Game Fish

Countless species of fish swim the world’s waters. There are nearly as many ways to fish for them. Fishing is a broad subject with libraries dedicated to it. Some books teach techniques (for example, fly fishing). Others focus on a species (for example, largemouth bass) or a particular region. The important thing to remember is to let conditions dictate. Get the gear to match your game fish and fishing conditions.

Basic gear includes a fishing rod and reel, a tackle box, line, and some sort of bait. Artificial lures are ready to fish right out of the box. If you fish with organic bait (for example, worms and minnows) you’ll need hooks, sinkers, corks, and swivels, many of which can be stored neatly in film canisters.

Fishing gear (including line and hooks) is specialized. The hook and line intended for freshwater panfish is very different from that used for saltwater king mackerel.

At your local sporting goods store, ask the following questions:

  1. What’s biting?
  2. Where?
  3. What are they hitting?
  4. How do I fish it?
  5. And, anything else I should know?
Waterproof Bag

Fishing - Photo courtesy of Shane TownsendAnglers get wet—even when we don’t intend to. Use a Ziploc bag for your wallet, phone, and other such items. Small dry sacks offer a more environmentally responsible option.

Water Shoes

River rocks are slippery, jetty rocks are sharp, and boat decks are slick. So footwear can prevent puncture wounds, scrapes, and nasty – although potentially comical— spills.

Consider felt-bottomed wading shoes for cold rocky rivers. Elsewhere, try old tennis shoes, dive booties, or sandals.


It’s important to know where you are at all times. On short trips, a mental map will do the trick. If preparing for a long or complicated trip, remember you are also packing for a trek.

Health & Safety Gear

A hat and sunscreen protect you from the sun. Polarized sun glasses take the water’s glare and improve water visibility. A good knife is a must. Other items include: a small first aid kit, bug repellent, feminine products, a cell phone, and biodegradable toilet tissue. When paddling, I take nylon rope and a rescue throw bag.

Camera vs. Tape Measure

You just caught the biggest fish ever. Your hands are slippery, your nerves a wreck, and your concentration, shot. A small tape measure gives your tale credence but not evidence. Consider a waterproof camera. A phone camera is also convenient and my Nikon D60 yields great quality.

Pliers and Hemostats

Fishing - Photo courtesy of Shane TownsendIt can be difficult to remove a hook from a fish’s mouth. Hemostats work well for small game fish. Needle-nose pliers are good for large and stubbornly-hooked fish.


Use a lanyard to hang nail clippers for cutting line and hemostats for removing fish hooks.


I carry a backpack with zipping outer pockets and another for water. It’s convenient, organized, and doesn’t get in the way of fishing.

Keep in mind:

  • When fishing is partner to other activities such as paddling and camping, packing needs change. Consider food, water, shelter, communication, and safety.
  • Conditions should dictate the gear. Climate, terrain, water conditions, game fish sought, and other variables will influence your packing list.
  • The local authors section of a book store usually has a couple of books about fishing local waters. Also, local anglers will give you some good information.
  • Take only what you need and refine your gear list after each trip.
  • Service your equipment before each trip. Bad equipment will ruin your day.
  • If you take up angling, please be an active and dedicated steward to our natural resources.

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