Traveler’s Guide to the Saltwater Universe

MUSKEGON, Mich. – I’m a Yankee. Well, originally, anyway. Forever motoring to where I really wanted to live – and fish – got old. So, I finally pulled stakes and moved to coastal Texas. No offense to the north, but a 7-inch bluegill pumping in a frozen hole can’t compete with a 30-inch redfish on light tackle or a doormat flounder flexing its wings to hold bottom.

I do, however, thank the north for teaching me how to fish with finesse. I’ve always contested that a seasoned bass angler can fish toe-to-toe with any inshore native. In fact, decorated bassheads can often outperform their saltwater counterparts.

Why? Finesse and preparedness. Check the storage lockers in a bass boat. Filled to the gills. Colors and patterns unimaginable in a profusion of bait styles from topwater and hardbait arrays to more plastics than could be fished in six lifetimes. Typically, every item has a reason, too, matching the bite and personality of the body of water.

Don’t get me wrong. There are saltheads with equally impressive war chests. But likewise, there’s a general stickiness to a saltwater belief that says to fish large and loud. I can promise you that repeatedly falling into the large and loud mindset is a losing strategy. Big flamboyant baits certainly fell fish, but I’ve notched ten times the catch employing my northern leanings of fishing lighter, subtler, and more natural.

The purpose of this prose – part 1 in a 2 part – isn’t to knock coastal norms, though, but rather help you build a saltwater travel kit that employs some of your existing gear, with recommendations for other items that are invaluable on a quick stint to the brine.

RODS, REELS AND LINE

Let’s start with rods. Get that perception of broomsticks out of your head. Today’s rod technology coupled with braid and reel sophistication negates the need for a chunky rod, while providing numerous benefits.

Pick your poison with spinning or baitcasting. I’m a spinner, based largely on a lifetime of finesse fishing up north. If you’re more comfortable and confident with a baitcaster, knock yourself out.

A 7 to 7 ½ foot, medium-action, fast-tipped rod is a do-everything tool. Trust me, you’ll regret wielding the heavy and extra-heavy rods when you need to throw a 1/4-ounce jig to speckled trout breaking 150-feet away.

Single piece rods are preferred, but if you’re flying, there are solid multi-piece options. Don’t go cheap, though. If you’d never be seen with a $60 rod in your boat, would you be okay casting one along the beach? I thought not.

DAIWA’s three-piece Ardito-TR Travel Rods retail for around $140 and get the job done. The ARDT703MFS-TR meets the above requirements in a spinning rod. If you want a saltwater-specific rod to go with the new board shorts, check-out DAIWA’s single-blank Isla series – more for driving than flying. Best saltwater rods I’ve ever thrown in their price-range, at about $150. They were coauthored with deep intelligence from the minds at Roy’s Bait & Tackle in Corpus Christi, TX. I own a small battery of the ISL69MRS and ISL76MHFS models. (Note, the latter is labeled a medium-heavy, but in my opinion, fishes like a high-octane medium.)

If spinning, take along your favorite 2500 and 3000 sizes. Huh? No behemoth saltwater reel? Don’t need it. These midsize models have plenty of game when spooled with braid and partnered with a matching rod. But, if you want to add something customized for salt, DAIWA’s BG MQ and Saltist MQ are butter in your hands and engineered to fight saltwater corrosion, and double nicely as additions to your freshwater collection. (Note, the larger arbor on a 3000- versus 2500-size yields longer casts without adding much weight.)

And rinse your rods and reels daily! The salt is unforgiving. Simply give them a shower, like in the actual shower

No punches held back – every reel needs to be spun with braided line. Feel free to make an argument, but come back after your coastal vacation and tell me I was wrong. Braid is stronger, smoother, runs baits deeper, and casts like the dickens. To that, stick to the lighter side, like 15-pound, maybe 20-pound. I have NEVER snapped off an inshore fish if the line was intact. Plainly, 15-pound is longer casting, and preferred, but if fishing something so light causes anxiety, take a 20-pound chill pill. My arbors are spun with 15-pound DAIWA J-Braid x8 Grand in Island Blue and Chartreuse. Line visibility is especially crucial during lowlight periods. The succeeding fluorocarbon leader enters invisibility to the fish.

As with braid weight, I suggest lighter fluorocarbon leader material than the usual inshore angler. 15-pound test is my mark. It’s tamed trophy class speckled trout, 40-inch plus redfish and flounder that won’t fit in some coolers. Just need to make sure it’s always nick-free. Bump up to 20-pound for confidence if you must. Go heavier, too, if resident fish include shredders like ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, or jacks. Same goes for New England and Atlantic coast travels who might encounter hulky striped bass and terrorizing bluefish. DAIWA’s J-Fluoro Leader is a fine choice.

OTHER ABSOLUTE ESSENTIALS

I’m not one to rely on the availability of core gear in an unfamiliar market. Local shops might carry what you need, but arriving fully outfitted is safer. With enough lead time, anything not currently in possession can surely be ordered online.

PLIERS

The rusty so-called stainless steel set on your boat floor won’t make the grade – that is, saltwater grade. That’s where aluminum – aircraft-grade aluminum – comes in. For my money, EGO Fishing’s 4.5” Kryptek Aluminum Pliers are tops. They’re light, oppose saltwater corrosion, and don’t seize-up up at the joint. The compact size makes them easy to operate while still robust enough to deal with larger fish. The attached line-cutter is also a necessity. And although these beauties come with a hip-sheath and lanyard, absolutely get a separate lanyard for wearing them around your neck. Easier to access and you won’t lose the pliers in the drink.

This isn’t “thumbing bass” country. Most inshore critters have blood-letting teeth. No grins and grips.

PACKABLE RAINGEAR

Light raingear isn’t only for when the clouds let loose. They also serve as an outer shell for chilly mornings and predawn launches if you’re going with a guide. Whitewater Fishing’s Packable Rain Jacket and Pant have totally impressed me. They’re made with a breathable 100% polyester stretch fabric with DWR and fit flawlessly. Features also include double-taped seams, YKK zippered pockets, protective storm flap, and adjustable Velcro cuffs. Moreover, the jacket and pants coupling squish into an included travel pouch. You can order the set for $200.

SUN PROTECTION FISHING GLOVES

The forgotten part of the anatomy when it comes to sun protection… Hands are the number two target for skin cancer only preceded by your face. Whitewater Fishing has you covered, quite literally, with their Sun Protection Fishing Gloves. The comfortable coverings are made with a blend of ultra-soft poly/nylon/spandex for maximum stretch. Polygiene StayFresh™ and OdorCrunch™ technologies inhibit bacterial growth, the leading cause of stench. Silicon palms grip firmly, too.

FACE/NECK GAITER

The same company’s matched Sun Protection Performance Gaiter also offers UPF 30 coverage and is constructed of the same comfy and stretchy materials and includes odor blocking technology as well. Cover just your neck or pull the front up under your shades and protect your entire face.

FISHING HOODIE

The performance of Whitewater Fishing’s Lightweight Tech Hoodie is astonishing at only $40. It, like the gloves and gaiter, provides bonafide sun protection (UPF 50) in a stretchy and comfortable fabric. The material is also breathable and utilizes techy anti-microbials. At this price, get both colors. I did.

SUNGLASSES

Inshore angling is not the environment for gas station sunglasses. Not only are they inherently bad for your peepers, cheap shades don’t provide the glare foiling polarization essential to seeing beneath the surface. Saltwater action is visual – baitfish and crabs working the bottom, flashes of fish, and the profiles of predators cruising only inches below. To that, Bajio offers a suite of fishing-first sunglasses. Their Stiltsville is a stylish, wide-bodied saltwater champion that’s available in three frame patterns and menagerie of lens colors. Advice is ordering a set before embarking. You’ll appreciate their worthiness back home bass fishing, too.

WADER PACK

Zillions of options out there, but most have shortcomings. True trout packs are often too small for saltwater sundries. Waist packs are bulky, and with near certainty they’ll drag and wick water, or keep you from wading deeper. I use Allen’s Boulder Creek Fly Fishing Chest Pack. It’s comfortable, rides nice and high, and affords the space for a small utility box and complete tackle assortment, as well as keys and a smartphone.

WADING SHOES

Whether wading or walking the shore, specialty footwear is essential – going barefoot is for the pool. Inshore areas are fraught with hazards, from oysters and barnacles that’ll send you to ER to painful burrs destined to land between your toes. I like the Crocs Swiftwater Mesh Deck Sandals for moderate terrain. They’re light, comfortable, and stay put quite well even in gumbo (sticky mud). Another option is fully enclosing your feet in boat shoes like Xtratuf’s Riptide Water Shoe. A retired pair of sneakers work, too, but plan to pitch them afterward. Regardless of your choice, rinse your footwear with freshwater after every use or experience the permanent funk.

PARTING ADVICE FOR AIR TRAVELERS

It’s best to bag-check everything possible. Worth the cost and effort to dedicate a small suitcase to fishing gear. Make sure everything is secure and protected. Wrap your reels in hand towels. Tape down utility tackle boxes – the jostling can pop the top and scatter lures everywhere. Similarly, wrap and secure sundry tools like pliers and forceps.

Carryon is ill-advised. Lures and tools might be confiscated by TSA. I will, however, fly with a multipiece travel rod in overhead storage, so long as it’s protected in a badass case.

Read the follow-up guide to a bulletproof tackle kit for the traveling saltwater angler HERE – Maynard Lee.

About

Whitewater performance fishing apparel gives anglers distinct advantages whenever Mother Nature’s unpredictability conspires to ruin angling adventures. Whether faced with wind, rain, snow, sun, or extreme temperatures, Whitewater apparel equips anglers with the ability and confidence to overcome the elements, so they apply their focus and energies on fighting fish, not the conditions. Whitewater is a brand by Nexus Outdoors, headquartered in Muskegon, Michigan, USA.