By Mike Stevens
I remember the first travel rod I owned. It was a light spinning rod that broke down into four pieces, and fit into a plastic case with foam on the inside. Also in that case was the most vanilla spinning reel ever, and it looked to be two sizes too big for the rod.
It was okay. But even 14-year-old me could tell that it didn't perform as well as my regular one- or two-piece rods. The ferrules would loosen up and come apart at the most inopportune times, the reel seat was plastic, and I don't even want to get into how janky the oversized reel was. Four years later, I was working in a tackle shop and this was the case with every travel rod. I quickly realized that this was not a niche in my rod quiver that needed to be filled, and I carried on making it work with two-piece rods.
In recent years, I found myself back in the market for one, and I figured that – now almost 20 years later – there had to be vast improvements in travel rods. I was right, but most of my research revealed the opposite situation. Oh, they are out there and are WAY better, but you're going to pay for it. Quality travel rods are easily going to set you back at least a couple hundred bucks; I needed to find some middle ground, a happy medium, bang for my buck.
When my inquiry reached Daiwa, they informed me that my timing was perfect and they had just launched a new series of travel rods, and they were all but begging to send me one to check out.
They sent one of their Ardito-TR rods and a matched Exceler EXE reel. The three-piece spinning rod came in a semi-rigid case that would undoubtedly fit in my big duffle bag. I will save the feature/benefit jargon (see all that via the links) and just tell you what my impressions were. When put together, the Ardito simply became a one-piece, 7'6" rod. It's V-Flex ferrule joint system fits snug and is designed to bend with the rod, so there are no dead spots like in its predecessors of the mid-90s. It felt a bit stiffer than I was expecting in a rod with an 8-17-pound rating, but when I spooled up with 10-pound test (the line I intend to fish on it) and pulled on that, it seemed spot on. It casted one-quarter ounce lures with ease, and had enough beef to handle baits up to one ounce. Its price tag at around $129 was a little more than I was looking for, but when I saw all the others out there for much more, it made it easier to swallow.
I didn't ask Daiwa for a reel, but I was pumped that they sent an Exceler because I already own an Exceler baitcaster – I love that sub-$100 baitcaster. Two cranks on it, and I felt like I was dealing with a $150-200 reel, but I was shocked when I looked it up online and it could be had for about $80. Being a bang-for-your-buck guy, this was a pleasant surprise. The drag is smooth and it adjusts precisely, the drilled-out Air Rotor reduces overall weight, and the Air Bail is void of any line-snagging protrusions.
As for smoothness and balance of operation, if you crank it and claim that you need smoother, you are kidding yourself. The reel does not come with a spare spool, and I would recommend getting one (like I will) for versatility's sake. On trips in which this is the only rod you have, you'll want to be able to switch line weights, or even to spectra.
Why would a kayak angler need a travel rod? If you are traveling with a kayak, you can basically take as many rods in whatever sizes you want. But what about when you are NOT traveling with a yak? Here are some examples of the brands of travel that I had to do over the last couple years, and I think you will catch my drift:
1. Colorado River for a bachelor party… twice.
2. Milwaukee for a wedding.
3. Texas for another wedding.
4. Michigan for a family reunion.
5. Grand Cayman for a trip with wifey (coming summer 2015… scored that trip in a fundraising auction. I lowballed, no one else bid. Lucky me).
What do these trips have in common? They are all non-fishing trips with a ton of access to water, great fishing, limited time and RENTED kayaks. On trips 1-4, I got to stare at the water, drool, and punch myself in the face the whole time wondering what might have been.
So yeah, I'd be in a rental yak with no bells or whistles, BUT I'D BE IN THE GAME WOULDN'T I?
Well I guaran-damn-tee you, there will be no drooling or self abuse on trip #5.