It was brought to my attention at the last HFF meeting that winter was upon us and long dreary days were ahead. The question at hand was, “What do you plan to do to keep the fever away this winter and how do you stay sane and keep your mind on fly fishing”. Well my first answer was GO FISHING! But then I got to thinking about the wind and the snow and the bitter cold days ahead and decided I needed a plan just in case the weather actually did get bad. It would be a shame to get the fever and not be ready for the nice weather of Spring. A fisher person and his tackle should be ready when that time comes.
Below I have listed some of the tackle chores I do when the weather is too bad to go fishing. Keep in mind I fish mostly fresh water and if you fish Salt Water, tackle maintenance takes on a whole new meaning. My instructions are for normal fresh water fishing. Also keep in mind I use my tackle weekly and maintenance is different for stored tackle. In this article I will cover how I take care of rods, reels, line and leaders. Keep in mind I am not a professional I am just sharing how I take care of my tackle. If you have any good tips that I might have missed feel free to comment. Other topics like winter fly tying for Spring will be covered in future articles.
RODS: All my fly rods are composite rods so my suggestions are for that type of rod. I like to give my rods a good cleaning at least once a year or as they need it, winter is a good time for that. I use a soft rag and warm soapy water to wipe the rods clean and as I do that I check guides for nicks or corrosion, wraps for loose threads, grips for oil or crud or even nicks in the cork, and I inspect the blank for nicks in the finish from throwing all those clousers. If any repairs are needed I take care of that. I also check the reel seat for smooth operation and flush out any sand that might have gotten in there. I usually don’t lube the reel seat, grease or oil here seems to attract sand and dirt. I check the ferrules for cracks and for sand or grit on both the male and female ends and clean as needed. Once the rod is clean and repaired I like to put a thin coat of polish on the rod and I wax the ferrules. I then store the rod in the original sock with tips protected. It’s so nice in the spring to pull out a rod that you know is ready for action.
REELS: Fly reel maintenance varies with the type and brand of reel, check with your manufacturer for detailed cleaning and repair instructions. Here again I usually take care of reels once a year or as needed. Reels used in salt water need immediate daily attention and a more thorough cleaning. Reels dropped in sand or reels with unprotected drags that have been dropped in water need immediate attention also. Basically each winter I remove the fly line from the reels and inspect the backing. If the backing is wet or dirty I take it off as well. I have a couple of o-ring sealed fly reels and I usually just disassemble and inspect them. If I don’t find any grit or moisture I reassemble the sealed parts making sure they have ample grease. I use Penn Precision Reel Grease. I’m sure there are other fine lubricants out there but I buy this in the 2oz size and use it on all my reels. The rest of the reel can be cleaned with a damp rag or use a little soapy water if needed. Be sure and loosen the drag if you are storing the reel. Bushing type reels that are not sealed I disassemble them and give them a good cleaning with soapy water, rinse and let parts dry. Pay special attention to how you disassembled the reel so you can put it back together correctly. When I reassemble the reel I apply a light coat of reel grease to drag surfaces and and then wipe it off leaving a very thin coat of grease, I also grease bushings with ample reel grease and then use a drop of very light oil on the handle. Reassemble the reel and be sure and leave the drag loose and store in a reel box or bag. Bearing reels I treat a little different, the difference being the bearings. I make sure and clean the outside of the bearings only, I try to avoid washing them. Most bearings are sealed and do not need further lubrication. If bearings roll rough they can be replaced and in rare cases I have washed out bearings and re lubed them. Otherwise treat the rest of the bearing reel like the bushing reel. Be sure and leave the drags loose if you will not be using the reel until Spring. A clean well lubricated reel can be used with confidence in the Spring.
LINE: This is a learning issue for me. I have been fly fishing for three years now and I have accumulated several fly lines. I have done a little research on the care of fly lines and have found conflicting advice even among the manufacturers of fly lines. The one thing they all agree on is the cleaning of fly lines. Fly lines need cleaned when they get dirty to help them cast better and extend their life expectancy. I have been using a mild soapy water and rag to clean lines as needed. Once the lines are dry I apply a line dressing to the older or worn lines. Newer lines seem slick enough to me and I don’t dress them. The conflicting views I found were about line storage. One manufacturer recommends storing the line on the reel and another company says to store the line in large loops in a cool dry place. I’m not sure who is right but I have tried both ways. Leaving the line on the reel, especially a small arbor reel, seems to cause more line set or coils and causes me trouble when casting. I’m sure the line can be straightened or stretched to take out the coils but I would rather not have them, especially in an expensive line. The line I have stored in large loops over winter handles the cold weather nicely in the early Spring. This winter I will be storing more of my lines in the large loop fashion. Another thing I have learned this past season about care of fly lines is that if you find a nick or cut in the outer coating of the line it can be repaired using heat shrink tubing and a heat gun to melt and smooth out the damaged spot. Jonathan stated that you could use a heated spoon to smooth out the bad part too and there is less chance of burning the inner core of the line. Let me know if you have any tips on fly line care and storage as I am still learning about lines.
LEADERS: Good leaders are a must have and they can be expensive. The one thing I have learned about purchased leaders is that they get old. I only buy what I can use up in a year. Mostly I make my own twisted leaders for 6wt and up. I buy tapered leaders for 5wt and under. Tapered leaders I keep in the original packaging and my home made twisted leaders I hang over a door to keep them straight. Tippet material is like a leader, buy good stuff and keep it fresh. When doing line maintenance any leaders or tippets with wind knots in them are discarded. Any old leaders or tippets are discarded in winter and I start each Spring with all new leaders. Using cheap or outdated leader material is asking for trouble and can lose you fish and be a frustration.
SPRING: I intend to be free of the fever and ready to fish when the sun begins to thaw out our local waters next Spring. You can bet my tackle will be ready for the event. I hope this article has given you a few tips on taking care of your tackle or at least given you a little medicine for the cabin fever that is sure to set in this winter.