At the risk of nagging or sounding preachy, I have to ask if you took any precautions when storing your fishing tackle for the winter.
I’m not pointing any fingers, because I have a tendency to “forget” some important chores, even though I know better.
Sad to say, if you don’t thoroughly maintain your tackle prior to storage, you’re likely to have a real mess on your hands when you need it again next spring. In the worst cases, you might even ruin some of it.
The hardest part for me each fall is deciding just when I’ve actually quit fishing. There’s fishing available through Christmas onshore and year-round offshore, so it’s hard to admit that you’ve actually quit fishing before Thanksgiving.
All the hunting opportunities are distractions. But every once in a while, a nice fall day comes along that just begs for one more fishing trip.
In my experience the single most likely piece of gear to go haywire without maintenance is a reel. Even if you never actually fish in saltwater, tides raise the salinity in lower rivers enough to cause the same problems from neglect.
Many reels today have sealed drags, but that says nothing about the rest of the reel. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies in reels where salt can penetrate and accumulate. Some of them are so small and out of the way, casual rinsing of reels after each fishing trip simply won’t touch the salt hidden away.
I’m not sure if today’s reel gears are brass, but a lot of them sure look like brass. And they most certainly tarnish and corrode like brass when in contact with salt.
But you can’t get at them for cleaning and maintenance with disassembling a reel at least part way.
OK, I’ll admit this next point gets a little preachy. Where, oh where is the owner’s manual for your reel? Wouldn’t that be nice to have when you start unscrewing side plates and losing springs in your carpet?
I’m running about 50 percent in saving the owner’s manuals for reels. In fact, many reels today are packed without them, so we can all be forgiven when it’s time for serious maintenance.
Fortunately, I don’t know of a single manufacturer that fails to provide pdf manuals and part lists online. Before you take a screwdriver in one hand and your favorite reel in the other, search out the owner’s manual either in your house or out on the web. You’ll be really glad you did so when it’s time to reassemble the reel.
Thoroughly clean all the moving parts and remove any old grease. I suspect if I read far enough in owners manuals, there are recommendations for replacement grease, but I’ve always preferred the dedicated reel lube from Penn. It just works and never seems to thicken or turn hard.
I don’t like grease for parts like bail springs on spinning reels, because anywhere a part is exposed like that, grease tends to grab and hold grit. For that I use a good reel oil, in my case once more from Penn.
Here’s a trick that will dramatically extend the lives of reels and perhaps save the first big fish or two you hook next spring.
Even sealed drags can seize up or start slipping if left under pressure for long periods, as in winter storage.
Always back off the drag tension before you store a reel. I know serious marlin fishermen who back off their drag tension each night before resetting it the next day for fishing. It can be that important an issue when the fish of a lifetime finds the end of your line.
Whether you do it now or in the spring, it’s also a great idea to change monofilament line at least once a year. Sunlight breaks it down quickly, and in no time at all it loses its rated strength.
Modern braided line is frankly too expensive for annual replacement. Yet it’s especially prone to wear and damage from use. The slightest nick or fray makes it prone to breaking.
I cut off the first 30 to 50 feet of braided line from each of my reels. That’s where most of the wear occurs.
I use colored lines, and they fade quickly with use. It’s easy to see where the line transitions from pale to dark by the end of a season, and I always cut off the faded line plus a little.
Fly rods, reels, lines and leaders are just as prone to problems as the conventional versions, if not more so.
You’ll find sealed drags in many modern fly reels, too, but also gears and axles that need either grease or oil. Access isn’t really a problem since you only have to pop off the spool.
But while you’re there, use a fine cloth to wipe down all the surfaces. With the close tolerances of most reels these days, even the tiniest bit of riverside grit can drag and interfere with the turning of the spool.
Certainly back off the drag tension, but after you’ve restored the spool to the reel, use a little bit of your oil of choice to lubricate the axle within the handle. It’s prone to drying out, and there’s almost nothing more obnoxious than a fly reel handle that hangs up.
You certainly don’t want to hack off a few feet from a fly line. The line is the weight that makes a fly rod cast, and shortening the line will really mess up the casting performance of a rod.
But that expensive line isn’t bomb proof.
The biggest issue with fly lines is an accumulation of crud on its slick surface. You won’t even be aware of the change over the course of a summer, but by fall most lines are sticky and won’t shoot well through the guides.
Run some warm water into your kitchen sink and add a little dish soap. Strip the line off the reel into the soapy water and lay the reel alongside the sink while you let the line soak a half hour or so.
After the soak time, run some clean water into your other sink, then squeeze the back end of your fly line into the folds of a dish rag. Squeeze hard and use your other hand to strip the fly line through the dishrag to remove the softened crud, dropping the cleaned portion into the clean water as you go along.
Now grab a dry towel and squeeze it around the line as you reel it back onto the reel.
No other special line dressings are needed to restore the slick performance of modern lines if you clean them well. In fact I clean my lines several times a season simply because I flyfish so much.
Before you put the reel away, go ahead and change the leader so you start fresh again next spring.
Carefully inspect the guides and the thread wraps that hold them on both types of rods. Any cracks or grooves you find will demolish lines, whether mono, braid or fly. Winter is a great time to replace worn or broken guides.
Even with your rods, reels and lines in fine shape, it’s time to move onto your tackle boxes and fly boxes.
Everything in them needs rinsed in freshwater and thoroughly dried to remove salt and prevent rust.
I strip all my flies from their boxes into a colander, then rinse them thoroughly under a stream of hot water in the sink. Then I spread them out on paper towels to dry at least overnight, and longer if necessary.
Check all hooks for corrosion, rust or wear, and either replace or sharpen them as needed. You’ll be glad you did come spring.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? You’ll thank me come spring!