Maintenance Check

Maintenance Check

Caring for reels, waders & fly lines

  • By: Buzz Bryson
  • and Paul Guernsey
I just bought a new reel. Is there anything I need to know about maintaining it, or is it pretty much good to go for a lifetime?

Well, that depends. In freshwater use, and assuming you don't regularly plop the rod butt-and thus reel-into the dirt while you're stringing the line through the guides, very little maintenance is needed. It is prudent to remove the spool (assuming the reel has an easily removable spool) occasionally, say once a year before the season starts, and check to see that everything looks OK. Normally, about all you'd ever need to do to a basic trout reel is to put a spot of light grease on the spindle (the main shaft the spool rides on), and perhaps another dab on the pawl (the "clicker").

For saltwater fishing, more maintenance is needed. If the reel is being used daily, I'd just rinse it off daily, and then weekly take a rag with warm soapy water and wash the reel, rinsing it with clean, fresh water. Maybe two to four times a year, I'd pop the spool off and check the innards, making sure they're well lubed. Where lubrication is needed, be it on the parts mentioned above or particularly on the drag, I'd use whatever the manufacturer recommends. For cork drags, manufacturers frequently recommend Neatsfoot Oil, although some recommend a light grease such as Super Lube.

For metal parts, especially if the reel isn't going to be used for some time, the key is getting the salt off and, again, it's hard to beat warm soapy water. Don't just blast it with a high pressure hose, however; that'll not remove salt as well as the warm soapy water and likely will drive some deeper into the reel's crevices. Dry the reel well before lubricating as needed, and before closing it up in its storage bag.

If you've been catching big fish that pull off a lot of backing, it's probably best to strip off the backing, washing it well too, and drying it before putting it back on. (Having said that, I'll admit I rarely go to that extreme, although I have had some corrosion problems on one high-dollar reel spool attributable to "salty" backing.)

Bottom line: Except for dirt and salt, most reels are quite durable and should last for years, if not a lifetime or two. -B.B.

Could you share your expertise on caring for breathable waders? For instance, how to dry and air them after a day's use; to powder or not; whether to walk miles in them or carry them; how to patch them and with what?

I mostly use stocking-foot waders, and when I pull them off, I turn them inside out and let them dry out overnight. At the end of a trip or season, or when they really begin to get a bit rank, I'll wash them by hand in a bathtub of warm, soapy water, inside and out, rinse them and hang them up to dry well. That's about it for cleaning. No powder.

For storage, it's probably best to keep them hung up or loosely folded (the idea is to prevent sharp creases) in a cool, dry place such as a closet. You don't want them exposed to excessive heat or sunlight or chemicals.

The decision to walk with them on or carry them is purely one of comfort. If the creek is a long walk, I'll carry them in a daypack or vest. If the walk is through a really tough area full of briars, thorns or snags, I'll carry them regardless of distance.

As for leaks, if it's a pinhole or small tear, about the best thing I've found is Loon Outdoors UV Wader Repair. It works well, cures almost instantly in sunlight, and sticks. If a seam blows out, about the only option is to send the wader back to the manufacturer; it's about impossible to really seal up a seam leak.

How long does a floating fly line last, and how will I know when it's time to buy a new one?

There's no set answer to this. At one extreme, if a line is left on your dashboard in the hot Florida sun with the windows up, it can be ruined in a day or two. Similarly, if you grind it under your feet on streamside rocks or sand, it'll be done in pretty quickly.

But if you fish say, 30 days a year and take care of the line, it should last at least a couple of seasons, sometimes many years.

There are a couple of warning signs that a line is "going away." First, obvious rough spots indicate deteriorating line. You'll usually find these where the line has been stepped on, or a fish has scraped it on rocks or barnacles. Rolling a line underfoot on rocks or a rough boat bottom can lead to any early death. Such abrasions typically don't affect strength (which is all in the core, not the coating), but will certainly affect the line's shooting properties. Secondly, if you find the line becoming more brittle or stiff, and not shooting as well, it's likely wearing out. The "limpness" and shooting properties (slickness) in lines is in part a result of plasticizers that keep the coating flexible. As those volatilize or "evaporate," the line coating becomes stiffer, more brittle and shoots less. Sometimes some micro-cracks will appear in the coating.

The shooting properties can also be reduced if the line gets coated with algae, dirt, pollen or generic "pond scum," and a good cleaning following manufacturer's recommendations can help. But if the cleaning doesn't help and the line seems to be stiffer and to have more memory when pulled off the spool, the problem is likely age, and a replacement is in order.

One more thing-solvents often mean death to lines. Avoid bug dope, sunscreen, boat gas-and pretty much any chemical not intended to be put on fly lines if you really want to be safe.

I have many stories about how fly lines have gotten ruined, but to avoid too much personal embarrassment, I'll share only one. I was testing a new line at a nearby pond-I believe it was the first time the line had even gotten wet. This was a shooting head-type line, and after a few introductory casts, I decided to let one fly. Stripping most of the running line onto the ground at my feet, I made a couple of double-hauling false casts, then cut loose-literally, as I realized when I saw the leader, head section and several feet of running line sailing out into the lake. It seems there was a small piece of broken glass in the grass, and I'd managed to step on it and the running line in just the right alignment to cut the line right in half… . -B.B.

Got questions about anything under the fly-fishing sun? Write to "Ask FR&R," PO Box 370, Camden, ME 04843, or e-mail us at editors@flyrodreel.com.