How (And Why) to Clean Your Fishing Gear

Cleaning your fly fishing equipment
Table of Contents

There are many techniques a person can use to clean their fishing gear, but to determine the best rod, reel, and line maintenance for fly fishing, Anchored Outdoors sat down with Justin Duggan for a professional’s take on the topic. 

So, what’s the proper way to look after your gear? According to Justin, “If you’re a freshwater angler, things are a lot easier for you because freshwater is a lot more friendly to our gear than saltwater is.”

That being said, most of the information today will discuss saltwater, but some will also apply to freshwater fishing. Let’s get started!

Cleaning Reels

Modern fly reels are generally much better at allowing for maintenance in a non-invasive way that won’t damage your reel. In other words, when you are washing saltwater off, the freshwater will sometimes enter parts of the reel where it shouldn’t be and can affect the reel’s usability. However, most modern reels are well sealed to prevent this, and some can even be submerged in water, although Justin doesn’t recommend it as a general practice. 

Justin recommends learning the proper way to set up your reel to prevent heartache down the road. He explained, “Something that is not well known by a lot of anglers is that if you put braided or dacron backing onto a saltwater fly reel, the salt will eventually wick its way through the backing down to the arbor of the reel and will cause corrosion against the spool no matter how anodized your reel is.”

As this has happened with some of Justin’s reels in the past, he explained that it’s the owner’s fault for not providing any sort of protection for the reel. Though this is a common problem with saltwater reels, the easiest way to combat it is to add a bit of carnauba car wax onto the reel as you’re spooling it. The reel only requires a small coating of wax but will then need a very thin strip of the adhesive tape to prevent the backing from slipping, followed by a bit more wax.Once this step is completed, it’s time to spool the reel. 

Just remember to periodically check your reel, and once every six to twelve months or so, remove the backing and then give the reel a thorough wash. Adding these steps into your spooling process will stop corrosion in its tracks and allow a great beginning setup. 

Justin explained that when using a reel with a removable spool, the best thing you can do to extend the life of your reel is to rinse the housing in a very mild soapy warm water bucket. Ensure that the rinse is very quick and that the drag is set to full. After the housing is rinsed, place it upside down to dry, so there’s no chance that water will get inside. 

However, he warns, “The best thing to do is not soak that part of the reel in water for any length of time, as you risk water ingress even in a well-sealed reel.” 

Now, when it comes to the spool, there are no moving parts, but it’s likely that saltwater has wicked through the backing and remains under the fly line. To clean the spool, Justin recommends placing it in a bucket of water containing just a few drops of mild soap. It should be left to soak anywhere from one to two hours, or sometimes even overnight. 

When the spool comes out of the water, it’s crucial to allow a day or two to dry, but it needs to dry perfectly before being stored away. It’s also important to note that it’s never a good idea to place your reel in a pouch that’s salty, so be sure to clean that as needed. 

Cleaning the Rod and Fly

In the case of the rod and fly, Justin reminds us that some anglers even “jump in the shower and wash their hair and rod at the same time.” 

Though, if you’re like Justin with no hair to wash, the best option is to use the tap to give it a really good rinse and then allow it to dry outside. Once the rod is completely dry, you should use a small bit of food-grade silicone spray on a rag and then rub it onto the guides. 

Doing so will provide a nice protective layer so that the next time the rod is used, it’s safe from the salt and other environmental factors that can lead to rust or corrosion. Though it doesn’t happen too often as the rods are well-made, they are metal, so just be sure to apply a thin layer of silicone as a protectant. 

At the same time, ensuring there’s no salt on your rod bag is crucial. If there is, it will need to be cleaned first by placing it in the washer. Regardless of how this step is approached, never place a salty rod in a clean fly rod bag because allowing the salt inside the bag will mean you have to wash it every time. The key here is that everything should be clean before it’s stored. 

When it comes to fly lines, they will also need to be cleaned once they are dry. Most manufacturers now have their own fly line cleaner to use with their brands, but many also offer micro-abrasive pads. So, there are essentially two things you want to do with your fly lines. 

The first is to clean the lines with abrasive pads to remove the scum and dirt, which will occur in both salt and freshwater. Next, you’ll need a product that keeps your lines slick. In the case of Rio, “They make a product called Agent X, which makes the line slip and helps it float higher,” Justin continues, “Other manufacturers like Scientific Angler have their own coatings and cleaners for their individual lines.”

While this is a great strategy for floating lines, it’s not something that should be put on sinking or intermediate lines. Ultimately, don’t put anything else on your fly lines. So, avoid silicon sprays and all of those weird internet recipes because modern fly lines have advanced greatly and work well to self-lubricate. Hence, according to Justin, “It’s also critical that you don’t do anything or add anything that can affect the components in the fly line.”

Cleaning Old Reels

Before wrapping up the segment, Justin explained that those who have older reels will find that they need a screwdriver to take apart the real. Moreover, these older models have moving parts in the spool, and the reel housing, meaning the main housing has a drag system with grease, and the spool cannot soak in water. 

When asked what to do, Justin described, “The best thing you can do is to turn your hose onto a mist or light spray, or use a spray bottle, to lightly spritz the reel.” 

As you’re doing this, have a bucket of warm, soapy water nearby so you can gently pull the fly line off into it, which will help remove the salt. Also, don’t forget to spray your backing, and then once every six to twelve months, take the backing off and give it a good clean. 

So, that’s it! Be sure to follow our simple fishing gear cleaning tips each time you use it, and we’ll see you on the water!

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Anchored Outdoors

Anchored Outdoors is an ever-growing network of fly fishing experts who’ve been brought together by podcaster and fellow outdoorswoman, April Vokey.

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