How to Clean a Fly Line

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One of the quickest and easiest ways to improve your fly fishing is to regularly clean your line. A clean fly line casts better, has less memory, and floats better on the water.

Most fly line manufacturers recommend cleaning your line after fishing in dirty water or every 3-5 outings, but if you’re anything like me, you probably put it off longer than you should. You’ll know it’s definitely time to clean your line when it looks dirty, feels grimy, or has a strong memory.

After you clean your line, you should notice an immediate boost in performance. It should feel nicer and be noticeably easier to cast well.

Cleaning a fly line should only take around half an hour, and you probably already have everything you need (apart from the dressing used at the end, which you can pick up at your local shop).

What you’ll need

Cleaning the fly line

Step 1

Gather your two buckets of warm water, dish soap, rags, and fly line. You can leave the fly line attached to your reel if you want, but I find it easier to remove the line completely to avoid getting the backing tangled.

Add a few squirts of dish soap to one of the buckets of water and stir. Don’t add too much, just enough to make some bubbles as you froth it up.

2 buckets of water on a floor with rags

Step 2

In loose coils, put your fly line in the bucket with soap. I like to leave whichever end was tied to the backing up on the edge of the bucket. This makes it easier to find an end in the next step, and I use the reel end because it’s rarely as dirty as the front end of the line.

Let the line soak for a few minutes to loosen the debris.

A bucket with soapy water and fly line

Step 3

After the soak, dampen one of the rags and draw the fly line out of the soapy bucket, through the rag in your hand, and into the bucket with just water.

Use a firm, consistent pressure between your fingers as you pull the line through the rag. Feel free to go over particularly dirty areas more than once.

Continue until the entire fly line is in the bucket of plain water.

2 buckets of water on the ground. One has fly line in it and the other has a rag.

Step 4

Grab the dry rag and repeat the process you did in the last step, but this time after you draw the fly line out and through the dry rag, you can loosely coil it on the ground.

Congratulations! You’re done cleaning your fly line.

a rag being used to clean a fly line in someone's hand

Dressing the fly line

The last step to proper fly line maintenance is dressing the line, which keeps it in good condition and helps it float.

Lots of companies sell fly line dressings. There’s a good chance your line has a specific recommendation for which dressing to use, often made by the same manufacturer. But, any reputable brand will do.

You should follow the directions given on the dressing you buy, but generally, you’ll add a little to your third rag (some companies offer rags or other contraptions specifically for this, but again, any will do), and pull the line through it twice, once in each direction.

A bottle of Loon fly line dressing

Then, depending on which you use, you may want to finish off with a quick run through a dry rag.

Now your fly line is ready to use and should be in tip-top shape! You should notice a boost in performance and a nice, fresh look.

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This is a list I made and use for my own trips, and I think any backcountry angler will find it handy.