Taking Care of Your Fly Fishing Gear

If you’re using your fly fishing gear properly, it’s going to be put to work. Although you’ll most likely be walking back to your vehicle post-fishing with a giant grin on your face (and hopefully some fish in your cooler), your gear will inevitably be covered in mud, scum, dry dirt particles, and maybe some weeds.

Over time, the wear and tear can chip away at the quality and functionality of your gear. Poorly maintained gear will perform as such, so put in a little elbow grease to ensure you’ll have a good time when you’re back out on the water.

A man holds a large fish underwater, and the camera sees the fish under the surface.

Fly Rods

Dish soap (yes, like the kind they use for the ducks) will give your rod a good clean. It will remove any grime that may cling to your rod without roughing up or ruining the veneer on your rod or ferrules. A toothbrush or vegetable brush will get in the little nooks and hard-to-reach places that make up the intricacies of your rod. Additionally, a quick application of some paraffin wax is a great way to give your ferrules a little care.

That said, exposed ferrules are very fragile and should be treated and cleaned as such. Properly treated ferrules will increase the longevity of your rod greatly.

If your rod sports some cork, a bit of wood oil will keep the cork in a healthy, like-new condition. All anglers can agree that there’s truly nothing like a freshly treated cork handle; it’s as if you can tell that the fish respond better to it or something … moving on.

When you stow your fly rod for an extended period, store it disassembled and horizontally. This will prevent damage to your tips and ferrules, as well as prevent any bending or permanent warp due to mismanaged weight that the rod is not designed to withstand.

Fly Reel

If possible, your reel should at least be washed thoroughly with warm water immediately after use or as soon as warm water is accessible. Tighten the drag to full before each rinse so that no water gets in and dries. Moisture buildup in the reel that’s left to dry will do an unfortunate number on your reel, so try to prevent that to the best of your ability.

A compressed air can is super handy to have around for reel care and drying, especially if your reel was exposed to a heavy amount of grime and muck. To give the reel some routine cleaning, remove the spool and wash with water and dish soap. This soap is still gentle on the reel but will do a proper job. This task is a lot easier to perform when the line is not attached. Some reels can be soaked in a bucket to get particles removed from the bearings, but if you want to play it safe, use the same tooth or vegetable brush you used on your rod to give it a proper clean. And finally, apply some reel oil to any moving parts to keep them well lubricated and functioning properly.


When the reel makes its way to storage, the drag should be backed off respectfully. A neoprene reel case away from extreme heat and a low traffic area will protect the reel for use at a later date.

Fly Line

It’s unbeknownst to many anglers that your fly lines should get their own care because it’s often seen as disposable or easy to replace. But a nicked, cut, or cracked fly line can do irreversible damage to your fly rod, and a good fly rod is not so easy to replace.

For proper fly line maintenance, a bucket of soapy warm water and a soft, large sponge will do the trick. After a soapy cleaning, apply a light touch of dressing such as Glide to help it slide through the guides easily. How often should you clean your line? If you’re an every other weekend fisherman, once a month should suffice. If you go out once or twice a season, once a year just to remove any dust particles is more than enough.

Flies

Luckily, cleaning your flies isn’t a finicky or time-consuming task. Drop your flies in a bucket of warm water and let them soak for a little while. When they are looking good as new, lay them out on some designated towels to air dry. Because flies are so easy to maintain, they are not cleaned like they should be. When you don’t take the time to clean them up, rust takes its toll and they become brittle. Rusting out your flies is easy to prevent, so when you perform scheduled maintenance on gear that requires a good cleaning, your flies should get some attention too.

Waders

Most wader manufacturers endorse the ability to clean your waders on the cold setting of your washing machine with a gentle detergent. Before you do so, check your wader brand’s website or manual and make sure this is the case. If you’re the least bit wary about what you find in your search, a simple wash with a backyard hose will do the trick. Once they’ve been washed, apply a DWR treatment such as Revivex spray-on water repellent. Keep in mind, you will have to activate the spray using a hairdryer or clothes dryer machine. Either way, you’ll notice a nice difference post-drying and your waders will feel like new.

Protecting Your Gear During Travel

Tailgate organizers for your flies, knives, forceps, etc., and a large plastic bin for your wet waders and wade boots will keep your fishing accessories organized and safe. It’s also super nice to return to your vehicle all covered in water and mud and have a storage bin for said-muddy waders and wade boots. At the very least, some rubber floor mats lining the vehicle will prevent any damage or cringe-worthy clean-up jobs.

Roof racks these days are all the buzz, and luckily, some avid fly fishermen have gotten into the roof rack industry with our sport in mind. Companies like Riversmith have a great fly rod roof rack, allowing you to travel with your fully assembled fly rod from spot to spot without having to re-rig at each stop. They’re also highly shock absorbent, easy to install, and accommodate almost every mounting system. Winner winner, trout for dinner!

A woman puts a fly rod into a rooftop fly rod rack.

Proper Maintenance = Prime Fishing

Your fly fishing gear puts in a lot of work on the water to ensure you’re getting what you’re after. Do what you can to not overlook the importance of their proper maintenance. While we can’t say for sure that the fish wouldn’t bite at a poorly maintained fly hooked up to a poorly maintained rig, it should be considered sacrilege to think you’d get away with it.

All jokes aside, anything worth doing is worth doing well and proper fly fishing gear maintenance should be no exception. Put in the time and effort so that when you’re about to head back out for some bites, you don’t have to pack any anxiety or doubt that things will go smoothly. Gear in good condition will allow for a clear mind and a proper time.

Happy casting!

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Kyle Rutten holds a trout.

Kyle Rutten resides in Georgetown, Colorado, and is in charge of digital marketing and business development at Riversmith, a fly rod roof rack system based out of Boulder, Colorado.

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