Salomone: For reels, you’ve got to keep it clean
Vail Valley Anglers
Often neglected but always in use, fly reels suffer from anglers’ inability to properly clean and maintain their gear. Routine maintenance can make quality gear last longer than expected. A little attention goes a long way in prolonging the life of equipment and reduces the necessity to replace expensive lines, components or entire reels altogether.
All reels have some form of drag system. By giving the proper attention to wear areas, exposed metal and intricate parts, anglers will have confidence that their gear will perform when needed. Trophy class trout and just about anything that swims in the ocean require well-working drags and smooth-flowing lines to prevent catastrophic loss.
Giving your reel and fly line a pre-angling inspection results in a reliable tool the angler can depend upon. Squeaky, tight drags cause breakage in terminal gear often. Overhand knots have a way of seating deeply into fly lines and become impossible to remove if not attended to. And underwrapping in the backing line is a foolishly common way to lose fish that is easily preventable.
Drags that are not running smoothly have the tendency to break sensitive tippets often on the initial bite. Jumping, sticky or inconsistently performing drag systems will fail you when the moment of truth arrives. The best way to maintain your fly reel is to follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for proper cleaning. Some reels have parts that require lubrication and other pieces do not.
Wind knots magically appear in your leader, fly line or tippet. Simple overhand knots that are not addressed in a timely manner may become permanent if seated tightly into a fly line. A small overhand knot sliding over a stressed rod tip while fighting a fish can break the top few inches of your rod.
One of the most common mistakes I see fly anglers make is reeling their fly line, leader and tippet all the way into the reel at the end of the day or for extended storage. Hear me correctly — this is a mistake. Rarely in freshwater does that mistake show itself but inevitably during saltwater fly fishing you will notice. And it will be devastating.
I have seen an angler hit an underwrap during a fight in the saltwater where the rod was yanked out of his hands and into the ocean. I have also heard the “gunshot” sound from a large tarpon running after the hookset and severing the heavy leader when an underwrap was encountered. Both are very preventable. Saltwater fly guides are obsessive about this and never wind up their fly line and leader completely into the reel. Guaranteed someone will tell you that “you have a long tag end hanging out of your reel.” Just tell them “yep” and keep on moving.
Cleaning your fly line takes a minimal amount of time and produces very noticeable results. A commercial cleaning pad or common kitchen sponge both get the job done with ease. A bowl of soapy water or a commercial cleaning agent remove the river scum and grime that fly lines inevitably collect. That is most fly lines.
Airflo produces a PVC free, polyurethane fly line that will not break down in the environment from repeated use and exposure to harmful UV rays. The Airflo fly lines have proven to be easier to clean too. With a variety of fly lines that cover everything from my blue water, offshore fly-fishing for tuna, mahi-mahi and sailfish to my high Alpine fly-fishing for diminutive cutthroat and painted up brook trout. Airflo makes an environmentally friendly and stable fly line.
Whether it is your precious Ross Reels San Miguel or your first click-and-pawl fly reel, all reels benefit from routine maintenance. A little time invested in cleaning and protecting your gear ensures proper functioning when the trophy of a lifetime screams into your backing. You can stand there with confidence knowing your fly reel will perform flawlessly.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.