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Tackle Maintenance

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Roland Henrion, a former fishing guide in Seychelles and designer of the Smart Spooler line winder, suggests a number of ways to look after and care for your rods, reels and fly lines to ensure many years of happy fishing. Tips that might make the difference between landing and loosing a fish of a lifetime.

Today's fishing tackle has never been better: crisp, ultra light rods, super smooth reels with multiple ball-bearings, slick fly lines, braided PE lines, you name it. Unfortunately for the angler, this high-tech gear also comes with a price.

Even though most tackle is made from high quality materials like carbon, aviation grade aluminium, stainless steel and even titanium, we practise our sport in a hostile environment: humidity, UV exposure, extreme temperatures, salt spray, mud, sand, coral. The fishing action itself is often dangerous and our precious tackle gets knocked on boat decks or jetties, scratched on rocks or dropped in sand. Even fish push our rods and reels to extremes: a running sailfish will make your fly reel spin at speeds up to 5000 rpm. Imagine the heat build-up in the bearings!

Inspite the quality of design and material, fishing gear takes a beating every time we go out there. Does this mean we shouldn't invest in expensive tackle? Certainly not. First of all because quality tackle will always outlast cheap stuff, and second, because it simply feels good to fish with a beautifully crafted rod and reel.

Over the years, having lived so many exiciting moments together, most of us get emotionally attached to our favourite tackle and our secret hope is to be able to pass it on to our kids many years from now. Luckily, there are - mostly simple - ways to keep our fishing tackle in good shape and ensure many years of fishing enjoyment. Let me share my fishing guide experience with you through this series of tips.

Rod Care

Note: Rod maintenance has nothing to do with rod breakage. Anglers will always find ways to break their rods, ranging from common (car doors) to plain stupid (standing on it) or what some qualify as heroic (while fighting a huge fish). Avoiding rod breakage and rod repair are other subjects which I will discuss another time.

  • Avoid at all times knocking or banging the rod against hard surfaces. Small scratches and nicks may cause rod breakage.
  • After fishing, rinse your rod and dry it with a soft cloth before putting it back into its nag or tube.
  • Don't put a rod wet with seawater back in its bag, as you will contaminate it with salt. If this cannot be avoided for transport reasons, wash the bag thoroughly as soon as possible.
  • Never stow a rod in its tube. This can trap humidity and cause corrosion of the guide rings.
  • At least twice a season or more frequently when fishing in saltwater, inspect the rod rings with a magnifying glass or slip a wad of cotton through them. Small scratches will hold some cotton and also damage the line that goes through the ring. These rings should be replaced immediately.
  • Check that no water can seep under the wrappings and corrode the guide ring legs. Once rust is seen, the ring should be replaced immediately.
  • Wash the rod with lukewarm soapy water and a soft sponge. An old tooth brush will remove the dirt from the guide rings and reel seat.
  • Getting the cork grip to look like new again is easy. Take some very fine, waterproof sandpaper (the one used for car paint jobs) and a bar of ordinary hand soap. Wet the rod grip and sandpaper thoroughly. Apply soap on the sandpaper and gently rub the grip. Be careful not to scratch the rod itself or the reel seat. Rinse, let dry and admire the result.
  • Small holes can be filled with natural coloured wood putty or with a mixture of cork filings and woodglue.
  • Once the rod is clean and dry, spray it with plastic renovator or furnishing spray. You can apply a very light coating of fine oil on the reel seat.
  • Avoid stuck ferrules by rubbing some parafin (or candle wax) on the male ferrules.
  • The best way to stow a rod over long periods is to hang it in its bag on a nail or clothes hanger inside a wardrobe.

Reel Care

Reel manufacturers have a difficult task as we want our fly reels to be light, yet very strong and rigid. They have to look good and be saltwater resistant. The drag must be ultra smooth and yet have train-stopping power. Oh! and please, can you make them affordable as well?

Reel design is all about making compromises between what is needed and what can be done… within a reasonable price: aviation grade aluminium is lightweight and fairly strong, yet corrodes very easily. Titanium would be much better, but it's also highly unaffordable. So let's stick to aluminium and in order to protect it from the elements, we can paint it (no good for saltwater use) powdercoat it (better) or anodize it. Still, many parts like screws, nuts, washers, springs etc… have to be made from other materials like stainless steel, titanium, brass, bronze or even tempered steel. The combination of different metals may also cause corrosion problems due to what is known as electrolysis. Right. So our reels are not 100 per cent corrosion proof and what can we do about it? Just follow these simple tips:

  • Avoid dipping your reel in water as much as possible and certainly in saltwater.
  • Don't knock the reel against rocks, boat decks, hard floors etc. Small scratches and dents expose bare metal which will corrode.
  • On a boat always place the rod butt (and reel) on a damp cloth, so it will not slide and scratch.
  • Never drop the reel in sand! Sand grains are very hard and can scratch the inner housing, damage drag disks and even ball bearings.
  • On a moving boat, make sure the reel is not exposed to spray. The power of the spray can force sea-water deep into the reel where it will attack the ball bearings. Even though a ball bearing housing is made from stainless steel, the balls themselves are not. A corroded ball bearing will heat up and seize - in the middle of the fight with your fish of a life time. I have seen it frequently.
  • Immediately after fishing, rinse the reel under a LOW pressure tap. Remove the spool, shake off excess water and leave it to dry before reassembling.
  • Back home after a saltwater fishing trip, and before putting the reel away for a long period, give it an in-depth clean: remove the fly line and backing, scrub carefully with hot soapy water to remove salt crystals, rinse and dry with a clean cloth.
  • NOTE: reels should NOT be soaked for long periods. One, because the fresh water will not dislodge salt trapped in the tightly wound backing. Two, because water will penetrate in the ball bearings and cause rust (remember they are neither waterproof nor stainless). Soaking can also distort cork drag plates and cause a jerky drag.
  • Apply new grease and lubricate according to the manufacturer's instructions. Apply a light coating of oil or car polish on the housing. For those who fish year-round in saltwater, in-depth reel maintenance should be done at least four times a year.
  • Stow (saltwater) reels preferably empty. Backing may be left on the reel, provided it is completely desalinated and dry.
  • Always loosen the drag completely when the reel is not in use.
  • Fine leather (hand crafted) reel pouches lined with sheepskin are not suited for saltwater use. They trap salty moisture and cannot be washed. Like with rods, it is advisable not put a wet reel in its pouch, especially after saltwater fishing. If the pouch gets wet, it should be washed and desalinated.
  • Don't stow a reel in its pouch, better to put it on shelf inside a cabinet.

Fly lines & backing

Fly lines get damaged in various ways, but the most important one is mechanical wear: ripping through the guide rings (especially the tip top), getting trampled on, dragging over coral, or through sand and mud, just to name a few. Then there is also UV radiation, excessive heat and certain chemicals (pollutants in rivers and lakes, suncream, oil, etc).

The leading fly line manufacturers build a lubricant into the fly line coating. Because the coating is slightly porous, it slowly releases the lubricant, keeping the line slick and floating. Excessive dirt will clog the pores, preventing the lubricant from doing its job and that is why we should keep our lines clean as much as possible.

Left on a small diameter spool (a fly reel for instance) for a long period, our fly line will remain coiled when it comes off the spool. This phenomenon is known as line memory. A pig-tailed fly line hampers casting and affects fly delivery and striking.

Without proper care, a fly line will last only one season or less, but we can extend the life of fly lines to several years with a minimum of effort.

Backing hardly needs any maintenance for freshwater fishing, but in saltwater it can get affected by salt, UV radiation and mildew. One of my clients once lost two sailfish due to rotten backing… Yes, that's right, he lost two expensive fly lines as well!

Backing tends to be forgotten and is left on the reel without another thought. Yet it should be inspected frequently for damaged or weak spots (coral head or oyster bank encounters). When drying up, salt crystals can cake backing together. Discover this when that long-hoped-for permit makes a run for the horizon and all you can do is hope and pray…

Some line tips:

  • Immediately after fishing, rinse the fly line under a tap, before salt and dirt dry. Preferably stow on a large arbour, vented spool until the next fishing day.
  • At least four times a year and more frequently when fishing in saltwater, fly line and backing should be soaked in hot soapy water for several hours. This will release dirt and salt. Do not use washing-up liquid, as this changes the surface tension of the fly line and reduces floatability. Better to use natural hand soap or baby shampoo.
  • Apply line dressing regularly but sparsely. Be careful with certain silicone based dressings. They can do more harm than good. Always read the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Stretch the line before fishing, it will cast much better.
  • Dragging a fly line over rocks, marl, sand, docks and decks damages the finish. If you have to walk some distance, better pick up the flyline in loose coils.
  • Try not to trample your line, use a line tray, especially when fishing from rocks, coral or marl.
  • Practise casting on a lawn and not on dirt or asphalt.
  • Don't leave your fly line exposed to the sun when not in use.
  • Store a double taper fly line on a a large arbour,vented spool between fishing sessions instead of on your fly reel. You will be able to reverse it and use the rear taper next season.
  • To remove twists and kinks, take off leader and fly and troll the line behind the boat for a few minutes. On a river, just let the line hang in the current. Removal of twists can also be achieved by pulling the flyline between your fingers - always from the rear end towards the front taper. Use a piece of cloth to avoid burned fingers. You might have to repeat the operation several times.
  • Damp fly lines and backing in a enclosed environment will get stained and sticky from mildew. It attacks the finish, which results in poor casting and reduced floatability. To prevent mildew on backing and flyline, better to stow it on a large arbour, vented spool.

Catching large fish is often a combination of luck, local knowledge, skill and perseverence. It is ONLY possible with fishing gear in perfect condition. How many specimen fish get away because of failing tackle? Can one honestly call it bad luck? As a guide, I provided rods and reels to my clients and I couldn't afford to have them loose fish because of poorly maintained tackle.

Once, a French angler lost a fine yellowfin tuna after battling the fish for more than one hour. We thought the tippet had broken, but it appeared that he'd spit the fly. To my utter surprise, inspection of the fly revealed the 6/0 stainless steel hook had broken. I felt miserable for my client. After each day on the water, I always rinsed the flies we used and yet, the humidity trapped in the fly's feathers and bucktail fibres had caused the hook to rust unnoticed. That night, I checked all my flies and discarded almost the whole lot. Stainless steel hooks they said? Yeah, right. Today, all my off-shore flies are tube-flies…

So, you'd better keep a close eye on your stuff! It only takes a little effort, but you will save big bucks on tackle and lines. And when the big one strikes, you will be ready for him!

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