This time of year is usually accompanied by a boost in personal energy level. Though sometimes difficult to describe, we can "smell" spring in the air. As our semi-hibernation comes to a close we notice an increased desire to plan for upcoming outdoor events.
As fly fishers we begin thinking and planning not only our first trip of the year but future summer trips as well. In order to help maximize enjoyment from these trips some early spring preparation, in terms of checking supplies and performing routine maintenance on our equipment, is time well invested.
On a recent trip to the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta the fishing was so fast and furious on nymphs I was grateful my equipment did not lessen my experience but performed perfectly. Had my reel drag malfunctioned or my leader been old and weak more than one good fish would have missed a date with my camera.
Modern fly fishing equipment has helped all of us become more effective at our sport. Whether it is casting farther, wading more confidently or getting an extra long, drag free drift with our flies, the equipment we use is seldom the limiting factor. However, ignoring proper and timely maintenance can severely hamper not only our abilities as fly fishers but also our overall enjoyment of this placid, reflective activity. Although much of what follows can be viewed as just "common sense" it is all to often forgotten. Our overall enjoyment can be severely limited by an equipment problem. This article is intended as a checklist to help avoid trip disappointments.
Modern fly rods represent a significant investment and as such deserve a thorough, pre-season inspection. Areas requiring special attention include guides and tip-top, ferrules, cork grips and reel seats. Probably the most critical of these are the guides and tip-top. Even though most guides are made of stainless steel with a coating of industrial grade hard chrome a dirty fly line can groove these guides in an amazingly short time. The fly casting motion can easily generate line speeds of 80-100 km/hr and a dirty fly line will act like an abrasive "sandpaper" as the line shoots through the guides on the cast.
Besides significantly reducing casting distance, these grooved guides will quickly ruin a new $50 fly line. Check the guides under a magnifying glass or better yet retrieve an old pair of nylon pantyhose. When a portion of the hose is pulled through the guide a snag will form if a groove is present. Tissue paper can also be used in the same way. Tiptops are the most prone to this type of wear but the snake guides may also be affected.
If the tiptop requires replacement many tackle shops that sell fly rod tiptops should be able to remove the worn one and replace it with a new one for you. Worn guides are more complicated to replace and consulting with your local fly shop or a custom rod builder is strongly suggested.
Check the ferrules for any grit or cracks. To clean them simply wipe them down with a damp cloth. Most rods are now manufactured with a "tip over butt" sleeve-type ferrule and should NOT have any type of wax applied to them the way the older spigot ferrules required. Should you find a crack (particularly in the hollow, female end) the life expectancy of your rod is likely to be very short. Repair is difficult at best and often impossible. If you simply cannot part with that rod check with a reputable rod builder or your local fly shop for advise. Unfortunately ferrule damage is usually terminal.
When checking the reel seat make sure the glue bonding the components together is still reliable. Gently try twisting the components and if no "give" is felt then the components are probably secure for another season.
Should one or more of the components twist then remove them from the rest of the reel seat and re-glue using any regular grade, 2-part epoxy. If the reel seat is of the screw locking type ensure the grooves are clean and do not bind the nut when worked.
One final touch, rub the rod and guides down with a silicone cloth (commonly sold in gun shops) to renew the blank's factory luster, decrease fly line to guide friction and provide some protection against the elements during your outings.
A miracle of modern technology, new fly lines not only have a long lasting but also durable PVC coating that has benefited all fly fishers in becoming better fly casters. Unfortunately, since the waters we fish are not as dirt free as we imagine the lines we fish with will pick up some of this grit.
Left unattended not only will the finish deteriorate more rapidly but, as mentioned earlier, the guides will become grooved in short order. There are many fly line dressings available commercially but choosing one sold by a fly line manufacturer usually ensures you have bought a quality cleaner that will also leave a water-repellent coating on the line. This coating will also help the line remain supple longer. Suppleness helps reduce distance-robbing coils from developing (often called line memory) in addition to the need to regularly "stretch" your line to remove the coils.
Be very cautious when stretching modern fly lines. This has been identified as the #1 cause of line failure causing cracking and checking in the line's finish. The fly line is constructed of PVC coating over a core of dacron. Excessive stretching may cause these two components to separate internally and cracking/checking is then sure to occur. Dress/clean your fly line often, preferable after every day's fishing, and the line's suppleness and coating will endure for several seasons. If you are going to clean your sinking line DO NOT use the line dressing used for floating lines. You will impair your line's ability to sink! Simply wash the line in a mild detergent and then wipe clean.
Today's fly reels are machined to incredible tolerances and any amount of grit or sand can cause significant wear inside the reel itself. It's always a good idea to wipe the outer and inner surfaces of your reel with the same silicon cloth used on your rods to help preserve its finish and functionality longer.
One of the biggest problems that occur when servicing any reel is over lubrication. The saying goes: "if one drop of oil is good then 3 drops is 3 times as good". Right? WRONG!!! It does not help the reel function any better by having the internal components "floating" in lubricant. In fact the added oil will simply trap that much more grit and eventually ruin your investment.
Use a high-grade oil sparingly by putting just one drop on each of the following parts: the center shaft, the click pawl, inside the spool cavity where the spool lock mechanism is and on the reel handle. A good sewing machine grade oil is fine for all these tasks. Should your reel have a disk drag with a cork surface, place a couple of drops of Neet's Foot oil on the cork and let it soak in. This will keep the cork from drying out and chipping away. It also helps keep the drag working smoothly.
Lastly, if your reel was assembled with machined screws rather than rivets make sure they are tight. Few things are worse than having the reel body drop away from the reel foot while fighting a fish. However, this is said to only happen when you're fighting a "fish of a lifetime"!
Monofilament leaders do deteriorate over time, even if not exposed to UV light. Replace them with the onset of the new season. You should only have to do this once if you use tippet material on your leaders. You can save yourself quite a bit of money if you simply add tippet material to your leader as the original tippet becomes too short. For example, if you normally use a 9 foot, 5x leader then buy a 7 1/2 foot leader of 3x diameter and attach 2 1/2 feet of 5x tippet material to it. Use a double surgeon's knot to attach the tippet. Now, during the season as your tippet shortens due mainly to changing flies, replace the tippet with the tippet material. This way you keep your original 7 1/2-foot leader all year!
Regardless of what type of wader you wear few things are more frustrating than having a "slow leak" in them that over the period of a day turns your feet into prunes. Either of the following methods can be used to locate those pin hole leaks. The easiest way is to take your waders into a completely darkened room and shine a flashlight inside the waders. Then look over the outside of the waders for a tell tale beam of light. Mark the spot with a piece of chalk. Conversely, fill your bathtub with water. Tightly roll the top of your waders thus trapping air in the waders themselves. Submerge the waders in the water (someone's help here is indispensable since the waders are very buoyant with the trapped air), squeeze the waders a bit to compress the air and look for escaping air bubbles. Again mark the spot. This second method is somewhat awkward and messier than the first. If you simply can not find a leak chances are it is occurring along a seam and water pressure while wading is forcing the water into the waders. In this case it's usually best to send them to the manufacturer and have the seam re-glued and taped properly. If you do find the offending pin hole in your waders patch it from the INSIDE of the wader using one of the many wader patch compounds on the market such as Aquaseal or Goop.
Few, if any, would admit to fishing too much. Often trips are anticipated for months and cancellation is only a consideration given to dire twists of fate. However, no matter how unsuccessful the fishing may have been, lifetime memories are almost a sure thing. With a little prior preparation those memories can be transformed from disappointing ones to memories that give us "bragging rights" and the life expectancy of our valued equipment will definitely not suffer.