There are a lot of things to consider when caring for your gear – including fly lines. After all, it’s one of the three critical components to any setup (rod, reel, line) and it’s the main artery connecting you and a fish. So taking care of it is as important as picking the right fly for the piece of water you’re fishing.
And while there are various fly line brands, styles and weights, the maintenance considerations will be just about the same regardless. For instance, the September 2019 Guide Series box featured Cortland 5 weight line and can be used on any 5 weight rod/reel setup, but you might already have your go-to setups rigged with 3wt or 6wt from another brand. In the end, the weight of the line, reel and rod all coincide so the whole setup is balanced; and having well-maintained fly line might just mean more fish to the net. So, here are 5 tips to keep your fly line ready and willing to catch fish.
Load it Right
Fly line is attached to a reel by a thin, yet strong, length of line called backing. The backing connects to the arbor of the reel, fly line is tied to the backing, leader is tied to the fly line, and your flies attach to the leader/tippet. The important part here is to make sure you check the reel specifications. While reels can typically hold 2 or 3 different line weights, they have limited space. Check the spec sheet and make sure you don’t overload your reel. If there is too much backing, your fly line won’t fit; or worse, it will just fit, but grind against the reel, causing unnecessary stress to the line. That constant rubbing will ultimately get the best of your line and wear it out well before it’s actual expiration.
Practice Your Cast
To all my wind knot brethren: I feel you. I love those BIG casts as much as any angler, but letting the line lay out on your back cast before throwing it forward will do wonders(i.e., reduce the likelihood of knots). The cut and dry of it is knots kill fly line. They create weak points and risk losing fish. Once your rod and reel are set up, practice your cast. On a calm day, find yourself a big field, open pond or other area without trees or other vegetation to snag and practice casting without a fly; just you and your line. If it helps, count out 2 to 3 seconds while your back cast lets your line lay out behind you, then cast forward. By practicing your cast, you’ll reduce the likelihood of jumbled knots and increase the life expectancy of your fly line.
Keep it Clean
Rinsing off your fly line helps remove dirt, debris and especially saltwater…and it’s really easy. While you don’t need to clean or rinse your line after every day on the water, it should be a common practice at the end of the season, especially if you’re fishing a lot of saltwater or if your line is noticeably cruddy. You don’t necessarily need to take all your line off if you’re doing regularly occurring cleanings. Simply take the reel apart (detach the reel from the spool) and follow a few steps. Once the spool is off, soak it in warm water for a few hours to help breakdown any dirt or saltwater from the line. Then mix up a mild detergent and warm water bath and gently scrub the line and spool. Give it another rise in a fresh warm water bath and let it dry.
Dress it & Protect it
There are specialty cleaning and protection products on the market to extend the life of your fly line. If you’re the type of angler that really enjoys tech‘ing fly line, this might be for you. After you clean and dry your line, add all the specialty product you see fit (like some Slick Willy, perhaps?). It’s also important to try to skip drastic temperature swings, so don’t let it bake in your car all summer long or freeze in the bed of your truck all winter. Remember – if it’s broken, you can’t catch fish with it.
Speaking of catching fish, the best way to know if your fly line needs maintenance is to fish it! This is when you feel any dirt, debris or weird hiccups in your line, and when you can physically see knots. So get on the water and throw some line – oh, and when you’re done, clean it off, of course.
Based in southern Colorado, Ryan is a photographer, outdoorswoman, fish chaser, and proud mama to two wild Outdoors-loving kiddos. When not wrangling little ones or cattle dogs, you’ll find her on the water, on a trail or on the road looking for the next piece of water and (hopefully) high country trout.