Do You Clean Your Fly Reels?

We've had multiple snow storms here in New England with plenty of white stuff around. Unless we have a warm January or February, we will most likely be blanketed at least until trout season opens on April 1st. Although there is still plenty of trout fishing to be had around here in the winter, most of our saltwater gear for stripers, bluefish, and albies is slumbering until spring.  After months of salty endeavors, our reels need some TLC.  Saltwater is brutal on everything that it touches and a fishing reel that has been essentially swimming in the Atlantic ocean for months will need a refresh. Buying good quality gear is a big factor in how long it will last. But, taking care of this gear is the only thing proven to keep gear even longer...

Whether you have a trip booked in a month for bonefish and tropical flats or you are putting your saltwater gear away for the winter, here are some tips for keeping your fly reels ready for whatever you have planned next...

Taking The Backing Off

Cleaning Your Fly Reels - Saltwater Fly Reels

This is something that I think gets overlooked quite a bit by anglers. A lot of people treat and clean their fly lines, but ignore their backing. Dacron backing specifically breaks down much quicker than the higher-end gel spun, braided, or similar types of premier backing. The main reason for this is that dacron gets damaged by UV rays much easier and also absorbs and holds water much more than other backing materials. This causes saturated/salty backing to sit on your reel throughout the season and slowly degrade on itself and also potentially your reel. The only way to tell if dacron has gone bad is when you watch a fish swim away because your backing broke. Dacron is also inexpensive enough where it is very much worth changing it out every season. Plus it gives you a clean slate to clean your entire fly reel. 

Take A Closer Look

Cleaning Your Fly Reels - Fly Fishing

The above picture shows a very common issue. If you look in between the backing and the spool, you will see salty/mineral build-up. This happens all the time to almost every reel especially if fished in the salt regularly. This is piggy-backing on another reason to strip your backing off...if that were to sit like that for extended periods of time it will only cause degradation to the reel and problems in the future. Check all screw holes, corners, and any other small spots that would collect/trap salt.

Rinse - Scrub - Repeat

Cleaning Fly Reels

After you have been able to take a good look over your reel, it's time to get it clean! Running some warm (not hot) water in the sink and applying additional scrubbing with a tooth brush can be a great way to fully clean off your fly reel. Get all the hard-to-reach areas and leave no spot left for corrosion. 

Cleaning Fly Fishing Reels

Let Sit In Water

After you have gone over the entire reel and done some cleaning with a brush - it's a good idea to let the reel sit in some warmer water for a little while. This will help to break down any additional salt/minerals that have built up which didn't come off already. After a short soak, make sure to give a thorough rinse! I do not advise people to leave their reels in the sink overnight as I believe reels sitting in (borderline) salty water doesn't help much nor has it provided any additional benefits. 

Dry + Store 

It's important to make sure that your reel is completely dry before storing. Putting a damp reel back into a case/box/etc and allowing it to sit like that for months will certainly kickstart entropy! 

I hope this helps! I will be posting up more "cleaning and maintenance" blog posts soon, so keep an eye out!

Words + Photos: Josh Thelin


Frank M:

Great article Josh, and the visual support really drove home the point. Now for us guys down here in FL just have to figure out when we could find the time to do the cleaning. I get to use my gear year round (not trying to rub it in) just a reality.

Dec 19, 2017

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