5 Tips for Preparing Your Lines and Reels for a New Season

Written by: Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.

Spend a few minutes giving your reel and line a tune-up. . .or you might live to regret it.
Photo by Tim Linehan

Recently, I was going through gear in preparation for my first guide trip of the season. As I started pulling line off a reel, I immediately noticed two things. First, the line was filthy and instead of being slick and bright yellow, it was dull and almost gray. Additionally, it didn’t come off the reel smoothly, and I could actually hear grit inside the reel each time I gave the line a pull.

Like tuning skis before you hit the slopes for the first run of the season, it’s easy and important to tweak and prepare your lines and reels before you hit the water to help assure proper performance.

Here are five tips that will help you get your line and reel ready for opening day.

  1. Check your line for cracks. Fly lines have a life. Depending on how much you fish and the conditions you fish in, your floating line may only last a season. If your line is cracked, it’s time for a new one.
  2. If your floating line isn’t cracked and is just dirty, clean it. This is easy to do. Strip the line off the reel into a sink of soapy water. Swoosh the line around a bit and manipulate the first thirty feet with your fingers, since that’s likely the dirtiest part of the line. Rinse with fresh water, and pinch the line with a towel to dry it as you reel it up again.
  3. Treat your line with any variety of products designed to improve performance. You can find line treatment products at your local fly shop.
  4. Check your reel seat to make sure the screws are tight. Over the course of a season, it’s not uncommon, depending on usage, for a screw to loosen. (This is true of us fly-fishing guides, as well.)
  5. Remove the spool and check the drag system. Clean all moving parts to help it function smoothly. Use tools like Q-tips, photo cloths, and air canisters (like the one you use to blow off your keyboard) to wipe and remove grit from the spool, inside of the reel, drag gears and system, etc. Be sure to follow manufacturer specifications when disassembling and treating drag systems.

Preparing fly lines and reels before you hit the water for opening day is easy and quick. Clean, slick casting lines and smooth-running drags might make the difference between pinning and landing that big fish. . .or not.

Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. on the Kootenai River in Troy, Montana.

9 thoughts on “5 Tips for Preparing Your Lines and Reels for a New Season”

  1. To point #2, how do you do this without creating a birds nest? I never seem to be able to figure that part out.

    1. Brian, Billy’s process sounds great. I just leave the reel to the right of the sink. I then pull off about ten feet of line at a time into the sink, massage it a bit, and the let it fall to the kitchen floor in big, open loops. Then repeat with another ten feet. I finish by reeling the line up again while pinching it between my fingers of the the other hand in a towel.

  2. Brian, I like using a large bottle (such as a bottle of Jameson) to wrap the line around as I soak it. I’ll pull the line off of the reel and wrap it around the bottle in the soapy water. I then use another bottle in a similar fashion for cleaning the line. As I strip the line off of the first bottle and through a paper towel, I then wrap the line around the second bottle just like the first. You can do this as many times as you need when transferring from one bottle to the next. I hope this makes sense.

  3. Hey Phil, cleaning grit out of the reel is easy. Simply disassemble the reel by removing the spool via manufactures specs. Use tools like Q-tips, photo cloths, and air canisters (like the one you use to blow off your keyboard) to wipe and remove grit from the spool, inside of the reel, drag gears and system, etc.

  4. How do you clean and treat the Hydros HD lines with all the small nodules along the line? I like the Rio cleaning pads but afraid the micro abrasions of the cloth will damage the line. Is it ok to use this cloth or only micro fiber cloth?

    1. i don’t think a microfiber cloth would be more abrasive than the guides on your rod that the line is going through all season long

  5. All 5 tips are good and time tested. I use 3 clean 5 gal buckets to clean my floating line. One has ‘warm’ ( not hot) soapy water (any good dish detergent will do). My second bucket has clean warm water. The third is empty and I attach my reel to a Rod butt and cradle the short section of the Rod and reel over the empty bucket to keep it off the ground. I first strip the line off the reel, about 2’ at a time, into the soapy water using a clean soft cloth to pull the line thru; any nick’s or cuts will be felt. I give the line a gentle push into the water to ‘stack’ the line so it doesn’t knot up. I strip all the line off and inspect the knot to backing as well. Let the line sit in soapy water about 10 mins. Then use a dry cloth to strip the line from the soapy water to the clean water. Last I use another dry cloth when I wind the line onto the reel. Been using this method for 40 yrs with good results

  6. To clean, I stretch the line from the kitchen to the end of the house. Then take clean cloth, dip in soapy water (Dawn) and run the cloth over the line twice. Then take whatever treatment you have and do the same. Really doesn’t take long and works….

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