Keep your fishing gear in tip-top shape for the next opener
Imagine next spring you grab your tackle to head out fishing and everything is shipshape. Your rods and reels are in immaculate condition, your fishing line is fresh and there's nothing to do except enjoy the action. If this seems like a pipe dream, it doesn't have to be. All you need to do is take a few minutes this winter to properly inspect, clean and organize your gear.
Start by scrubbing your rods with a soft brush and warm, soapy water. Then dry them with a towel and apply some furniture polish. Most importantly, twirl a cotton swab inside each line guide. Any tufts of cotton left behind are a sign the guide's ceramic insert is cracked and needs to be replaced. Next, clean the reel seat, making sure it turns smoothly and tightens properly, and remove any grime on the rod's handle. You can restore a dirty cork handle by rubbing it with fine sandpaper, then extra-fine (slightly coarser sandpaper does the trick for foam handles). To repair a dent in a cork handle, simply lay a wet towel over the mark and apply a hot iron; this should lift out the dent. Once the rods are clean, stick them in large-diameter PVC tubes. And rather than aligning the rods all the same way, slide half tip-first into one end of the tube, and half tip-first into the other end (then wrap an old wool sock around the rod ends). This lets you store twice as many rods in one PVC tube. Finally, pop the end caps back onto the tubes and store them horizontally. Whatever you do, never store your rods by leaning them against a wall; this can damage the tips and distort the action.
First, check your reels for any loose or broken parts, especially the bail and bail-spring on spinning reels. If you find a problem, get it fixed. Otherwise, wash your reels with a soft brush and soapy water, using an old toothbrush to remove any caked-on grease. If you fish in saltwater, don't hose down your reels, as is commonly suggested. Rather than rinsing off the corrosive salt, the water pressure can actually drive it inside. As for the inner workings, I no longer open up my reels to lubricate the gears—every time I used to, a spring went flying or I ended up with a part left over after I put everything back together. And compared with the reasonable price my local reel repair person charges, it's not worth my trouble. If you do decide to take apart a reel, however, one trick to keep track of the pieces is to put each component into a different pocket of an empty egg carton, in the order you removed them. And when it comes to lubrication, less is best. Finally, once the reel has been cleaned and lubricated, be sure to loosen the drag; since the drag system is composed of washers that compress against each other, it will gradually lose its effectiveness if you keep the washers tightly bound.
Before you put your reels away, strip off the old line and spool on some new stuff. I use inexpensive monofilament for backing on most of my reels, then tie on a section of premium line that's one and a half times the length I cast or troll. Do this, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg to fill your reels. Plus, you'll be more likely to replace the short portion of premium line over the season to ensure you always have fresh, strong line on your reel. Finally, once your reels are set for next season, store them in cloth bags—never in plastic, which can trap moisture—in a cool, dark spot.
Now come spring, your efforts will be rewarded with tackle that's fully serviced and raring to go.
Long live the line
Fly line can last several seasons if it's maintained properly. Strip the line off the reel and soak it in a bucket of warm, soapy water to remove dirt clogged in the line's pores (baby shampoo works wonders). Dry the line by pulling it through a towel, then run it through a cloth moistened with manufacturer-recommended floatant or other dressing. Loosely coil the line—which eliminates the memory it can develop on the reel—and make note of its size and type before storing it away.