Tips for Saltwater Fly Gear Maintenance

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing' started by CraigSmith, Aug 12, 2016.

  1. CraigSmith

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    I periodically see reels and occasionally rods come into the shop which have suffered from insufficient maintenance following saltwater exposure. Sometimes the reel can be cleaned up and returned to service but sometimes it needs to go in the trash can.

    By following the practices below I have never had a fly reel or rod become permanently unusable through 20+ years of saltwater fly fishing. You may have other practices which work for you. It generally takes me less than 10 minutes to clean two rods and two reels.

    Flies: After using flies in the saltwater I rinse them in fresh water. If I have time I will soak them for a few minutes before rinsing in the sink, tub, basin, or other container that I cleaned the fly line in. I then let them air dry completely before putting back in a fly box.

    Rods: After a day on the water I will wipe the blank down with a washcloth, paper towel, or rag soaked in warm soapy water. I will then use a toothbrush dipped in soapy water and lightly scrub around the the guides, tip top, hook keeper, and reel seat. Then lightly rinse with fresh water.

    Fly lines: Removing salt residue from the line will help prevent the reel spool from corroding while it is stored. I will strip the entire line into a sink or other container with sufficient water to cover the line. I will put a few drops of liquid dish soap in the water. You don’t need sudsy water. Use soap instead of a detergent which can remove the built in lubricants from fly lines. I like Ivory dish soap. After soaking for a couple of minutes I will wind the line back onto the reel while pulling the line through a wet washcloth or paper towel.

    Reels: In general I follow the manufacturer’s instructions, if any. Maintenance instructions provided with many reels is sketchy though. When I start to clean my reels I spray them down with a spray bottle filled with soapy water and let them sit for a few minutes. This helps loosen salt deposits. Then I will strip off and clean the fly line. With the fly line off I will lightly scrub around the screws on the inside of the spool flange that secure the handle and counter weight. I will then lightly scrub around the handle, counter weight, holes in the spool and frame, where the reel foot meets the frame, and any other areas that can trap salt. Then I will rinse the reel with a light stream of water in the sink and wind the line back on. If the reel has spool that releases with a quick release mechanism I will remove the spool and let the reel dry and wipe any saltwater residue from in the inside of the reel frame and spool.

    Some reels use a pressure fit mechanism that uses an o-ring to keep water and grit out. Waterworks-Lamson and Sage reels are examples. I let these types of reels dry completely before removing the spool for any additional cleaning. Periodically I do remove spools and will lightly brush the interior of the reel frame with a toothbrush and soapy water and wipe with cloth but I don’t do this every time.

    Occasionally I will remove the backing, winding it on to another device. This allows me to remove any salt deposits that have built up between backing and spool. I do this once a year usually but will do so more often if a lot of backing goes into the saltwater repeatedly, such as after a successful tuna trip.

    If a reel with non-sealed drag gets submerged in saltwater I will usually disassemble the reel for a more in depth cleaning.

    High quality reels can go awhile without cleaning. When I spent three weeks fishing remote coastal areas of Australia with limited freshwater I didn’t clean my reels for 3 weeks other than one quick rinse in the shower. My Abel and Ross reels survived just fine but did require more extensive cleaning when I returned home.

    I avoid soaking reels. Soaking reels for an extended time can allow salt to work its way into the drag mechanisms, bearings and spool quick release mechanism and cause performance and corrosion issues. Some manufacturers such as Ross Reels recommend soaking reels for a few minutes. I do soak my Ross reels per the manufacturer’s instructions however one of my older Ross reels did get some corrosion in the drag mechanism that I needed to clean out. I will sometimes quickly give reels with a sealed drag a swish in soapy water after cleaning with a tooth brush.

    Don’t use high pressure spray. A high pressure spray, even the spray from a sink faucet sprayer, can push salt into the interior components and bearings of a reel over repeated sprayings. Spray from a shower head is usually light enough. I rinse my reels using a light stream from a faucet or a hose. One of the most common problems I see with reels is corroded one way roller bearings. This is usually caused by soaking reels or hitting them with a spray that forced water in. You want to rinse the salt off, not blast it off.

    Inexpensive reels: Its often hard to know quality of parts but most will require even more diligence. The classic Pflueger Medalist reels were used for decades for saltwater fishing and held up if cleaned thoroughly and cared for. Most of today’s sub-$100 reels are ill suited for saltwater work. The Redington Crosswater, Surge, and Path are three current (August 2016) exceptions. I have a friend who has been using TFO Prism reels for several years in the salt with no issues. But most any reel will suffice for light work, especially if they have exposed drag and clicker mechanisms which are easy to clean. While high end reels can often go for days without cleaning provided they have not been submerged inexpensive reels will often corrode over night.


    Are Sealed Drags Essential?(hint: no)

    Sealed drag reels are not essential for saltwater fly fishing though some people will opine that they are. Most conventional reels are not sealed nor are most fly reels. Many of the finest fly reels in the world made by Abel, Tibor, Wellstone, Alutecnos, Shilton, and many others are not sealed and have exceptional reputations proven over years or decades of use. I have less expensive Orvis and Scientific Anglers reels without sealed drags which I have been using for more than 20 years without a problem. Reels with sealed drags require a bit less maintenance but you still need to clean to prevent corrosion from affecting other parts of the reel such as spool release mechanisms or drag knob mechanisms. Reels with non-sealed drags are easier to service in the field. Sealed drag reels run from about $100 to $3000+. Generally, the more costly the reel the better it is sealed. Water can still get into some sealed drags for various reasons. Perhaps age of some components, damage, and misalignment at the factory or other reasons. I know of someone who had two $600+ sealed drag reels that ended up with failed drag systems. The company replaced both reels but that wasn’t until they returned from the trip. So you should still clean sealed drag reels. I have also seen a few lower cost sealed drag reels where the drag adjustment knob had frozen due to corrosion. The drag itself was fine but the knob could not be turned.



    Preventative Measures:

    Polish or Wax: I occasionally apply a very light coat of furniture polish to my rods and reels. My favorite product for this is Pledge Lemon Scented wipes. I will wipe down the rod blank and guide wraps. I also will wipe down the interior and exterior of reels, including the spool (with line and backing removed). This helps prevent salt from sticking to the surface. I will do this a couple of times a year. It also helps keep fish scales from sticking to surfaces too firmly. If you spend a day using live or cut anchovies for chum you will understand why I like to apply a bit of wax or polish to my gear.


    Anti corrosive treatments:
    I like Boeshield and Fluid Film to lubricate moving parts such as spool shafts, quick release mechanisms, clickers, spool handles, and reel seat adjustment rings. A light machine oil will also work to lubricate parts but I prefer precuts with anti-corrosive properties like Boeshield or Fluid FiIm. I Particularly like Fluid Film for the the one way roller bearings that are common in today’s reels. I will also use grease as required. Some reel manufacturers will recommend specific products for use on their reels. If not usually a light or medium reel grease is sufficient. I try to match what was on the reel when I bought it.

    Rod Guides: Look to see there the spot where the guide legs go under the wraps is sealed by finish. If it isn’t then salt can work down under the wraps and cause the guide legs to corrode and eventually weaken. Most factory rods are sealed up well but I have encountered a few which were not. I fixed by applying a bit of finish to the gap with a toothpick.
     
    #1 CraigSmith, Aug 12, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2016
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  2. Werfless

    Werfless The Coach
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    Great writeup
     
  3. frenchy

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  4. frenchy

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    Thanks for the tips .....I also use warm water while rinsing all my gear , it helps breaking up the salt deposits . and I have found some inexpensive salt water reels that have worked for me for the last 3 years with out any flaws for under $50.00 .....The OKUMA reels .....and I fish a lot with them 3 to 6 days a week ......i have a 3 of them one is a.... CASCADE 7/9 wt. its that black plastic material ......the other 2 are aluminum OKUMA ...... S L V reels 5/6 wt. and a 8/9 wt. .....no complaints on these reels so far for the money . I haven't used the furniture polish tip yet I will do that now ....thanks again !
     
  5. Dave MILLER

    Dave MILLER Well-Known Member

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    Thank you .
    Very informative and helpful.
     
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