Alright, it’s Spring, and for me, it’s the start of a new page in the year. I’m part of the group that one could call “fair-weather friends,” because during the winter, my waders are hung on peg in in the garage, and my fly boxes are bone-dry, tucked away in my sling pack. I don’t fish during the winter (except through the ice), and right now, it shows. See, for me, I have a ton of interests: I fly fish, I spin fish, I fish the surf, I drill holes in the ice in January, I hunt almost every available season, and I ski as well. All these things have a time where they come into their own, all those seasons overlap, and I am always prepping for the next adventure right in the middle of the current one.
For fly fishing, the sport that consumes my summer months, this is a bit of an issue. I’ve usually thrown all my fly gear into a closet in the middle of preparing for an October goose hunt, and I generally haven’t done a thorough post-season inventory and wipe down of all my gear. So when March hits, and the birds are returning, I’m behind the eight ball in my preparations for the April opener in my home state of Vermont.
I take a day, and spend it combing over my gear, and assessing what gaps I need to fill in my arsenal, and what needs a little TLC. Here are my top focuses:
Rods & Reels
The engines of my gear, the things that make it all possible. I do my best to take care of my hardware, but things happen. I take out every rod, and give it a real good look. I inspect the foot of every guide, looking for cracks in the enamel, and the male and female connections of each rod piece get the same inspection. The butt of the rod, specifically the reel lock, gets checked out. If there are any nicks or scrapes (rocks win vs aluminum…) I take some sandpaper and knock down any sharp edges. Call it overly cautious, but I’ve scraped waders with some sharp edges before, so it doesn’t hurt.
Reels get a systems check. I store my reels with the drag loose, per the sage advice of Lefty Kreh. It saves the drag, and is an excellent habit to get into. During this checkup, I go through and tighten/loosen the drag and check that it’s functioning properly. I recognize that I’d have to really work to damage the drag on my reels, but the peace of mind brought by checking it at the start of the season is worth the 30 seconds it takes. Next, I check the gears. I clean and grease all my geared reels (some, like my Redington Behemoth, don’t allow access to the gears, so I don’t grease those). I make sure there is full coverage, and touch up if needed (Penn reel grease is my go-to). I also put a drop of oil on the shaft of the handle, and on the post of any reels that have it (lookin’ at you, old click n’ pawls). Of course, if there is any grit or sand, it gets a freshwater cleaning.
These are worth the time spent caring for them. I check the full line, all the way down to the backing, knots and all, on every reel. I strip off the whole line (do it onto a bed or a clean blanket. It keeps grit from the floor off the line), and then run my fingers across every inch of it, checking for nicks and any other damage. If any damage is present, I have a decision to make. Depending on the line, I’ll replace it. This is the case when it’s a line that I’ll really be depending on, such as on my heavier setups (saltwater, pike/musky). These lines get used, hard, and I don’t want to take the chance that it will fail on the water. If it’s a line on a lighter setup, I don’t necessarily replace the line immediately. I’m a sucker for tiny brookies in skinny water, so I don’t always need to have 100% line integrity in those lighter lines. It really depends on the type and extent of the damage. After I inspect the lines, I’ll take a damp paper towel and run the whole line through it. This takes off any major grime and dirt. I’ll then use a line dressing of some sort (there are many brands that make line dressing, so pick one from a reputable brand and you’re good to go – Loon Outdoors – Umpqua – Scientific Anglers – Rio). I’ll retie any knots that are questionable after cleaning, as well. Being consistent about your line care will extend the life of your lines, saving you time and money over time.
I’ll also check my leader and tippet while I’m checking my lines. If the leader is abraded, I’ll replace it. I snip off any tippet and replace that, no matter what. It’s cheap enough to do, and I then have no questions about the quality of my tippet once I hit the water.
Flies & Fly Boxes
This is an area that is incredibly personal. We all have our own organization methods and there are as many ways to keep flies as there are species of bugs on the river. I use this pre-season checkup to add new flies, whether by tying or buying, and remove ones I no longer use or are at the end of their lifespan. I usually have some flies that I placed in a “timeout zone” in a box. Sometimes they’re just there to remind myself they need drying, or I’ve determined that they are a no-go for some reason. I’ll go through each box and remove the no-go’s, and then put everything back in its place. This can be a quick or lengthy process, it just depends on how much upkeep I did during the last season.
I keep what I call a “graveyard” box. This is a box of misfits, patterns I don’t want anymore, or ties that don’t meet my standards. I usually add a few flies to the graveyard box each year. All the flies in it are usable, not complete trash, and I keep them for a good reason: to give away. I know this sounds kinda slimy, giving people flies I’ve deemed unfit for my use, but I don’t give away the truly bad flies. I use the graveyard box as a way to get newbies started in this sport. The cost of new flies can be prohibitive, and the pattern selection process can be daunting. If I have a friend getting into fly fishing, I’ll see if I have any patterns that they could use for the waters they’re fishing. I’ve been given many flies over the years, and it’s always appreciated. If you’re getting rid of patterns or flies that are still useable, keep them, and give them away to people getting into the sport. It’s a small thing, but goes a long way to recruit more people to fly fishing.
I read a lot about fly fishing gear, and over the course of the year new products get released, so I use this pre-season checkup to bring in any new gear I’ve purchased. This year, I’ve got a new Tacky/Fishpond Catch-All fly box waiting for me at a local fly shop. I’m going to be consolidating one or two boxes into this new box, and figuring out how I’m going to organize this new box. I’m intending it to be my go-to trout box, so it’ll be dries, nymphs, and some small streamers. This will also help me identify any gaps in my pattern selection, so I’ll be tying or buying flies to fill those gaps.
Waders, packs, and Gear in General
The last big focus are my wearables. This includes packs, waders, and any other apparel. This year, I’ve got two big things in this category that I’m thinking about: my pack, and my waders. I mentioned I have a sling pack at the beginning. Right now, it’s my only pack. However, it’s pretty large, and I found last season that I didn’t need all that space all the time. I’ve been doing research all winter, and I am leaning toward a smaller chest pack, something that can do what I need it to while taking up less space, and being much lighter. I’m not quite sure when I’ll be getting this new pack, but this gear walkthrough is bringing it to the forefront of my mind.
As for my waders, well the issue is that they sprung a leak at the end of the season last year. It happens, as we know, so I’ve been doing research on waders all winter as well, and I’m pretty settled on the Redington Sonic-Pro waders. Again, I use this assessment of all my gear as the time to make any new purchases, if I haven’t already. It gives me enough time to get everything in order before the season really picks up.
The other gear checks I do are making sure I have my pack accessories in order. Are my nippers sharp? Are my forceps still working, or do they need replacing? Are the zingers on my pack and my wading jacket all working? Do I have my lightweight rain jacket (I have my beefier wading jacket for when I’m wearing it all day. I keep a lightweight one in my pack for when it MIGHT rain, just in case) prepped in my pack? Are my sunglasses in the pack and clean/unscratched? I replace/repair anything that needs it.
Put the Mess Back Together
By the time I’m done with everything, it’s dark out, my room is a mess, and the dog is looking at me like I’m crazy! But as I clean it all up and store it neatly, I’m in touch with my gear again, I have my list of things to replace or repair, and I’m chomping at the bit to get back on the water. Being diligent about this checkup has saved me the headaches of years past, where I get to the river and realize I don’t have a vital piece of gear. Taking the time now streamlines my fishing trips, and puts me in a perfect position to hit the water hard at first light on opening day.
“A born and raised Vermonter, I’ve been playing outdoors since I was a kid. Hunting and fishing are my passions, and I’ve traveled the Northeast to pursue both activities. I’m a college student, and I pass on the values of conservation of wild places, lands, and waters at every available opportunity. I’m a complete gearhead, and love researching gear and accessories that can better enable me to get outside and enjoy the natural world.”
Instagram handle: @elimfavro