Time on the river is precious. It is always a shame to have one’s short fishing day made even briefer by poorly maintained tackle. Over the years we have had many guests who having previously sworn to us that all was well with their inherited fishing setup, return at lunchtime with tales of woe; that their day has been cut short due to simply not having a functioning rod and line anymore. The same equipment failures tend to repeat themselves time and time again and most could have been avoided with a little pre trip TLC.
Judging by the state of some fishing bags that we are presented with at morning inspection I suspect that for most fisherman their tackle is resigned to the cupboard pretty quickly after the last cast of the last season. The fly is snipped, the line wound in, and in the haste of forgetting one’s piscatorial failure, or delighted scamper to the bar celebrating the prowess of being an angling god, there the tackle remains damp, tangled and forgotten.
Therefore, after a long winter of being mothballed and with the trout season upon us, your tackle is worth a check over before venturing our again this spring. Remembering the Army’s six P’s of preparation, (proper prior preparation prevents piss poor performance), here are some suggestions for getting your fly fishing outfit in tip top condition before your first outing of 2021. As ever if you are unsure about setting up your flyfishing outfit properly we would be delighted to assist you, however we would much rather spend our time together talking you through our waters and what the fish are up to.
Wax your rod spiggots! Spigots are the joint between the sections of your rod when assembled. A small application of wax will not only prevent wear and tear to the meeting point surface betwixt sections but also stop unnecessary separation and breakage during any vigorous casting. A light rubbing with a candle or some beeswax is all that is required. You are not trying to build up a thick globular layer, but to evenly apply a thin film over the male part of the spigot. Think of waxing your skis rather than applying wax oil to the chassis of your Landrover.
Inspect rod rings for signs of wear – In the olden days of silk lines, the line itself would pick up grit and dirt during the course of handling and fishing. This would turn one’s line into a very effective ‘rope saw’ which was more than capable of eating through a set of rod rings in a season or two. While modern plastic lines are not nearly as abrasive in their character, when dirty they are still capable of attritionally wearing through your rings season by season. Check carefully for signs of breakage or worn patches. Any roughness or sharp edges will chew through and strip your lovely new fly line. Sometimes rings can be reconditioned with a light rubbing with #2000 grit emery paper but, if they are too far beyond repair, they can always be replaced by a competent rod builder.
Check your rod for any cracks (particularly in the female ferules) or chips caused by past carelessness. They may be an early sign of a weakness in the carbon yet to express itself. Better to replace that section with a manufacturer now than have it go snap on the first day of your trip when far from home.
The fly line is the most important component of your flyfishing setup. Period. You can have the smoothest rod, swankiest reel, and most technically perfected tapered leader on the market, but when paired with a wiry and cracked old fly line your setup will be, well, quite frankly ruined. I am always slightly amazed that having some spent some considerable monies on a week’s sport, quite a large number of individuals will still present at kit inspection with the mangiest old bit of string this side of the bean patch. Most people don’t realise that your fly line has a finite lifespan, and that is considerably shortened absent basic yearly maintenance.
Firstly, strip it from the reel give your line a good look over. If it’s cracked, split, Feels like a wire rope, or dates to the Thatcher era then it’s time for a replacement. For the price of another day ticket, you will transform your fishing experience.
If your line is judged to be in reasonable repair, then it’s time for a few yearly bits of maintenance. If a little wiry and not quite as supple as it used to be, then a quick stretch will help relax the plastic coating around the line’s core. With an assistant (glamourous or no) run the line out across the garden stretching the line in opposite directions (up to 30%) until you meet a reasonable amount of resistance, then relax. Repeat a couple of times stretching and relaxing. A lot of flexibility can be restored to your line with this short routine.
Next up is cleaning the fly line. You can do this simply by soaking your line in warm water and washing up liquid before pulling it through a clean cloth a couple of times. The other option is to buy an inexpensive line cleaning cloth for a few shekels. The amount of dirt removed from what appeared to be a clean line is usually significant. A good clean line will reduce the amount of friction generated as it passes through the rings resulting in much reduced casting effort. This may in turn sort out some of those casting technique kinks you thought you had.
Finally check your leader loop. If the modern welded plastic offering, make sure that it is still sound and free from splits. For the good old-fashioned needle knotted heavy nylon, check that there is no crack forming behind the knot and replace as necessary. If you have some form of braided loop, then chop it off and replace with said aforementioned good old-fashioned needle knotted loop. After witnessing the inadequacies of braided loops for years, we at the Arundell have something of a crusade running against them. They reduce accuracy, ruin presentation, and even when glued let go without warning – they are not to be trusted. If you would like to be shown how to perform a needle knot, then the fisheries team would be delighted to instruct.
Backing is by far the most boring yet overlooked component of your fly-fishing setup. For most people it is wound on and promptly forgotten about for the duration of its stay on their reel. I myself have only ever seen mine exposed in piscatorial combat on a handful of occasions. Each time my heart has been in my mouth thinking about what horribly bodged state it could possibly have been left in when I hastily assembled the reel all those years ago.
It is good practice to strip all your backing from your reel as part of your seasonal maintenance. Firstly, check to see if it is rotten. Backing made from Dacron is susceptible to rotting through or deteriorating under UV light all the while maintaining the appearance of integrity. Secondly check the knot that attaches backing to your fly line. It would be a great shame for it to jam in your tip ring just as it was whizzing out on that once in a lifetime ‘hot fish’ - The ones that get away are the ones that haunt you. A nice, neat nail Knot with the ends trimmed is probably the best method for attachment.
Thirdly strip the whole lot off and wind it back on again properly. This will ensure that there are no nasty tangles or overruns that have spontaneously developed since the line was installed.
Good quality reels should be relatively maintenance free so long are they aren’t mistreated. Any defect will soon be obvious with a quick turn of the handle. As long as it turns freely and smoothly it is probably just fine. For reels without a sealed drag it is worth opening them up and clearing out any grit or debris that may have accumulated. Click and pawl style check mechanisms should then be sparingly lubricated with the appropriate grease or oil along with a sparing drop on the spindle. (NB over lubrication is as detrimental as too little). Cork drags will require seasonal when dirty oiling as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Modern sealed drag reels should require virtually no annual maintenance.
Leaders and Tippet
Nylon and tippet material will deteriorate over time. Through UV exposure and contact with the air your tippet and leaders will gradually lose their rated breaking strength. As such they only have a few years shelf life from when they were manufactured, sad but true. It is simply not worth loosing that fish, and by default leaving a hook in it, for the sake of using dad’s nylon from the bottom of the bag. I’m not advocating purging your whole nylon stockpile every season, far from it, but that vintage spool of unknown provenance, purchased who knows when, really should be cut up and consigned to the recycling.
Flies that are well looked after will last for generations and, inshallah, be chewed to pieces by feisty trout long before they deteriorate. That being said there are two great killers for the contents of your fly box: moths and rust. You should inspect your flies closely when you dig them out of storage. Any signs of moth damage or eggs and the box should be quarantined in the deep freeze for a protracted period. The debris can then be hoovered out and the unmolested saved. Rust is the other terminal factor for flies. Hooks will oxidise remarkably quickly. Any flies hastily returned to the box while wet will rust quickly. Left unattended they will be beyond use in short order. Never put your faith in a rusty hook, replace them with a new tying instead.
All the above recommendations should take you no more than an hour and help you to spend more time on the river and less time pondering the “if only’s”.
The Arundell team are always delighted to help with any technical aspect of your fishing kit, so if you require advice do get in touch. Tighlines for 2021.