Fall is coming to an end, and for many anglers, so is the season. Once you finally accept that your season is done (if you can finally accept), it’s easy to hang up your gear and forget all about it until the next season rolls around. As fly anglers, and saltwater fly anglers especially, this is a massive mistake. If you have any hopes of keeping your gear functioning at a high level for an extended period of time, you have to treat it well. Salt is a menace when it comes to gear, and if you leave your stuff salty for the winter, you are sure to wake up from your off-season hibernation to a nice growth of rust. Also, if you can manage, try not going into the usual “off-season hibernation”, there is still plenty of fun to be had during the chilly months. Here are 5 tips to take care of your gear this winter and make the wait for next spring go by just a little bit faster.
Give Your Reels a Deep Clean
In my mind, giving your fly reels a good clean is the most important thing to do at the end of the season. Unfortunately salt is fishing gear’s worst enemy and just a little rust can cause some major problems, especially with something having as many moving pieces as a fly reel. To give your reels a good clean, fill a bucket or plastic container with warm fresh water and then let your reels soak for a few hours. Make sure that you separate the spools from the reel frames while they soak so the freshwater can work its magic in all those nooks and crannies where salt builds up. After the reels take their bath, lightly scrub them down in soapy water. Make sure you hit all the hard-to-reach places, just to fully clean out any extra salt and debris left after the soak. Then, leave them out to dry before putting them back together. Along with regular freshwater rinses throughout the season, this extra care will make sure that the components in your reel don’t corrode so you can keep that nice, smooth drag when next season picks up.
Clean Your Fly Line
Keeping with the cleaning theme, the next tip is to clean your fly lines. Cleaning your fly line is super easy and it can add a lot of life to a line that otherwise would be headed for the trash. While you’re fishing, your line picks up salt, slime, deck grime, and sand, all of which will wear away at your line if you don’t deal with it. All you need to do is run your line through a damp rag or paper towel. Brands line Rio do sell specific line cleaner products which do work great, but a wet towel will work just fine.
Take an Inventory of Your Flies
If you’ve been fly fishing for a while, you probably have accumulated quite the collection of various flies. I find that the more overloaded my fly boxes get, the fewer flies I actually use. This seems counterintuitive but it is way more efficient to have a few flies in a few of your favorite patterns in a couple of sizes and a couple of colors. This is also a great excuse to get rid of flies with rusted-out hooks, damaged materials, or just flies that you never use.
Find a Winter Fishery
Yes, this may be a surprise to some of you, but some fish are indeed still alive and active during the Winter. You may be surprised how many quality winter fisheries are around you, and how fun they can be. For starters, and probably the most obvious choice is trout. Trout need little introduction, but for those on the new side of the sport; trout are active year-round and are either wild or stocked in many streams and lakes across the US. If you can find a tough, selective trout fishery, you will have a great opportunity to work on your sight fishing and use of delicate presentations. A new fishery I’m still learning about and excited to try out more for myself is for Holdover Stripers. If you are in the New England area, this could be a cool one to check out. Striped Bass are migratory fish that spend their summers in the Northeast and then travel south back towards the Hudson, Delaware, and Chesapeake for the winter. While the vast majority of these fish partake in this journey, some fish decide to brave the cold and stay in New England’s backwaters through the winter. These fish are called Holdovers and are an elusive challenge for the Striper anglers who like that type of thing. Wherever you are, do a bit of research and I bet you will be surprised by what you find around you.
Scout Out New Spots
While all of the fish might have scooted out, the spots, the water, and the structure are still right where you left it. Use the downtime to scout out new spots; a lot of people go into hibernation at this time of year but you still can put in the time of the water to make next season even more successful. When you can find the time, go for a drive and check out some new areas. When I scout new spots, I look for a few different things; I look for dept, water, structure, and of course fishiness. Depth is pretty straightforward; is this spot a flat, does it have a steep dropoff, are there channels? All of these things are good, they just mean different things. When I say I look at water, I mean I look at how the water interacts with the spot. How do the tides and currents move in this given location? During a particular tide does a near-shore rip form? Is there an outflow from an estuary, etc? Like depth, structure is also pretty simple. Fish like landmarks. My favorite structure to look for is boulders. Being a New England guy, boulders are key in many good Striper spots so I like looking for rocky areas. Remember, anything that stands out in the water and could act as shelter or a landmark is a positive.
With that said, if you read this article and feel a little less dread for this off-season, I will be happy. While it isn’t ideal, there is still plenty you can do to both get ready for next season and make the most out of your time in between.