Fair warning: This column is going to be boring to some of you. I know, I know — you’d rather read about how to catch the big bull redfish we have in the Harbor right now, or maybe you want some tips for hitting red snapper now that we have the next three weekends open. But going after big fish is just a waste of time if your tackle breaks while you’re reeling them in. So prop your eyelids open and pay attention, because this stuff is important.
For a saltwater angler, the big enemy is corrosion. Iron is the main ingredient is steel, and iron doesn’t like being a pure metal. It’s much happier as iron oxide (aka rust). Without getting into the chemistry of it, water speeds that process immensely. If there are chloride ions in that water, it happens even faster. Do you know what makes salt water taste salty? Chloride ions.
Modern metallurgy has brought us alloys that are less likely to rust, or that rust more slowly. But they all have drawbacks, and the big one is cost. Most fishing tackle is made with steel alloys that rust pretty easily.
Once metal rusts, it can’t be un-rusted. There is no cure for corrosion. So it just makes sense that we do what we can to prevent it from happening in the first place. That’s what a regular maintenance regimen will do for you. As a bonus, it will also keep your gear looking nice and in good working condition, saving you money and making your fishing experiences better.
Before every trip
If it’s been a few weeks (or longer) since you were last out, your tackle should be inspected before you leave home. It’s no fun to find out your reel isn’t working right, but it’s something better learned in the garage than when you make your first cast. Crank the handle a few times (just a few — line twist isn’t good), tighten the drag and pull line against it, and give the rod a once-over. Pay special attention to the guide inserts, which sometimes fall out.
After every trip
If you never do anything else to your gear, do this: Rinse your rods and reels with low-pressure water after every trip. It doesn’t matter if they were used or not — if they were on the boat or at the pier, they need a rinse.
By low-pressure, I mean a hose with no nozzle or thumb over it, or a nozzle set to a light mist spray. High-pressure water gets the salt off, but it also has a way of getting inside the reel (and sometimes pushing salt or sand in as well). Any water in your reel is bad medicine.
An optional (but highly recommended) step is to dry your gear with a soft towel and then lightly spray the whole thing down with an anticorrosive. There are lots of these available. I’ve been using Get Some for the past couple years and it works great. Before that I used Inox, but I had to switch when it became harder to find. Both are excellent at rust prevention, and both are food-grade nontoxic and won’t damage your fishing line. WD-40 is a bad choice as it reacts poorly with many plastics, causing them to become soft and gummy.
(Pro tip: When you’re drying and spraying, be sure to get the area where the guide foot meets the rod. Water can collect there. Check your rod right now and there’s probably some rust right in that spot.)
After rinsing and treating with anticorrosive, loosen the drag on your reel. A drag kept tight can weaken or lose smoothness as the drag washers get warped or compressed. This is more of a problem with reels that use felt drag washers than those using carbon washers.
Every three months
The inside of a reel needs to be maintained as well. To prevent damaging metal-on-metal contact, your reel’s gearcase is packed with grease. Over time, this grease begins to solidify. It happens faster if your reel is subject to extreme temperatures (as in, stored in the garage or other location that isn’t air-conditioned) or if the reel sits for extended periods of time. Hard, clumpy grease is a problem because not only is it not doing its job, but it can also get stuck in the moving parts and cause a reel to seize up.
Now, you can do the old-fashioned fix: Wait until the reel doesn’t work right, take it apart, degrease the internals, pack it with new grease, and reassemble (hopefully with all the parts going back where they’re supposed to). Or, you can oil the reel with Get Some a few times a year and never have your grease go bad. If you are the type who just lives for stripping down something mechanical, take the first path. For the other 97% of us, the second option is so much simpler — plus springs never get a chance to sproing across the room.
None of this takes much time. I spend a few minutes cleaning tackle after a fishing trip and then another five minutes per reel once a season. It’s more than worth it to keep my tackle (which isn’t the cheap stuff) in great shape. Protect your investment!