mackerel fly

WaterLine file photo

If you want to target Spanish mackerel during the spring run, you need to be ready to make quality casts.

Last week, one of my clients was having difficulty shooting any line and extending his casts. I kept watching to figure out the problem. But his technique seemed good, his timing was there and the mechanics looked solid. He turned and looked at me and asked, “What am I doing wrong?” I told him to cast again and he did. Again, everything looked good but still no distance.

I suggested we look at his line. It wasn’t kinked or twisted. He hadn’t missed a guide as he strung up his rod. I could only think of one more thing to check, so I asked, “When was the last time you cleaned your line?” He gave me a wide-eyed stare and said, “Never?” OK — found the problem.

So I reached in my bag of tricks and grabbed a clean rag, some plain soap (no detergent), a bottle of fresh water out of the cooler, and began cleaning his line. After a few minutes and three of four times of pulling his line through the rag, we stopped to look. The rag had greenish-black streaks all over it. That was just gunk that had built up on the line coming off the line into the rag. It was pretty ugly.

I then grabbed a bottle of line dressing and applied it to the line, then wiped it down to remove the excess and told him to try another cast. Bang! Sixty-plus feet. “Now we’re ready,” he said with a relieved smile on his face.

There are a number of reasons why a fly line should be cleaned. Fly lines are actually quite porous, so they tend to collect dirt and debris easily. As this debris builds up on the line, you will notice a few different things happening. The line may not shoot well. You may notice a floating fly line not floating as high as it should (or even sinking). As the line moves through the guides, you may hear a scratchy or scraping sound. You’ll also think your fly line feels gritty in your hands. Well, it is gritty. Clean it!

How does a fly line get dirty? Easy. If you are practicing your casting (and I know you all are practicing) over the grass, that’s great — keep it up. But take a minute to run your fly line through a wet rag to knock the dirt off as you reel it back on the spool.

Casting in water can get your line dirty too. What? Water? Sure, even casting in a freshwater pond can get your line dirty. Haven’t you ever heard of pond scum? Moss, algae, salt, even floating particles in a trout stream — all of it will eventually collect on your line. Cleaning your line will reduce friction in the guides, reduce tangling and improve flotation.

Exposure to heat (like being left in a hot car or garage) isn’t good for a line either. Heat will start breaking down the bonding agents in the line and they will begin to crack. Not good. Solvents found in insect repellents, sunscreens, and even some fly line floatants will also breakdown the integrity of a fly line and cause cracking and premature wearing down of the fly line. Cleaning, stretching and treating will help with all of these also.

There are a number of products on the market to clean fly line. Scientific Anglers and Glide are two that I use. Scientific Anglers has a specially designed cleaning pad. Pulling the line through this slightly abrasive pad cleans it. Then apply Scientific Anglers fly line dressing. You can buy the fly line dressing and the pad separately or as a kit.

You can also apply the dressing to wet fly line while you are fishing. I carry a small bottle in my bag of tricks on the boat or in my vest when I’m wading. LL Bean recommended using Umpqua cleaner/dresser box. Other fly fishers recommended Wilson Creek Greased Lightnin’. It comes with a cleaning pad and reportedly works great. If you clean your line often, your line will have a dry and slick finish (this is good).

There are other methods to clean fly line, including some they won’t tell you about in the fly shops. Wash the line with warm soapy water in a tub or bucket, then wipe it with a cloth or sponge dampened with Armor All. Wipe the line with a dry cloth and then reapply the Armor All. When you pull the line through the dry cloth, apply a slight pressure. If you haven’t cleaned your line for a while, you will not believe the dirt on the dry cloth.

Another fly fisher told me he cleans his line with vinegar and then uses Armor All. Reel Magic is another one that I use from time to time for a quick clean after fishing or casting on grass. Some anglers prefer 303 Protectant instead of Armor All. They say it will stay on longer.

This one is from a fishing guide in the Florida Keys. He washes his line in warm soapy water and then he applies the silicon the dive shops use to lubricate the O-rings on scuba diving equipment. He leaves it overnight to dry and then cranks it back onto the reel.

As you can see there are a lot of ways to clean your fly line. Although I have used them all, I try to stick with products that are made for fly line. That way there’s no question whether it’s OK to use on these expensive PVC and polymer-coated strings.

One more tip: Take the time once in a while to clean the guides on your rod also. They scrape some of the gunk off of your line and you will get a buildup on the guides themselves which will hurt the performance of your cast.

After casting a dirty line, then cleaning and applying one of these conditioners, you will not believe the difference in your fly line performance (and longevity). Keep it clean and let’s go fish. As I write this we are just getting through another cold front that really seemed to make my fish squirrelly. But it’s passed and the water is warming back up. Bait is showing up and fishing is getting good.

Stay fly.

Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit or

Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit or


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