Freshwater fishing in the upper Midwest is full featured. The Great Lakes, reservoirs, lakes, ponds, rivers and all with differing characteristics. In addition to the different types of water weather impacts all this as well. We essentially have a soft water and hard water season. Soft being spring/summer fishing with most openers around the May/June time frame. Hard fishing or what most folks call ice fishing starts in the winter November or December depending on weather and location. Having these seasons cuts the two types of fishing very distinctly. At the end of ice fishing season I am prepping for summer fishing and vice versa. This article aims at preparing for summer fishing. I live in Wisconsin, right across the border by the Twin Cities. I go through this ritual every February and March to prepare. May doesn’t come fast enough.
I will attempt to walk your through the main tasks I go through to prepare, from rod and reel prep to checking my electronics and motors. All are fairly easy but they take time and I’d rather be prepared so that I can get our day one.
NOTE: Consider this a living document. I will be updating from time to time as I learn new tricks, changing how I do things and even fixing grammar. I’ve you’ve read this you’ve likely read (by experience) I’m not an English major. That’s okay, I fish.
Cleaning the Outside of the Reel – For the most party you can use a wet cloth and possibly some cotton swabs to clean it up. Rubbing alcohol can be used but a damp rag seems fine. The best time to clean the reel is when you have the spool off for spining reels. Baitcasters are a bit trickier as they all don’t dissemble the same way.
Oil – Most reels that you are spending ~$60 or more you are likely to be provided some oil. For the most part you want a low viscosity (close to water like). Some of the gears may require grease but the bummer with greas is that it collects dirt, be cautious. Most reels will come with specific instruction and I suggest you read and follow them. The only instruction I’ve never followed is sending them in for a full cleaning. I don’t even know what the cost would be but with the reels I buy it might be better just to buy a new one if all else fails. I’m guessing saltwater fisherman and large game folks have theirs cleaned professionally as those reel get quite expensive.
Replace Line or Back Spooling – Except for a few exceptions, I use super lines on all my reels. At the end I feel its cheaper because the line lasts much longer. In addition, I feel the “back spooling” works well and can save money.
- Putting new line on a reel can actually be challenging, especially mono or floro. Even when you go to these large outdoor stores that will spool for you it’s not likely that you line will be on correctly either. Most fishing lines come with instructions and if followed you should be fine. My big things are:
- Look at the spool and math the line diameters with the spool
- Usually the spool will say something like 12 – 120 meaning at a 12lb mono diameter 120 yards will fit. The standard is to use mono as a guide. All lines essentially compare themselves to mono diameters.
- Don’t over spool
- If using super line, pre-spool with some mono/floro but you don’t need much. I usually you a yard.
- Look at the spool and math the line diameters with the spool
- Back spooling requires some patients and you will be spooling a bit, especially with bait-casters.
- The best suggesting I have for spinning reels is for each reel have two spools. Take the current spool off the real and set it on the floor. Tie a mono/floro leader on end of the line and use an arbor knot on the new reel. Open the bail and put the empty reel on and start reeling.
- Bait-casters get a bit more laborious. Because most bait-casters reels do not have removable spools I end up using a spinning reel to assist in the process. I first tie the end of the line to a spinning reel and start reeling. At this point you can clean your bait-caster. Now you cannot just put the line back on the bait-caster as you wont accomplish the reversal. We now will back spool as we did with our spinning reels (follow those steps). Finally we can attach the end of the line to the bait-caster and spool that up. It’s not fun but can save you some money. Plus, you have to strip the line anyway to put new line on so its the re-spooling part that takes the extra time.
Tag Your Reel – Almost all lines (when you buy them in the ~150 yd length) come with two white tabs. The first one you’ll see right a way as you need to remove it to start spooling. The other is at the end of the line. I use these tabs to mark my reels with line type(brand), weight, back spooled or not and a date. You need to write small to capture all that but once done you don’t have to wonder.
Visual Check – You may find some other issues when you clean your rods but a once over visual check before you start can tell you if you have cracks, missing eyelet rings, etc. If found, you can decide if its something you want to fix or forget (time for a new rod).
Cleaning Cork Handles – Using rubbing alcohol ( Isopropyl alcohol 70%) seems to work very well cleaning grit and grime from your cork handles. It dries fast and doesn’t appear to harm other parts of the rod. Another benefit of using rubbing alcohol is that its fairly cheap and can be used to clean many other things. If you do a search on the Internet you’ll find that you can clean cell phones, CD’s, DVD’s and it can apparently be used for massages. A massage with rubbing alcohol does not sound appealing to me but to each there own. I’ve not used steel wool or sandpaper. Although this might work, I was worried I might damage other parts of the rod. I put some rubbing alcohol on a clean rag and rub the cork much like one would sand it. It will go on wet and may darken the cork a bit, but once it dries it looks brand new. The first time I did this I was impressed how well it worked, easy to do and cheap it was..
Clean and Check Eyelets – As far as cleaning eyelets, rubbing alcohol works well. I use a clean rag and put some rubbing alcohol on it. I then fold the rag over the eyelet and turn it back and forth. I feel this does three things. 1.) If there are large nicks in ring of the eyelet you’ll likely feel them (something that needs fixing). 2.) Another benefit will be to check if the ring is set well. I’ve experienced eyelet rings dislodging from the eyelet. Again, something to fix later. Most eyelet issues I’ve had are at the tip. I find it’s better to replace the tip than fix the eyelet. 3.) The eyelets get cleaned of debris. In addition to the cleaning, you should do a visual check of the eyelets for nicks, etc. I use a lot of super lines and am always nervous that it will create nicks in the eyelet. Depending on the nick it might be fixable. Steel wool or very high grit sandpaper should work well. Find a dowel that you can wrap around the sandpaper/steel wool and turn it back and forth until you feel the nick is gone or does not have sharp edges.
Cleaning the Rod – Rubbing alcohol to the rescue again. Doesn’t appear to damage the varnish on the rod in anyway. If you are nervous, I’d used a damp rag.
Tag Your Rod – This may sound a bit anal-retentive but I like to label all my rods with my name and contact info. I would love to get a role of that adhesive tape they use for fishing lines (the white tab of tape) but have not found any as of yet. You may also want to include some other info like the rig setup. I’ve now a collector of rods and don’t always recall why I bought a rod/reel setup. Okay, seem funny I wouldn’t remember but my wife doesn’t always remember what event/reason she bought a specific pair of shoes, purse, sweater and the list goes on. I don’t feel too bad and the note helps.
Clean – This is activity I suggest this be done outside. I use a wire brush and some sort of solvent. I don’t own any stainless tools as I’ve been able to clean the ones I have very well. I still have the little Rapala pliers and scissors for ~10 years. Each year there’s a little rust on them and the wired brush with the solvent does the trick. One world of warning. The plastic coating on the pliers, if they have them can easily come off with the solvent. I’d keep it clear of that area.
Oil – After you clean your tools use some oil. I oil and joints as well as coat it with a light coating of oil. I use 3-in-1 but there may be others that are better. I’ve also talked to folks who will put a light coat of wax on their tools to prevent rust as well.