Monday, March 14, 2011

Taking Care of Your Fishing Gear

A Fishing Fantasy?


In late winter or early spring weather in the heart of the United States is variable. There may be snow on the ground with freezing temperatures one day, with forecasts for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70’s by the end of the same week. Many folks love to fish so much that weather is of little concern, only changing the methods or dress for the day. If you grab your poles and tackle to head out for some fishing, only to find after you open the door that you are not so excited to be out in the weather that morning, all is not lost. Here is what happened on one of my “fantasy” fishing days.

I went outside to see if I could dig some worms from under the leaves in the back of our property. The mud was frozen harder than the look you got from your boss when you asked for time off to go hunting during the recent holidays. It just wasn’t happening this time. I checked the can of home-made stink bait that my wife makes me keep in the shed farthest from the house, thought about thawing it in the microwave, and put it back on the shelf. I knew my wife was in the kitchen brewing tea. I did not want to brew an argument. I looked at the ice and snow encasing my truck and reached the brilliant conclusion that fishing by myself on a day like this just might be more like work than fun. I went back in the house to mope…and start a fire.
Steps to our back deck on my fantasy fishing day

With a couple of logs slowly beginning to put off a warming glow from the fireplace, I sank into my recliner and stared at the tackle sitting next to the front door. Guess I best put that junk away for a while I said to myself, but I really wanted to play with it today. I sat still and sullen. After an hour or so another brilliant thought came to me, right after my wife suggested that I really ought to do something with that stuff by the door. Yeah, that’s it! I can play with it in the house and make sure it is ready for when the weather and I are in better moods.

Cleaning and organizing your gear is a great way to spend a couple of hours when time or weather constraints don’t allow you to actually fish or hunt. I like to tune into one of the hunting/fishing/outdoor networks on cable television, or play an old recording of past favorite shows. It creates an ambiance perfect for dumping your tackle box out on the living room floor or coffee table. Those guys would cheer you on if they could see what you were doing. You can even pretend you are right there in the boat getting tips from Bill Dance, Shaw Grigsby, Hank Parker, or Mafo. Hey it’s a fantasy trip remember, we can go with whoever we want, wherever we want.

The average fisherman probably does not pay enough attention to rod and reel maintenance, but the simple act of cleaning your gear can add many years of useful service and greatly lessen the chances of failure at just the wrong moment. If you maintain your equipment correctly you might not sit on the bank wondering how big that fish was that just broke your old ragged line. You might not sit in the back of the boat trying to repair a reel while your buddy is bringing fish into the front of the boat. Here are a few tips to get you started on your fantasy fishing trip.

Keeping your gear clean requires more than just knocking the mud off the handle. The best way to clean your rods and reels is to break them down. Gun enthusiasts are familiar with the process from cleaning guns. Disassembling the equipment as much as you are comfortable with makes the job easier and more effective. This means at least taking the reels out of the mounts once in a while. A lot of grime can accumulate in the mount. If it is not removed corrosion will eventually take place and ruin the reel, rod, or both. This also allows a careful inspection of parts and fasteners to make sure there are no cracks or other problems that could result in the reel coming off the rod at just the wrong time.

Be sure to use the correct tools, correctly sized phillips head screwdrivers ( + plus, as my wife calls them), standard ( - minus, as my wife calls them), wrenches etc. These tools ought to go with you in your tackle box too, in case you need to make emergency repairs in the field. At least keep one of those multitool gadgets in your tackle box. Why not keep a spare reel in there too if you have one?

Take a thorough look at all parts of the rod. Is the grip solid or does it need to be tightened or replaced? Are all of the line guides firmly attached to the rod or do they need to be rewrapped? Are all of the guides smooth, so they won’t nick your fishing line? It is best to use only warm water with mild dish soap to clean your rods as some are made of materials that will have adverse reactions to chemicals from harsher things, such as window cleaners. If you’re cheap like me and some of your rods are two pieces, pay extra attention to how they go together and be sure this section is still in good order too.

Now is a good time to personalize your rods. Some of mine are decorated with short sections of thread or tape wrapping so similar rods are more easily distinguished from each other. Some of my rods have brightly colored or reflective tape near the tip so they are more visible in the dark to help detect bites. That is almost mandatory for night time catfishing poles.

Taking the cover off the reel, stripping the old line, and spooling on new line is the minimum to do. The best to do is to take the reel apart, clean and lubricate it. If you kept the literature that came with your reel refer to it, especially the “exploded parts view. Some can be found on the internet if you have lost yours. You can take a series of photos with your digital camera or cell phone as references too if you like. A piece of gift wrapping paper placed so the white side is up is a great work surface to make parts visible and make workspace clean up easier too.

Reels should not be cleaned with general metal cleaners like WD-40, or lubricated with petroleum jelly like Vaseline. Residuals from those chemicals can cause damage in the long term. Use reel grease on parts that mesh together, such as gears. Use reel oil on parts that just rub up against each other such as the shaft. Reel oil will not stay in place and hold up on gears like grease will. Reel grease can attract unwanted dirt and dust that oil will not so much. They are engineered for specific parts. It’s worth the few extra dollars to use the correct stuff. It will be cheaper in the long run as your gear will likely function better and hold up to repeated use longer.
One of Mafo's tackle boxes

The tackle box is the greatest fun. I suggest you literally empty it out completely and put things back one at a time, so everything gets inspected, and so that you are reacquainted with what you have in the box. In the multi tier / top open kind of box I like to keep metal parts, such as swivels, weights, and tools in the top layer. This way the wind has little effect on the contents of my box when I open the lid. I keep fingernail clippers (for cutting or trimming line) in every tackle box. A pocket knife and other tools are great too if you have room for them. The bottom compartment needs something with weight in it too, to keep the whole box from tipping over all the time. This is a good place for a spare reel, metal hook type stringers, filet knifes, and extra spools of line. A sharpening stone can be helpful.

Inspecting all of the lures will lead to recollections of which ones were most effective, thus deserving of prominent positioning. Remember how you caught six crappie in fifteen minutes on that one chartreuse jig? Remember how hard the smallmouth hit that spinner? Which one did Bill Dance just say he never leaves home without? Be sure to check the condition of hooks and replace any that are questionable now. It’s so much easier to do in the living room than in a boat being rocked by the wake of other boats racing to beat you to the hot spot you are missing while replacing one in the field. Some folks recommend sharpening dull hooks, but I say it is better to replace them. Most new hooks come with a protective coating (to prevent rust) that you will likely destroy when you try to sharpen it, ruining the whole thing anyway.

Most lures are easy to keep clean, but if you have a stubborn one try soaking it in a glass of warm water with two Alka Seltzer tablets. Placing plastic baits like worms and crawdads inside small zip lock bags keeps them clean, and keeps foreign smells from getting on them, or from their smell getting on other things in your box. Separate boxes are even better, if you can afford them.

On my limited budget I have to keep most of my small tackle collection in one main box. I do have a small separate one containing light tackle for taking along with my grandsons to pursue sun perch and other small fish on their special adventures with Mafo. I also have one with heavy tackle for large catfish, including both rod and reel tackle and jug line tackle such as very large swivels, weights, and circle hooks. There is another one that is just for snagging spoonbill, with an assortment of size 8 and 10 treble hooks, 10, 12, and 16 ounce lead weights, spools of 100 and 150lb braided line, pliers, gloves, etc. It’s THE box 6 weeks out of the year.

It’s best to keep all of your fishing gear out of direct sunlight and to protect it from other extreme weather, but that does not count when you are actually using it of course. If you know when you will use it you might consider adding insect repellant, flashlight and batteries (at least a little pen light), sun screen, first aid ointment, band aids, and maybe some Vienna sausage or other snack for an emergency meal or use as bait for bluegill or catfish. Polarized sunglasses are great for looking into water. A wine cork or two on the cord for your glasses will make them float if you drop them in the water. A laminated photo of your prize catch, spouse, kids, grandkids etc. taped inside the lid adds a personal touch that I enjoy.

On this particular day of fantasy I considered putting a picture of Gretchen Wilson and Hank Williams Jr. in the lid of my box. I took one rod, tied on a practice plug and flipped it down the hall a few times. I did this a couple of times, well maybe a few times, well maybe for a while. While Hank Parker was reeling in bass, I was reeling them in too, and then some crappie, and then…My wife shouted “Okay I think you’ve caught enough Sponge Bob’s in the house for one day.” I put my grandson’s rod down. One fire stoked, I turned to the one in the fireplace and worked on it too.

Mafo's fireplace

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