Get Ready for Fall Fishing!
It’s that time again. Day length is decreasing, surface water temperatures are falling, and baitfish are beginning to ring the surface on reservoirs across much of the country. Depending on where you live, great fall fishing may already be underway or about to explode. Once it begins, good shallow-water fishing will be with us until cold temperatures drive fish into deep water and all but the hardiest anglers to a warm recliner in front of a TV. If you’re not prepared, it’s time to get tackle in good operating condition, take an inventory and restock favorite lures in your toolbox. I fish often throughout the year so I put a lot of mileage on tackle and lose, break or strip the finish from many lures. Therefore, I service my tackle and lure inventory twice a year; during midwinter and again during late summer. If you’re a part-time angler, it’s still a good idea to do some midseason maintenance on tackle because inactive equipment may need attention as much as heavily used equipment. Depending on how you store your rods and reels, they may need some TLC worse than those heavily used but with good routine care and storage.
You can quickly and easily provide adequate midseason service to any type of reel if you have the materials needed to do it and get organized before you start. Before removing anything lay out a lint-free cloth to hold parts in the order in which you remove them and set out a small screwdriver, wrench, toothbrush, cotton swabs, cleaning solution, oil and reel grease. If you intend to remove more than the handles and spool, it’s a good idea to find the schematic that came with your reel. The schematic will show each part inside the reel, where it goes and the order in which each is assembled. A schematic will also show how parts should be turned before reassembly including the slightest bends in otherwise uniform washers or spacers; an important thing to know because you can reverse a single crucial component in a reel and it won’t work properly. If you don’t have a schematic for your reel, you can find and download one free at Mike’s Reel Repair online. Mike’s also sells replacement parts if you need to replace something or buy an extra spool for your favorite spinning combo and they’ve always provided me with good customer service.
To provide minimal service, take each reel off the rod, remove everything that can easily be removed such as handles and spools, spray them with WD40 or a good cleaning solution and wipe them clean of dust and grime. Use WD40 sparingly because it’s a degreaser, not a lubricant, so anything it touches will need fresh oil or grease. Use a toothbrush or other small brush to remove dirt and old lubricants; use cotton swabs for hard-to-reach spots being careful not to leave cotton fibers on moving parts. After external parts and casings have been well cleaned, apply a small amount of oil to all moving parts before reassembly. Unless the owner’s manual that came with your reel advises otherwise, apply oil to all moving parts and grease only to main gears. Apply grease to main gears with a finger tip or other handy tool and be sure the grease doesn’t contact adjoining parts. Where metal rubs metal or other material, apply a little oil. Many manufacturers offer good-quality lubricants and cleaning solutions for fishing reels. I use those made by Quantum and Ardent, who offers a full line of cleaning and lubricating supplies for reels.
After cleaning spinning reels, apply a drop of oil to the spool shaft, any spacers or drag washers on the shaft, the line guide and rotor arm on either side of the bail, and the bearings through which the handle mounts; less is better if each part is adequately oiled. Place a couple drops of oil into the maintenance port, if the reel has one, and include any spare spools you use in the cleaning and lubrication process. After cleaning baitcasting reels, apply oil to the bearing under the handle, the case for casting brakes and all spacers and washers before reassembly. After reinstalling the handle, use a cotton swab or lint free cloth to clean the worm gear. Turn the reel handle to turn the gear and move the line guide while wiping the length of gear until it’s clean. And again, on moving parts and gears is not the place to leave cotton fibers or lint from an old rag. When the worm gear shines and looks clean, add a drop of oil to it and the levelwind shaft and turn the reel handle several times to spread oil along each; then wipe away the excess with a cotton swab or cloth. As you reassemble your cleaned and lubricated reels, check and tighten all external screws. Don’t over-tighten them but ensure each is snug. If you find one loose, remember to check it occasionally because it may need replaced. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be impressed with how much better your reels feel and operate. A more thorough cleaning should be done annually. If you’re not comfortable fully disassembling a reel for cleaning, many local tackle shops offer reel cleaning services at reasonable prices. Bass Pro Shops and a few others also offer mail-in services for reels including parts replacement and cleaning. Invest a little time and money once a year and you can get many years of good, problem-free service from most mid- to upper-priced reels.
While the cleaning supplies are out is a good time to clean and inspect rods. I spray each rod blank with WD40, wipe it clean, then check and clean each line guide individually. After cleaning, run a clean cotton swab around the surface of each guide to check for cracks or wear from braided lines and carefully straighten those that are slightly bent. I also touch up darkened cork handles by holding them under running water and lightly scrubbing them with a steel-wool soap pad. My brother-in-law, the musky hunter, likes his rod handles dirty; “Gives them character”, he grumbles. Whichever look you prefer, it only takes a few minutes to make old cork look like new.
The final step in getting tackle ready is replacing lines on reels. I change monofilament often because of line memory, a leading cause of poor line performance and reduced casting distance. And monofilament is inexpensive so when I know fishing is about to get hot, I always spool up with fresh line. However, before replacing it I consider what type fishing I’m going to do. For fishing shallow cover, I choose heavier, abrasion resistant line; for chasing schooling fish in open water, I use thin-diameter, limper lines that support greater casting distance. Fluorescent lines are good choices for high-speed search baits, where line color is less noticeable, or when fishing along bottom with slow-moving baits where line watching is important. Clear monofilament, even fluorocarbon, is a better choice for medium retrieve speeds in clear water. So choose a line that matches best with the type fishing you plan to do then replace enough for a long cast plus a respectable amount of backing and a single replacement spool of monofilament will keep you in fresh line the rest of the year. I recycle most braided lines because they have low or no memory and are expensive to replace. To replace worn, discolored braid, I tie a bright rubber band or other object to the end of the line and walk in well-spaced loops around my yard as I feed line until all has been removed. Then I cut the line, walk back to the rubber band and blood-knot the used portion to the backing left on the reel. If the spool wasn’t full, I add more backing to insure the spool is properly filled after respooling. When finished, I have like-new braided line on the business end of the spool and I’m ready for the toughest fish.
I often replace my most dependable lures well before the fall bonanza but am especially attentive of hook condition on those that remain in my toolbox. I do a thorough inspection of hooks on all my lures and sharpen or replace them if they’re dull or bent so my most common expenditure during restocking is for replacement hooks. I may do a little touch-up on lure finishes with fingernail polish or jig paint but rarely replace them unless they’re proven favorites and mangled beyond use. But hooks are the single piece of equipment that connects me directly to fish so I don’t compromise on quality and always choose the best-of-the-best available, mostly chemically sharpened models. And because the fall period offers great shallow-water fishing, it’s a good time to try new lures or new colors of old favorites. When fish are biting well is the best time to experiment with new things. It takes discipline to test new lures or methods of presentation when fish are biting well but there isn’t a better time to learn new ways to catch fish. So get your tackle ready, restock on old favorites and grab a few new products you’ve been dying to try. Great fall fishing is upon us and it’s time to go catch our share!