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How to Clean Your Fly Line - The Benefits of Cleaning and Dressing Fly Line

Fly Fishing 101 - Maintaining Your Gear

an antique brass fly reel on a wood table. Dry flies sit nearby.
An ancient Hendryx brass reel, filled with top-of-the-line modern floating fly line. Photo by John Schneider

You have your new fly rod, reel and line combo and you've been using it for a few months now. Hopefully you've caught at least a few fish, but even if you haven't (yet), you will still need to take care and perform a little maintenance.

Fly line is expensive. A great quality line, perfectly matched to your outfit, will be a game-changer as far as catching fish is concerned, and it will cost as much as $150 CAD! Don't get me wrong, it is completely worth it. The point I am trying to make is that you need to protect that investment. You need to make it last as long as possible. I can help you with that here in this article.

Cleaning Your Fly Line

A fly reel sitting in wet gravel along a creek. A fisherman kneels blurred in the background.
Ultra-modern fly reel and line combo by Vision. High-end gear that needs to be maintained. Photo by Kevin Kossowan

Why Do I Need to Clean My Line?

With every cast and retrieve on every day that you are fishing, your line is running through the water and accumulating dirt. Myriad pollen, plant, dust and other debris are floating on the water you fish. As your fly line travels across the surface of the water it pulls that debris up and into your fly reel where it dries and coats the line. A hard crust is formed and does not necessarily wash off the line on your next trip.

Trip after trip, the dirt accumulates on your line and you are probably noticing that it does not float as well as it used to. Right? We've all experienced this.

Another problem with a dirty line is that it will start to cast differently. As dirt gathers on the surface, it looses its ability to slide effortlessly through the stainless guides on your rod. The extra friction gets worse and your casting slowly gets more and more difficult.

Now is the time to clean the fly line.

How Do I Clean My Fly Line?

This is the easy part.

Here is what you will need:

A small bucket filled with warm water. This is the washing bucket.

Another bucket filled with warm water. This is the rinsing bucket.

A small squirt of liquid dish detergent.

A cotton cloth

Another cotton cloth or shammy

Cleaning Process:

1) Unspool your fly line into the bucket of warm, soapy water

2) Let the fly line soak for maybe 10 minutes or so. Make sure that you've agitated the water to form some bubbles.

3) Wet the cotton cloth and run the fly line between your fingers in the cloth. I usually run the same section of line through the cloth several times to make sure I've done a thorough job of cleaning.

4) Once you are sure that you've cleaned the section of line that you are working on, run it into the bucket of clean, warm water. We want to make sure that all of the soap is off the line.

5) Now that the line is cleaned and rinsed, grab your clean drying towel and run the line out of the rinsing bucket and through the dry cloth. At this point you can leave it for some time in a loose pile somewhere warm and dry. This will ensure that the line is completely dry.

6) Rewind the line back onto your reel and you are finished cleaning.

But, We're Not Done Maintaining Our Fly Line Yet!

Applying Dressing to Our Fly Line

A photo, shot under the arm of a fly fisher. He is holding a brightly coloured fly reel and fly line as he casts.
Great fly fishing gear will last a lifetime...if you take care of it. Photo by John Schneider

Dressing is typically applied to floating line only. But consult with the manufacturer of your line to see what they suggest. This would apply to which dressing you will use as well. Most line dressing is based on a silicone type product.

Here is how we dress the fly line:

1) The line is cleaned and thoroughly dried and back on our reel.

2) Apply the dressing in a small quantity to a clean cloth. Again, refer to directions on the line dressing product and/or the line manufacturer.

3) Set up your rod/reel in a manner that you can easily pull line from the reel without dropping the entire thing to the ground. Here is what I do. I install my reel onto the butt section of the rod and make sure the drag is set to minimum. I set the butt section on a counter in a way that as the line comes off, the handle is free to rotate. I weigh the rod section down with books or something heavy enough to keep it steady, but not so heavy as to break the section! Another method is to ask someone to help you by holding the rod as you peel line off.

4) Peel the line off the reel by pulling it through the cloth with the line dressing applied.

5) Re-dress the cloth and do the reverse procedure with the line. Pull it through the cloth from the opposite direction and alternatively rewind the line onto the reel. This whole process is a little cumbersome. I haven't thought of a better way. It's a good way to kill fifteen minutes on a rainy afternoon though.


A wild cutthroat trout thrashes out of a fisherman's hand, back into the water.
Have fun out there! Photo by John Schneider

On average, you will need to clean your fly line at least once per season. You will definitely notice when it is time to clean your line. It will feel a little "sticky" and you will likely hear the line shooting through your rod guides differently than when it is cleaned and properly dressed.

Over time you will become more attuned to your fly fishing gear and how to take care of it in order to achieve the best performance from it. Have fun with the entire process and know that you are doing your very best. I'll bet you even notice a difference in the quality of your fishing!

Taking care of your gear will give you a stronger feeling of confidence and competence...and that matters too!


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