How Do I Maintain My Fly-Fishing Gear in the Offseason?

An angler winds fly line onto a reel.

Once the season has closed and winter sets in, fishing opportunities are limited. While you can still enjoy some time on the water, the slower season is the perfect time of year to go through your gear with a fine-toothed comb.

Most fly-fishing gear should last a lifetime—if you properly maintain it. From your rod and reel to the buckles on your waders, all your fly-fishing gear deserves a good, close look at the end of the year. Let’s start from the ground up and go over the maintenance and winter storage of your gear.

Note: Before you do anything, read any manufacturer information you have regarding the care and cleaning of fly-fishing gear. Direct any questions you have to the manufacturer first and foremost.

Wading Boots

Often overlooked, your wading boots could use a good once-over at the end of a long fishing season.

  • Check the eyelets for corrosion or rust.
  • Look at the sides and heels. Check to see if the tread is fully attached to the boot. Aquaseal or ShoeGoo is perfect for reattaching the tread to a boot as well as for mending any tears in the material.
  • If your treads are worn flat, send the boots out to a retread specialist or replace them.
  • If you use studs, check to see if they are firmly attached. Replace as necessary. Studs are easy to lose during a long fishing season.
  • If you use felt-bottom soles, wash them with hot water and soap. With a bristled brush, scrub the soles free of all dirt. This will reinvigorate the tread.

Waders

Through the fishing season, your waders will take the brunt of use and wear. Taking care of them on and off the water will ensure they last as long as possible and keep you as dry as possible. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.

  • Dirt, body oil, and abrasions can lessen the effectiveness of the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) used in waders. Cleaning and washing your waders can help the DWR finish perform and breathe properly.
  • Washing your waders gently with warm water and a powdered detergent with no fabric softeners will clean dirt and grime away from the material.
  • Hang your waders until they are completely dry—both inside and out—before storing them for the season (also by hanging).
  • Reapply a DWR treatment using Nikwax or Revivex to help strengthen the DWR layer.

Once your waders are cleaned and dry, it’s time to flip them inside out, inspect them for tiny pinholes, and check the seam tape to ensure it’s tight.

  • Flip your waders inside out. Prepare a spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol.
  • Starting at the bootie, saturate the inside of the cleaned waders with sprays of isopropyl.
  • Leaky spots and pinholes will show up as dark spots. Circle them with a felt-tipped pen.
  • Let the waders dry again. Then apply Aquaseal to the pinhole spots to seal them back up. Let the waders hang dry in the sun or in direct light for at least eight hours for a full cure of the Aquaseal.
  • Apply Aquaseal to any loose seams. This will reinforce the weak spot created when the seam came loose.

If you feel like the required fix is beyond your abilities, you can always send your waders to our Repair Department to have them professionally repaired.

Fly Rods

  • Buy a fine, soft-bristled toothbrush for cleaning your rods and reels.
  • Wash your rod with warm water and dish soap. Gently brush the guides around their feet to clean off collected dirt and grime.
  • Scrub the locking nuts on the reel seat as well as the threads.
  • Wash the cork with warm water. Clean it using light scrubbing with a sponge. Dirt collects in the cork, and a cleaning will reinvigorate the softness of the cork.
  • Inspect guide feet for cracks in the finish or thread wraps. Cracks in the finish are weak spots in the graphite and can lead to a broken rod.
  • Wipe away old ferrule wax and apply new wax to the ferrules to keep them from sticking.

Fly Reels

Going over your rod and reel and taking care of all the moving parts and pieces can ensure you’ll have an outfit that will always perform as well as it did the day you bought it.

  • Take apart the reel, removing all parts in precise order. Note: To help you get your fly rod back together again, it’s a good idea to take pictures of each step if you have not taken your reel apart before.
  • Using a soft-bristled brush, scrub away any corrosion, dirt, and grime. 
  • To lubricate the fly reel, grease all moving parts with the manufacturer-recommended oil.

If you have an Orvis reel, you can send it to us for a Reel Tune-Up.

Fly Lines

If you fish sandy beaches or muddy and silty water, or if you step on your line a lot or rest it on the ground, you need to spend some time maintaining your line. For all other situations, you should be cleaning your line regularly.

It pays to clean your line at least once for every five fishing trips. The more you maintain your fly line, the better it will perform and the longer it will last.

  • Pull the entire line off the spool in large, wide coils. Place it on a surface.
  • Fill up your kitchen sink with warm water, adding a few drops of dish soap.
  • Coil the line into the warm water and let it soak for about 10 minutes.
  • Once it has soaked, pull the entire length of the line through a clean cloth. This removes dirt and grime.
  • Once the line is clean and dried, soak another cloth with fly line dressing. Pull the entire line through it. Reapply more dressing to the cloth as you go. Dressing protects the line’s coating, adds another layer of chemical floatability, and slickens the line so it shoots out your guides easier.

Storing Your Fly-Fishing Gear

In general, you should store your fly-fishing gear in a cool (not cold) place. Moisture and heat can impact your gear, so make sure it’s dry before you pack it away. Moisture in your fly boxes, or waders that haven’t fully dried before you pack them away, can result in musty smells, mildew, and even degradation of the materials. A dry closet in the liveable area of your home (not a damp basement) is the best place to store your fly-fishing gear.

Taking care of your gear is a necessary part of fishing. If you do it, you’ll be rewarded with gear that lasts a lifetime.

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