Why Should You Clean Your Fly Line?
Most of your fly fishing gear can take abuse with very little maintenance or upkeep. However, cleaning a fly line is something I stay on top of habitually for a number of reasons.
A clean fly line will dramatically extend the life of the product. A well-used fly line, without any care or cleaning, can begin to degrade and crack after just a year of hard fishing. That same fly line, if you cleaned it, could last several years and end up saving you from having to buy another expensive fly line.
Clean fly lines also cast better than ones that are grimy and struggling to shoot through the guides on a fly rod. If your casting seems to have taken a small step backwards then (beyond working on the fundamentals) clean your fly line and you will notice a difference in how smoother it is to make a cast.
Regularly cleaning your floating fly line also improves its flotation. Floating lines are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, but if they are dirty then that property is diminished. A clean floating line will also make it easier for you to pick it up off the water's surface and mend it.
In extreme cases, your fly line can become very gritty over time without cleaning it. This grit can run through and wear down the guides on your fly rod creating grooves in the metal. This is not great for casting and it costs money to replace those guides.
Lastly, cleaning your fly line is great way to run through it to check for damages like abrasions, nicks, or deeper cuts that penetrate to the core. Doing these checks is just part of taking care of and understanding our fly fishing gear like reels, leaders, and tippet.
(Read: An In-Depth Guide to Tippet)
How to Clean A Fly Line
To clean your fly line you have a couple options. Option 1 is a quick and easy way to clean your fly line after several uses on the water. Option 2 can be used to help remove some of the deeper grime and muck that builds up on a fly line over time.
Cleaning A Fly Line, Option 1
This is a quick way to clean your fly line, and it should be done after every 3-5 fishing outings. If you are fishing along muddy banks, in silty water, or in ponds/lakes with a lot of algae then consider doing this process every 2-3 trips.
Fill a kitchen sink, bowl, or bucket with lukewarm water while adding few drops of soap (use hand soap, dish soap like Dawn is too harsh on the fly line).
Strip the fly line off the reel and into the soapy water. Let it soak for about 5-10 minutes.
Take a paper towel, soft towel/shirt, or shammy cloth and run the fly line through it (applying moderate pressure with your hand).
If the paper towel ends up with a bunch of grime on it then soak the fly line again for another 5-10 minutes. Then run it through a clean portion of the paper towel, shammy cloth, or soft towel/shirt.
Rinse the fly line in clean water and then through a clean portion of the paper towel one more time to help it dry off.
Once the fly line is clean, reel it back up and let it air dry before storing it.
Cleaning A Fly Line, Option 2
This second option is for fly lines that have been used and cleaned quite regularly. A well-used fly line, no matter how many times you clean it using Option 1 above, will still have dirt and grime on it. This muck has penetrated a little deeper into the line and requires more extensive cleaning. This option is something I try to do every 8-10 trips.
First, complete the steps in Option 1 (minus giving the fly line time to dry).
Then, use a fly line cleaning product like Scientific Anglers Fly Line Cleaner and place a couple drops into a bucket, bowl, or sink with lukewarm water.
Strip the fly line off the reel and into the bucket/bowl/sink.
Let the fly line soak for 5-10 minutes.
Then, run the fly line through a Scientific Anglers Cleaning Pad or Rio Wonder Cloth which will help to further break up that grime.
Rinse the fly line.
Run it through a clean cloth or paper towel to help it dry off and then reel the line back up.
Using Fly Line Dressing
There is another product that you can use on your fly line which is called fly line dressing (like Rio or Scientific Anglers fly line dressing). This line dressing is used for floating lines to help them not only shoot through the guides more easily but to also float better on the surface. Before using line dressing, you will want to fully clean your line using Options 1 & 2 above.
Personally, I do not use these products anymore. While I found that the dressing works really well for a few hours, it inevitably starts to collect more dirt. On multiple occasions, after fully cleaning my fly line and applying the dressing, I went out to fish only to watch that dressing act like a magnet for muck and grime.
Once the fly line is gummed up again, you have no option but to fully clean the fly line again. The dressing does marginally improve the floatation of the line. However, if you just follow Options 1 & 2 above then you will notice great results with floatation and casting anyways. So, I would rather not use the fly line dressing in order to save myself the time (and money) of having to clean the line after every use.
When anglers ask me about purchasing gear, or which gear they should not skimp on, I recommend that they buy a quality fly line (which typically runs about $70 to $80). This is not a cheap purchase, but a quality fly line will make casting and mending easier and will have improved qualities like floatation, slickness, durability and less drag.
Many anglers may be uneasy about spending so much money on a fly line. Yet if you take care of and maintain it, these quality fly lines will last you years, and as you have read above the cleaning process is very simple and only takes a few minutes after every few trips.
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Lastly, if you live in or are visiting Spokane, I provide guided fly fishing trips and instructional lessons around Spokane to include float trips on the Spokane River and stillwater trips across various Eastern Washington lakes. I guide with Fly Fish Spokane, and more information/trip rates can be found at the website: FlyFishSpokane.com