Caring For Saltwater Gear

By Lefty Kreh

Freshwater tackle requires minimal care and maintenance in order to stay in working order.

That is not the case when it comes to saltwater gear, which often times, gets the same treatment as its freshwater counterpart.

The finest of saltwater gear will suffer if not properly cared for.

It is not just the water that’s harmful, but also the air that can cause damage.

©Temple Fork Outfitters.


One way to maintain a saltwater fly reel before ever using it is to thoroughly clean it and give it a coating of the hard wax used on autos. Be sure to polish it well. For a long time afterwards any salt water that falls on the reel will bead up and fall away.

Be careful to read all directions before applying anything to a fly reel.

When on a trip with a saltwater reel I don’t clean it until I return home.

Manufacturers also have a large list of things not to do, they are: take the reel in the shower with you or douse it in a bucket of freshwater–or worse wash it down with a freshwater hose. All of these methods drive some salt inside the reel but more importantly, they often will flush the grease coating from the drag impairing its performance.

I was lucky enough to enjoy several trips to Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After watching some of the top saltwater anglers in the world clean their reels—all kinds—I adopted similar methods.

Clean and fill an empty plastic spray bottle with warm soapy water and spray the reel thoroughly—be sure to get in all the crevices. Scrub around the reel foot with an old toothbrush.  This is where corrosion first occurs. Fill another bottle with hot, fresh water and thoroughly rinse away the soapy water. Wipe the reel clean with a dry rag.

If you suspect the drag is not functioning properly, consider sending it to a manufacturer for maintenance. If you are handy you can remove the spool and apply a thin-film of grease on the cork or carbon fiber drag—don’t overdo it.


Even rods designed specifically to handle the brine can fall victim to corrosion, even after only one use.

Hold the rod under warm, flowing water and scrub around the foot of each guide with an old toothbrush.

The locking rings should be treated the same way. Many saltwater fish carry extra slime on their bodies, which can be transferred to rod handles making them difficult to grip.

My favorite way to clean the cork handles is with commercial hand soap. Remove any excess cleaner with warm water and an old rag. You can also use a rough terry cloth rag and warm soapy water.

There are many commercial fly line cleaners on the market today.

But one of the best ways to clean any fly line is to simply immerse it in warm, soapy water. Don’t use detergent because it can remove the line’s lubricant, which helps it shoot cleanly through the guides. After cleaning the line with soapy water, use a clean rag and fresh, warm water to scrub away any soap residue.

Backing must also be cleaned.

When lines are rewound on a spool they can contain saltwater, that if left on for even short periods can corrode the inner walls of the spool. To eliminate this problem fill a laundry tub or a large container with warm water and strip off a little more than the amount of line that was fished.  Give it a good scrubbing by pulling it though a wet rough cloth. Before re-spooling the lines wash the insides of the spool with warm water and dry thoroughly.

When not in use reels should be covered and rods stored in dry rod socks and tubes. It is not advised to leave tackle sitting in open air, even if under a covered porch.

To care for saltwater flies, a small plastic container on the boat can help prevent rust from appearing on the hook. It may also be wise to use a small comb to straighten out any tangled fibers before drying the fly completely.


About templeforkoutfitters
Armed with a lifetime passion for fishing, we set out to establish a new standard of value for fly and conventional rods. We have relied on our own experience and advice of many professionals in creating what we believe is the perfect marriage - price and performance. Sound too good to be true? Cast one and you be the judge.

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