It’s the Off Season – Now What?
As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", and it’s just as true for a Minnesota Steelheader. Now’s a good time to start going through your gear since you’re probably not using it frequently. Summer is busy Family time with activities and vacations, which pushes fishing to the back burner. Being an old-school Minnesotan through and through, I get groggy and disoriented any time the temperature or humidity is above 75 – I can barely function and move at turtle-speed; so a task where I can stay stationary in the heat is just my speed. The trout streams are bug-infested tropical jungles overgrown with nettles at this time of year. If you’ve ever been hot and sweaty, then blundered through a nettle patch in a tee-shirt, it’s a whole new class of misery and I avoid it like the plague. Could I have some cheese with my whine please?
But there’s a good reason to get active and start doing some prep and prevention. Again, you can head off a number of issues before they come back to haunt you the next time you tie into some silver freight-train. Best of all, a number of migratory species in different locations are gearing up for Fall returns, some of them quietly returning already; and there’s probably no better motivation to prepare than that.
The question then becomes "Where do I start?" If you’re like me, there’s probably some big pile of gear still in your trunk or corner of your garage. Systematically going through it all seems like a big job, but it’s not that bad. ‘Course a little barley pop or snakebite remedy helps to speeds things along, especially if you get together with a fishing pal or two.
The easiest place to start
-Take EVERYTHING out and turn the pockets inside out. It’s amazing how much loose junk and terminal tackle you’ll find which needs to be put back in it’s proper home. Turning out the pockets helps to find hooks and flies, which may have become lodged in the seams and loose fabric. Inspect for tears or rubs. Pockets in particular take a lot of abuse from the amount and weight of the junk we cram into them, especially since they get wet a lot. It’s a bummer having your favorite box of yarn, flies or tackle drop out the bottom as you walk a trail or as you fish. By the time you realize it’s gone, it’s often too late.
-Once it’s empty and inspected, wash it thoroughly. Leaking scent, spawn juice and line dressings all break down material quicker than a clean vest. After it’s clean, check the zippers and lubricate. There are lots of zipper products out there, but good old paraffin works great.
Tackle and Miscellaneous Gear
-Now that you have a big pile after removing it all from your vest, get it organized. Return loose junk to where it belongs. Go through each box and re-sort it. Replace anything you’re low on, then check the box body, hinges and clasps for damage. Check things like swivel-sleeves on floats and replace if necessary; and check hook compartments for moisture. There’s nothing worse than opening up a box of hooks and finding a big rusty mess.
-Check all your tools: Hemostats, yarn scissors, thermometers, nippers, nets and their clips, retractors and lines all need attention. Replace any frayed attachment lines. Polish off any rust or dirt from your tools with some steel wool and put a drop of oil or some WD40 on moving parts like hinges and swivels. Check your retractors and the like for bent pins and straighten them out. Bent pins have a funny habit of popping off your vest when you tug a little too hard on whatever tool it’s supposed to be holding.
Waders and Boots
-Wash down waders and boots with a hose and carefully scrub off any dirt or dried mud, especially from breathable waders. Check the fabric, boots/footies, seams, belts and suspenders for damage. Carefully look over the seam welds, knees and seat areas, especially on breathables.
-If you use wading boots, inspect the stitching, laces, grommets, clips and soles for damage or de-lamination in the case of felt soles. Pull the inner soles out if not attached and flush with a hose to clean out any gravel or sand. All kinds of repairs to waders and boots can be accomplished with Shoo Goo or similar products.
-Inspect the reel mounts, guides, and windings for damage or wear. Touch up any spots where the finish is chipped or thin, especially if thread windings are starting to come through at the guides. Pay particular attention to the top 1/3rd of the rod. With the prevalence of chuck and duck, it’s easy to bounce shot off the rod. Look for chips or signs of crushing on the blank. Touch up chips in the finish. Unfortunately if you have some graphite crushing, breakage is inevitable. Just make sure you have a backup rod the next time you use the one with the ding.
-Take all the line off and take apart what you can. Remove any grease or lubrication from parts first, and then scrub everything. Old toothbrushes, paper towels and Q-Tips make great reel cleaning tools. Inspect parts for wear. Check bail springs and replace if necessary. When you reassemble moving parts, remember that too much lubrication is a bad thing. Go by the manufacturer’s recommendation; if you don’t have that, use tiny amounts of grease or lube. Lubrication of any kind attracts dirt like crazy so you want to find that happy medium between enough and too much.
-Replace any old mono with new. If you use fat line, inspect for nicks, abrasion and cuts. Carefully place the entire length into an old ice cream pail filled with hot water. If you want to use a cleaner/de-greaser, use a quality surfactant like Dawn dishwashing liquid. You will however have to do a second thorough rinse in clean water. Take a clean cloth (old wash cloths work great), get it damp, then start pulling the line out of the pail while running it through the cloth and applying some pressure. If you cut open a garbage-bag and place it on the ground, it makes a nice clean spot to drop your line onto. Repeat this process until you no longer see dirt on the wash cloth. North Shore streams have very fine suspended sediments that eventually coat the line and you’ll be surprised at how much dirt comes off during cleaning. Once it’s clean, let it dry, then apply a line cleaner/dressing. If you’ve never done this process before, you’ll be amazed at how much better your line performs.
So take some time now to go through your gear. Head off those problems now and you’ll have thoroughly enjoyable steelheading later.