Buying and Maintaining Saltwater Gear

Walking into a tackle store is intimidating and overwhelming at times. State of the art features, deals, and “new and improved” materials can be difficult to sift through. After thorough research of the selection, the battle isn’t over. In order to maintain gear, especially in saltwater, a seasoned fisherman or beginning angler can insure their tools last a lifetime. Here are a few pointers to help you through the process:

Quality Over Quantity

Buying a rod and reel from Walmart under $50 can be enticing. It seems practical on a tight budget, and reduces stress if the cheap combo is lost. This is great if you don’t trust the people you bring fishing with expensive gear. But, consider the long term investment being made. Most rods and reels under $50 are cheaply made, with poor plastic bearings, fewer guides, and quirky drag systems. Over a ten-year time period, it is easy to burn through multiple reels if you venture down this route.

My solution is simple. I like to wait and save. Purchasing the most reasonably priced, well-crafted gear is well worth the trouble. You don’t have to break the bank to find quality either. Keep in mind, any spinning reel over $200 is likely very similar to the slightly cheaper models. Additionally, the rods that come in combo pairs are usually poorly matched. I don’t get distracted by the engineering marvels listed on the $500 boxes. In my opinion, it’s hard to justify a higher price for something that will likely yield the same result. I buy from big name brands that have been tried and tested. Most of my spinning reels have lasted 10 years or more. So instead of potentially half-a-dozen $50 purchases or going broke over some new feature, I make one, $120-200 investment in a reel and add on my favorite medium action rod.

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Side Note: I hate reels that have a reverse drag switch on the bottom of the reel. These reels are poorly made and will eventually break. I have had a hard time finding the logic of this feature, besides causing instant anger.


Spool Your Own Line

Many anglers wrongfully blame a reel when, in fact, the line is just poorly spooled. Some outfitters will do it for you in-store for a small fee. Most often than not, they either spool the reel too tightly or add too much line. This raises two issues. Monofilament is flexible and stretches, causing curls and tangles if spooled too tightly by in-store machines. Secondly, if you don’t give your line about 3-4 mm of space from the edge of the spool, your first 20 casts will end in large bird nests.

Don’t get me wrong, some places are very good at spooling. If you find one, the convenience is nice. But, after numerous disappointing experiences, I now prefer to do this on my own couch. I start by threading the line, retrogradely, through the first two or three eyes of the rod back towards the reel. This helps guide the line naturally with the spool. I then open the bail to free-spool and carefully tie my strongest knot to the spool.

Recently I have discovered braid to be my preferred line for saltwater. This can present a problem when attempting to start spooling. The woven material is smooth and will spin with the spool, hindering all attempts to fill the reel. So, to make sure the braid holds, I will wrap a layer of monofilament below the braid to avoid slipping. Simply tie a line-to-line knot with the braid, and it will hold from that point on.

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After you have closed the bail, wear cloth gloves or a towel to prevent burning your hand while, simultaneously, creating tension in the line between the reel and the first guide. The drag is best not set all the way on lock down. This provides a check, avoiding over-tightened application. Once you are ready, set the spool at your feet and begin reeling quickly.

Every 20-30 turns, you will notice the line of the spool beginning to curl and tangle near the rod tip. Simply flip the monofilament spool and begin reeling again. Repeat this sequence until the spool is full, but not overflowing. Never lose tension in between flips to avoid any future tangling. You may still experience a little tangling, but you will find it much less painful than store spooling.


Fight Corrosion

The more pricey saltwater reels delay saltwater damage if made with aircraft aluminum or non-corrosive materials. But, if you fish saltwater often enough, you know the dangers. Corrosion will eventually win. It will find the one piece in your reel that isn’t resistant and wear it down.

To combat this, we always rinse every rod and reel thoroughly with fresh water the same day as a fishing trip. But, this requires light, indirect washing only. Rinsing with high pressure and turbulent flow close to the reel can force salt further into the interior of the reel. Gentle showering is best. The same goes for any lures you have used. Thoroughly rinse and dry even the toughest, stainless steel hooks and lures. Even the “galvanized” labeled products will rust in an air-tight tackle box.

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Oil and Re-spool Often

“3-in-ONE” lubricating oil is your ally in the war against sodium chloride. At least twice a year, we take the time to loosen the spool and oil the interior and handle joints. This adds years to the lifespan of the reel. During this time, you can also use a q-tip to remove sand or salt that has been left from previous outings.

Additionally, we re-spool at least annually. Extreme heat from the trips or accidentally leaving a reel in the car stretches mono and warps the line. This weakens it and causes tangling over time. Nothing is more frustrating than losing the “fish-of-a-lifetime” to poorly maintained drags and line.


Avoid Hazards

Never lay your reel down on the sand. I repeat don’t let that reel touch sand. That white, awful southern snow can lock a reel by the time you get back home. Kicking up sand while walking can also lead to this catastrophe. If you wade fish, even if carefully, sand will find its way into your reel. This requires more frequent cleaning and washing.

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Treat a reel like your Iphone or smartphone. Water will fill the spaces that are not sealed tightly. Therefore, submerging your reel into saltwater renders tackle completely useless.The reel will freeze within the next few outings if not within hours. No matter how many people I guide, this somehow is difficult advice to follow. Even the best and toughest reels can’t handle the stress of submersion.

All of the fun spent on the water should always be matched by the preparation and care shown towards your gear. Follow theses simple rules and your tackle can withstand the saltiest seas. This will decrease the amount of fish that get away and the monsters that break off because of failing tackle. In time, you can take more memorable photos, and dodge cursed, ruined adventures.

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