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There’s only a week to go before another spring fishing season opens up. There is still plenty of snow on the ground and the odds are good that another load of “poor man’s fertilizer” is on the way, but you can feel it in the air now – winter is coming to an end.
This means it’s time to get ready for some early-season fishing. Probably the hardest thing to do right now is drag all of last year’s gear out of its winter hiding place, but that’s the first step in this enjoyable process. It’s one thing to say, “Put year gear away clean and ready to go for next year,” but if you’re like most fishermen you just toss it all in the nearest corner and go on to bird hunting or deer hunting or whatever you decided to do with your time last fall.
But, now you’re a week away from the spring open water season and what a mess! I thought I’d done pretty well last year with my post-season storage plans, but when I looked into the pile the other day I was amazed at what had happened. My small collection of rods and reels was in such a tangle that I thought the best recourse would be to cut the line out and throw it away rather than try to untangle it all. I also wondered how so much of my “spider wire” saltwater line could get wrapped around two other outfits and my fly rod, but somehow it happened. That 8-pound-test line is actually unbreakable – I thought I could just pull the rods apart but I was afraid I’d snap the tip off one of them before the line would break. It’s great stuff for fishing in weeds and stumps but not so hot when you’re working on a bird’s-nest tangle.
I ended up cutting all the line off all my rods and restocking the reels, which is a good idea anyway. Even the most expensive lines break down from ozone exposure, fray and abrade with use, and it’s relatively cheap stuff if you buy a spool or two every week and work it into your annual fishing budget (as if anyone has such a thing!).
If I notice that the line is in especially bad shape on a particular rod, I’ll run a nylon stocking through the guides to reveal any rough spots. Sometimes a worn guide will just dig and cut away at the line till, just when you’re hauling in the new state-record salmon, the line separates with a resounding “pop.” I prefer not to lose the few big fish I hook each year, so new line and a routine guide inspection top my list of pre-season checks.
If I get through that little chore without incident, I clear off the table and dump the contents of my tackle box into the middle of it. I try to be organized when I’m fishing, but things happen (I catch a good fish, it begins to rain, someone else borrows my stuff) and suddenly I can’t find anything when I need it. I begin with a clean, empty tackle box (no food, dried-up bait or paper towels left inside) and start putting things back in, one at a time, taking a moment to clean, polish or repair whatever needs it. Lures will have dull, rusted or broken hooks, spinners will be tarnished or bent, plastics will be melted, torn up or shredded, and bottled baits will have leaked all over the place. I keep a running list of what needs to be replaced (plastics, leaders and swivels) and if a particularly productive lure is on its last legs I’ll make a note to buy a new one.
This is a good time to dismantle, oil and repair reels, too. Any loose or broken parts should be replaced before the season opens, and internal parts should be cleaned and oiled so you can get through another season without any annoying malfunctions. I even go as far as to make sure I have critical spare parts (reel handles and line bails come to mind) because I’ve lost both on wilderness trips and was more than glad to find that I’d bought and packed a spare.
If my spinning gear is all in order, I’ll go through my fly-fishing vest to see what kind of mess I’ve made. My worst habit is snipping off unproductive flies and just sticking them wherever I can find a place for them. There are sheepskin pads all over my vest, designed to hold flies while I’m working to match some mysterious hatch, but too often I’ll stick a fly in a pocket, shoulder or hat and forget it’s there. Now’s the time to gather up all those loose flies, steam them to reinvigorate the feathers and fur, and put them back into the appropriate fly box. I try to remember to cut out the leftover tippet material so I’ll have an easier time of tying a new fly on when the trout are jumping all around me, and I’ll make sure each hook is clean and sharp before I put it away, too. I neglected this little chore one year and, while fishing a major hatch on the Sebec River, opened a box to find a huge mess of rusted hooks, mangled feathers and twisted tippets. I’d dropped the box into the river the previous year and forgot to do anything about it. Close to $100 worth of hand picked flies were ruined.
I take time to rearrange my vest so that the gear, tools and flies are back where I want them when I need them, and I make sure all my fly books and boxes are filled with freshly tied flies and streamers. I make sure my spare reels (containing sinking, floating and shooting-head lines) are properly filled, untangled and ready to go when I need them.
It’s great to be on the water with everything is in its place and ready to go when you are. The time to take care of all this stuff is now. There may be snow on the ground and a cool edge to the breeze right now, but it won’t be long before it’s time to drop a line and see if the trout will answer. Will you be ready?
Opening day is only nine days away and you’ve been warned!
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