The dead of winter is always a good time to go over your gear and give it a thorough cleaning. If you're like me, you're probably a little hard on your equipment, after all, it's hard work to catch those slobbernockers and look this damn good. Time to get rid of the dirty.
My poor fly lines get abused. I try to take caution and avoid stepping on them, but I always manage to do so, though unintentionally. The rivers I fish in my watershed are often choked with ultra fine clays and silts, remnants of Glacial Lake Aggasiz. These fine particles can actually become charged ions and will stick to your fly line. This fine layer of accumulation can act like just like sandpaper, especially when subjected to bipedal abuse. In addition, fishing in the rocks can be hell on a line's coating. Your Einsteinian tip of the day: UV light, heat, and petrochemicals will degrade the surface and integrity of your fly line. Check for cracking. I use a mild soap solution to clean heavily soiled lines and then a solid rinse. I treat my lines with Rio Agent-X, though any fly line branded treatment solution will probably work. This helps keep my line supple and shooting like a breeze. Remember, don't treat your sink tips or sinking lines. There are polymers in those treatment solutions that act as a floatant to help keep your fly line riding high.
Surprisingly, my reels stay pretty clean, save for the gouge or two from encounters with rocks. I use the scapegoat excuse of an Hard Alox finish and a completely sealed bearing and conical drag system for treating my reels like shit. They often get tossed down in the sand, dirt, and snow when landing a fish. The finish on my Lamson Velocities seem to do an excellent job of repelling dirt. The sealed drag and bearing design of the Lamson allow you to submerse your entire reel underwater for cleaning without fear of rust. This is especially handy when fishing salt. I pull my bearings and inspect the rollers and race. Even through my cases of abuse, I have yet to find any grime, moisture, or other particles within the sealed drag compartments. I clean the old grease off the bearings, and then re-grease lightly. I use a reel lube that performs well in cold temperatures. Having too much grease, or one with a higher viscosity will spell danger for you in the cold. Don't over apply.
The last thing I do is go over my rods. I clean the cork grips and look for any major pitting or decay/rot. It's easier to seal up those pits and gouges right away, than to let it ride resulting a a big chunk of cork missing from your grip. I clean my rods with a damp towel, and inspect the ferrules for any cracking. I check the guides and tip tops, making sure they are still firmly fastened to the rod. One of my rods developed a loose tiptop on my last outing, likely from the constant build up of ice. I took the opportunity to re-glue the tiptop to the blank. All you need is a lighter and a glue stick and you're golden. Take caution not to overheat and weaken the blank. On a previous season's maintenance, I noticed a piece of epoxy starting to crack around the thread wraps at the end of one of the ferrules. That could have been bad; the thread wrap on the guide could have unraveled, leading to possible rod failure. I took the opportunity to remove the tiny chip and touch up the area with some cement.
I know it's not the most exciting or enjoyable part of the job, but if you're like me, you don't have sponsors breathing down your throat ready to fork over another line, rod or reel when yours start to fail. Keeping care of your gear not only saves you a few bucks for the bottle shop later, but will also help minimize any equipment catastrophes on the water due to poorly maintained gear.