Fish that is. It's time. Yes, I know that the thermometer still hovers somewhere in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle and you may need to call in an ice breaker to get on your favorite trout stream, BUT the return of outstanding fly fishing is getting so close we can almost taste it. To ensure you're prepared for that first miracle day when the temperature rises, the water flows, and you have the day off, you need to get things ready now.
If you have been lusting after a new fly rod, now is the time to acquire it. A new rod is a great way to start the season and the perfect excuse to go fishing, as in “I have this new rod I really need to go try out” The same “excuse” works for that rod you got as a gift that has been sitting in the corner taunting you all winter.
If your “old favorite” rod and reel have been waiting patiently since you put them away last fall, they probably could use a little attention. A bit of candle wax rubbed on the male ends of the rod segments will refresh the joints and help that rod fit together snugly.
Having spent the past couple of months wrapped around the reel the line has likely acquired a bit of memory. Find yourself a smooth pole (like a basketball pole, not a tree… too rough). Spool off your line around the pole, grab both ends and walk back to the point where you’re stretching the line; not too taut, just enough to straighten it out. This works best on a reasonably warm day with the line at room temperature.
This is also a good time to inspect and clean that line. If your line is more than a couple of three years old it may be ready to be replaced. Look closely for cracks or breaks in the plastic. Damage such as this will let water into the core and the line will not float very well, if at all it deserves to be retired (I usually relegate my old lines to the rod I use for pond fishing for bluegill and bass). Assuming the line looks to be in decent shape, a good cleaning will ensure it’s ready to go.
I have heard many different perspectives on how to clean and treat a fly line. For some (like me) a simple cleaning with a damp rag and dishwashing soap (a gentle detergent) seems to work just fine. Others, afraid the soap will remove the secret-sauce line coating, wipe off the line with clean water and then treat it with one of the many line conditioners available. Should you have any questions about how to clean and treat your particular line; most line manufacturers have recommendations for their products on their websites. Backing, unless it’s about 100 years old, rarely requires any attention or maintenance (as long as you didn’t put that reel away soaking wet which will cause the backing to acquire a nice coating of mold and mildew).
It is likely that your leader needs refreshed. By the end of the season the last one I used looks pretty sad; short broken sections with wind knots, abrasions, and long pieces of tippet tied on the end (hey, the fish were rising, no time to tie on a new leader!). A fresh new tapered leader will get you started right this year.
Now is also a great time to review your outfit. No, I’m not suggesting you reassess your sense of style, but rather the great load of tools, supplies, and implements of destruction we carry forth each time we head for the water. By the end of the season I seem to have added enough stuff to my kit that when fully outfitted in my waders and chest pack I look like a haz-mat team from the waist down and hardware store from the waist up.
Clearly we need a few things. Extra leaders, some spools of tippet, and the basic tools- nippers, forceps, and a zinger to hang them on- are of course required. Dull nippers are nothing more than a frustration. Some nippers may be sharpened, others should simply be replaced. Forceps last forever. Zingers, however, do tend to wear out and will break at the least convenient and most overlooked times. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve looked down only to discover my favorite and most needed tools have disappeared on the end of a broken zinger. Give them a good look to see if they are frayed and worn.
Rummage through all the pockets of your vest or pack to see what treasures may be lurking there unnoticed. That granola bar you stashed last July may need refreshing; if you find a Twinkie it’s probably still good to go. Strike indicators, split shot, floatant, and other miscellaneous supplies may need refreshed or discarded depending upon how often you actually used them. A lighter load makes you a more nimble angler.
Waders and wading boots usually require a bit of attention. That annoying little leak was probably tolerable last September, but will feel pretty uncomfortable in April’s 50 degree water. Small leaks, either punctures or in the seams, may be repaired with products such as Aquaseal. Simply clean the areas with rubbing alcohol, let it dry, and apply a small amount of AquaSeal. Rubbing in the sealant with a q-tip works well on leaky seams. Larger rips or tears are harder to repair and may necessitate replacement.
Wading boots can take quite a beating. Check-out your laces and replace as necessary. Synthetic laces, not the cotton ones designed for hiking boots, work best and will not deteriorate in the water. If you notice any seams that have separated on your boots, there are still a few cobblers about who can repair them at a reasonable cost (there is a great old-time shoe repair place in Fountain City-they do great work). If the uppers of your boots are in good shape but you’ve worn off the felt soles, these may be refreshed by grinding off the remaining felt and installing felt sole replacements. I’ve done this a couple of times and, if you follow the instructions provided with the repair kit, it works really, really well. For those with studded soles, check to see if the studs are worn or missing. Replacement packs of the screw-in studs are readily available. Then again, it may be time for new boots.
Last but not least, you need to take stock of your supply of flies. Remember what worked best last year?? Do you have enough?? If not...get busy tying. If you don’t tie your own, get to the store sooner verses later...once the fishing turns-on the fly shops tend to run out, at least temporarily, of the most popular flies fairly quickly. You don’t want to hit the water for the first time this spring without your favorite flies.
And there you have it, from rod to reel and head to toe, the things we all should be doing to get ready for the best fishing of the year that’s lurking somewhere just over the horizon. If you have any questions about the state of your equipment or what flies to acquire, just stop by the shop...we’ll be glad to look things over and offer suggestions. While I wouldn't go sit by the stream fully wadered with your fly rod in hand just yet - we do need to live through the rest of February - its close enough we need to READY!
Local fishing continues to be challenging, although tail water fishing has improved of late. The Clinch River has seen some favorable generation schedules on the weekends and we’ve talked with quite a few anglers who planned to take advantage of the opportunities. The Holston has also been fishing well with wader-friendly schedules. Remember you can check the tail water schedules, updated around 6:00PM every evening, by looking at the TVA Website.
The national park waters were bone-numbing cold, but the rains over the past weekend have warmed the streams a bit. Unfortunately, we got a little too much rain and the streams were pretty blown-out. Little River rose from about 200 cubic feet per second to near 4,000 this past Monday (it’s down to 904 right now-still too high to fish). Unable to fish the park waters I headed to one of the stocked catch-and-release streams and managed to catch a few big dumb rainbows...not exactly the same as catching a wild trout, but in February sometimes “ya just gotta catch a fish”, if for no other reason than to keep your spirits up.
Bass Pro Outdoor World
White River Fly Shop
3629 Outdoor Sportsmans Place
Kodak, TN 37764