Let’s start with reels.
If they were not rinsed and greased after you last used them last, you could be in for some bad news. Take a crank on the handle and see if it’s smooth, grinding, or seized — you want smooth, obviously. If it’s any of the latter two descriptors you need to have it serviced or open it up and clean and grease it yourself. It needs to be free of sand and corrosion to make it through the season. Drop a little oil on the bail connections, handle, and clicker lever. Some reels have oil ports (most conventional reels do) to allow easy lubrication; if yours has them, use them. Check the drag by removing the drag knob and washer retainer ring. The drag washers should be cleaned and lightly greased with "drag grease" and re-installed in the same order they came out. Fortunately most reel manufacturers have very good schematics of their reels online so it’s a good idea to look yours up before disassembly.
Fishing line is critical and if you use monofilament it needs to be replaced annually. It turns chalky and brittle as it ages, especially when exposed to UV rays. It’s an inexpensive and easy way to ensure you don’t lose a fish. If you use braided line you can generally get at least two seasons out of a spool. I like to reverse the line on the spool back to front allowing me to use the ‘fresh’ line that’s at the core of the spool. To do this you need a spare spool (which some reels come with) and the reel should be on the fishing rod. Simply take the spool with braid off the reel, put the empty spool on the reel, tie in the line from the full spool to the empty spool, through the rod eyes to the reel, and then use the reel to wind on the line. You’ll need to give the line a little resistance as it’s wound on the spool and this can be done by placing the full spool in a bucket of water and holding the line between your thumb and forefinger ahead of the reel as you’re reeling.
Next is making sure the rod is in good shape to fight fish.
Nicks and scratches in the rod should be scrutinized. Pay special attention to the top 1/3 of the rod as this tends to be the most common place for breakage. A simple dent on a rod made of carbon will create a weak point bound to break at the wrong time. Check the rod eyes for burrs and nicks as they can cut or fray your line. An easy way to do this is pull a piece of nylon stocking or a cotton ball through each eye. Lastly, check the reel seat, this is where the reel attaches to the rod. It should be free of corrosion and easy to screw the foothold up to the reel foot. Once the reel is secure wrap a piece of electrical tape around the threaded base of the foothold to keep it from loosening up while fishing.
Moving on to lures and plugs.
The most important thing is to make sure the hooks are sharp and have minimal rust. Change hooks out if needed and try to use a ‘4x’ strength hook or higher. Make sure the split rings attaching hooks to lures are not rusty or bent. Also look at the general condition of the lure. Cracks can let water in changing the action and balance of the lure. This is also a good opportunity to recolor the plug with sharpies or paint. Take an overall inventory of your stock and get what you need now. Many lure makers run short on certain styles and colors once the season starts, it’s best to stock up beforehand.
Lastly is the accessory gear. Here’s your reminder to repair the hole in the waders, not after you rediscover it during the first fishing trip. Oil up the pliers and sharpen knives. Get yourself a new pair of line clippers (aka nail clippers) and replace the batteries in your headlamp. I highly recommend a pair of safety glasses for night fishing to avoid a hook in the eye, especially fly fishermen. A friend lost his sight in his eye to a hook, he now gives safety specs out as gifts.
It won’t be long till the shad trees bloom and the fishing is good. Word is a couple diehards started snooping around this week, so my guess is the first fish will be caught by April 30. In the next article we’ll talk about getting the boats ready for the season.
Catch 'em up!