The Best Way to Store Fly Lines

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Question: What’s the best method or system for storing fly lines between trips to keep them clean, organized, and memory free? I know I should be removing the lines from the reels and storing them on larger spools or perhaps on no spool at all, but I’d like to simplify the process of unspooling and re-spooling, and have an organized way of putting my hands on the lines I need when I’m ready to go.

Tom Hart

Answer: Knowing that there are as many homespun systems for storing fly lines as there are fish in the ocean, we asked fly line expert Simon Gawesworth to answer Tom’s question in detail.  Here’s what he said:

“In the old days, when silk lines were the only available choice for fly fishers, cleaning and treating a fly line was a daily essential requirement. The silk would absorb water and start to sink and had to be dried out (usually by stringing it between two trees) and then coated in talcum powder after every single fishing trip to stop it getting sticky. It was unwise to leave the lines on reels as any sticky residue would ensure the line coils on the reel would stick together. It is from this necessity that the tradition of removing lines and cleaning them after each trip has lingered.

Cleaning a Fly Line

In addition to careful storage, cleaning a fly line before winding it and storing it will ensure no harmful chemicals are left to degrade the coating. photo courtesy RIO Products

Modern lines need a lot less maintenance, and the majority of anglers nowadays find they don’t have to take their lines off of reels between trips or seasons. It is still important to clean fly lines, though, as a clean fly line will float higher, last longer and cast further than a dirty one. If you are unsure of the best way to clean a line, these two videos give a great tutorial on what to do: https://vimeo.com/rioproducts/review/50718362/a6edfdedee (part 1), https://vimeo.com/rioproducts/review/50720818/22c068f6ab (part 2).

If the fly line is going to be left on the reel for any length of time (3 months or more) without being used or stripped off, it would not hurt to take it off the reel and store it in large coils at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. This would be particularly essential for lines that are on reels with small arbors. The easy part is taking the line off of the reel: simply strip the line from the reel and into a box (to avoid picking up dirt from the floor), pinch the front end of the line in your thumb and index finger, bend your arm to a 90-degree angle, and then wind the line over your elbow and into your thumb and index finger pinch. Once the line has been totally wound onto your arm this way, simply tie the coils together (loosely) with a pipe cleaner or twisty in about 4 places. The hardest part is that when you unwind the line to put it back on the reel it is very easy to put a twist into it. To avoid twist the line has to be unwound exactly the opposite way to the way it was wound on.

If you are really serious about ensuring your fly line gets the best treatment I would suggest you do what I used to do when tournament casting, and that is to get a bicycle wheel rim and just wind the fly line on to this. The circumference is large and so the coils are huge, the line is kept tight on the wheel rim so will never tangle, and when it comes to unwinding, you simply hold the axle and get someone to pull the line off—you’ll never develop twist this way!”