When to Replace Your Fly Fishing Gear

Not sure if your gear still has life left in it? Fly Fishing expert Charlie Schoenherr breaks down how to know when it's time to replace your rod, reel, and line.

A fly fishing reel, clippers, and a rod rest on water-covered river rocks.

Photo by Carter Yocham

When it comes to fly fishing gear, we want it to last forever. Replacing gear we spent our hard-earned money on is hard, but it's necessary. There are a few different reasons to replace fly gear. With all of the intricate details that come with fly rods, reels, and lines, there are a variety of factors that can cause the downturn.

1. It Breaks

Obviously, if you want to continue fly fishing, you need to have working gear. A broken rod can end a season, a jammed reel can let the fish of a lifetime get away, and an old dirt line can wilt and not let your casts get where they need to. The great news is that these days, the majority of fly fishing companies have good warranties. Orvis has a 25-year warranty for most of its products (Encounter Outfit not included), Sage has an original owner lifetime guarantee, and even Curated has a 14-day Castability Warranty to make sure that you enjoy your rod. Most companies these days want to keep customers and will do whatever it takes to make them happy. Sometimes though, the rod is too old to warranty, or the reel is too far gone to fix. When that happens, there are options for fixing it yourself.

Rod

If you break a rod tip, there are some replacement tips that you can epoxy to the top of the rod. Sometimes though, the rod tip replacements are for conventional rods, and they stick out like a sore thumb. That’s not a great option for saltwater fly anglers chasing big angry fish! When rods break anywhere other than the tip, try sending it in or calling your rod company—odds are, they will want to keep you as a customer.

Reel

A person holds a fly rod and reel in their right hand.

Photo by Curated Fly Fishing expert Andrew Pryor

When your reel breaks, it's a bit of a different story. Reels used to just be a way to hold the fly line on the rod, but in today’s age of differently weighted lines, different fly line types, different fly line finishes, and even different colors, it's hard to consider them as line holders. The technological changes in reels advance each year, from the original click pawl reels with no drag to the saltwater marlin reels that can stop a train. Today’s reels need to be kept in good condition in order for the recent technology to stay tip-top. Reel care is the way to prevent damage. Cleaning your reels in fresh water after using them in salt water can help prevent rust buildup. If you live in a warmer atmosphere, keeping the reels in a Rod Vault or inside a car can cause some of the newer plastic reels to weaken, so bring them in if it's too hot.

Line

Fly line breakage usually happens when the line is old and the plastic wrap has dried and cracked or when the fly line is not cleaned enough and the dirt rubs against the line causing it to fray. Cleaning your fly line is a really easy way to elongate the life of your line. To clean your fly line, simply pull all the line out of your reel, leaving it attached, and place it in a clean box. Grab a wet paper towel with a bit of dish soap on it, and reel all the line back into the reel, holding the line between the paper towel. Keeping your line clean of sand, salt, gravel, or any other debris will make sure that those casts land straight, and those flies land soft. If you break your loop off the end of the line, you can tie a perfection loop into the end of the line or just use a nail knot to attach your leader. Here are two videos on tying both of those knots:

2. It wears out

Just like us, age doesn't always do great things. Gear wearing out is a good thing because it means that the gear is getting used! There are always exceptions, but mostly, if you use it, it will wear down. Leaving fly rods, reels, and lines in the sun is one of the quickest ways for it to go bad. The sun dries out the epoxy coating on the rods and in time can cause it to crack or break. Sunlight and heat can also cause the fly lines to lose their PVC covering, causing saltwater lines to wilt, floating lines to sink, sinking lines to crack and splinter, and overall, lost fish.

On the other hand, fishing with old gear in the cold can cause its own multitude of problems. Fishing in water that is warmer than the air can sometimes cause ice to build up on the guides of the fly rod. The issue there is that when a fish grabs that sz 24 emerger, and runs, the ice holds the line and either snaps the rod, breaks the tippet, or does not allow the line to run which means that you break the fish off. Using Chapstick, Vaseline, or any other similar substances can help prevent the ice from building up on the guides. The cold can also freeze your reel, locking it in place. Effectively turning that expensive rod into a tenkara rod.

One of the most underrated players in your fly gear’s deterioration is the dirt and dust. After just a few years in a dusty garage, a fly outfit can be broken down to nothingness. Dirt and dust falling into the cracks and crevices in fly reels can cause the rubber gaskets in the drag system to break down, mounting screws to get loose, and fly lines to get gritty and sticky. Gritty fly lines can cause grooves into your fingers, fraying along the line itself, and even cause floating lines to sink.

3. It’s REELY Old

See what I did there? Modern technology has advanced so much in the past few decades that if you were handed down an antique fly rod or reel, there's a good chance that the new guys in the fly shops have never even seen anything like it. Modern machining and the blending of new materials have paved the way for a revolution in fly gear. There's a new fly fishing gear company every few years, and they always have the newest technology. If your gear has been taken care of and is in good condition, there's a chance a simple tuneup would fix all of the problems. Here is a video that will help explain how to do that:

Reel

Another reason to upgrade your gear is if you have a click pawl reel, which is an older style of reel that has no drag. The drag is facilitated by “palming” your hand around the outside of the reel and pressing on the reel to slow down the fish. On smaller creeks, high alpine lakes, or smaller fish, a click pawl reel is a blast! However, when the fish get big enough to fight or strong enough to pull line out of the reel, a modern drag system is much more helpful. Modern drag systems involve disc systems, spring systems, and other revolutionary ways to slow down fish. Upgrading your click pawl reel to a modern disc drag would be the equivalent of trading a 1970 GMC Truck in for a brand new 2021 Tesla. The amount of control and trust you can put in these new reels is quite outstanding.

Rod

A woman stands in waders in a river and fly fishes.

Photo by Curated Fly Fishing expert Jessica Scott

Similar to the reels being upgraded, rods have come a LONG way from the original fiberglass rod. Nothing against the Original Gangster, but there's something to say about recent technology! Originally fly rods were built with strips of bamboo or fiberglass stretched out, dried, and then molded together. Modern graphite rods are mass-produced at an accuracy level unheard of. There are new revolutionary ways to build rods every year, and they are getting lighter and stronger each time. The strength, sensitivity, and durability of the new rods outlast the wet noodle of a rod they called fiberglass every day of the week.

4. You’re Undergunnned

Honestly, if you are having to upgrade your gear because you are catching bigger fish, I want to be friends with you. That means you are dialed in on the big, smarter fish, and you need something more.

Let’s say you are a trout angler from Western Colorado, but you lucked into an invite to a tarpon trip in Florida. Do you take your favorite 9ft 5wt rod and reel?

NO!!!

Do not chase large fish with light tippet. You can stress the fish to death, break off fish which leaves hooks in their mouths, or even break your gear. It's just not worth it. We are on the water to make sure our kids and grandkids can do the same thing. When we chase fish with inadequate gear, we run the risk of ruining the soul of why we are there.

Upgrading to a bigger setup sometimes comes with its own learning curve, but it helps us fly fish ethically. Double hauls, loading the rod, and learning the distance is another learning opportunity in itself.

Always reach out to local fly shops, talk with your guides, or hit up a Curated Fly Fishing expert about the right gear for the right time. Knowledge comes with time, and if you are going somewhere new, talk to the experts. They are experts for a reason.

Bottom Line

If the gear is broken, worn out, REELy old, or you are undergunned, you're in the market for new gear. Reach out to a Curated expert for free, personalized advice and recommendations and we can get you all geared up.

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Written By
Charlie Schoenherr
Charlie Schoenherr
Fly Fishing Expert
As a fly fishing guide, I have access to almost every fly rod, reel, fly line, tippit, and fly that there is. Throughout the years of taking my friends and family out, I have become the go to gear guy. Everytime I take someone out on the river, they end up asking, "So what would a full set up cost m...
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