Fly fishing in saltwater offers heaps of challenge and excitement, but it can also take a toll on your gear. Proper freshwater rinsing of rods, reels, hooks, pliers, etc that came in contact with saltwater is really important to help avoid such issues as salt buildup, rust, and corrosion. Gear that isn't properly cared for will not only have lower resale value, but more importantly may not function as it should.
I always try to rinse my gear as soon as possible after a saltwater fishing trip. Typically, this is within an hour of getting off the water but can be a few hours later. The last thing I would do is let my gear sit untouched for a day or more or stow my rod/reel in a case while still damp or with salt still present. Different folks may go about their cleaning methods in slightly different ways, but the following are some of the methods I like to use when washing off my gear.
I rinse every inch of my fly rod under a healthy stream of freshwater with the sections separated. The ferrules (where the rod joins together) can be particularly vulnerable to salt, grime, and sand getting inside. When ferrules get contaminated, it can make it harder to separate the sections and may also cause scratching whenever the sections are joined or removed. If the rod sections stay firmly together all day that's a good way to keep ferrules clean, but salt and gunk can find their way into ferrules especially if sections become loose, separated, or are fiddled with during the day.
A minor ferrule cleaning can be done by inserting a Q-Tip into the female (open) end, but be sure to sweep any gunk out of the hole rather than forcing it further in. If grit keeps coming back despite a Q-Tip cleaning, there's probably stuff way up in there beyond your reach. In this case, I personally like to just give the female ferrule a good direct flushing of water several times, allowing the water to drain out of the end between each flush.
Another area of the rod I pay close attention to is the reel seat. I always remove the reel, separate any of the seat rings, and wash it all down with a healthy blast of water. Make sure to also get water up inside the top reel seat hood to flush that out real good as well. A reel seat offers lots of areas for salt and contaminants to hide, but removing the reel and making sure all the rings are separated can aid in removal.
With the reel separated from the rod, I give it a thorough dousing of freshwater from all angles. Besides being able to flush out the reel seat hoods and rings better, removing the reel also allows me to rinse off the top of the reel foot which would otherwise be shielded from a direct blast of water if left the reel attached to the rod. Make sure to drench the fly line really good, too. Stripping a bunch of line off and then rinsing it would be a way to take it a step further, but I just leave it alone and give it a heavy direct soaking while still loaded on the reel.
After rinsing with freshwater, I will dry off much of the water with a towel and bring everything indoors (if not already) where it's clean and dry to allow the remaining moisture to evaporate. All rod sections are separated while drying, and I like to prop them up against a wall so any water inside the ferrules can drip out while letting air inside. For the fly reel, I leave the spool/frame separated until they are fully dry. I don't store my rods and reels in cases when at home, but if I did I'd pay particular attention to the line/backing to make sure it's bone dry before storing in a case for a long period.
I've often read of anglers using a soapy solution when washing their tackle, but I can't recall ever doing so. I just use plain freshwater and the results have seemed just fine over the years. My favorite place to wash tackle is actually under a shower. That nice hot water does a good job breaking down salt and really gets things clean! Wherever you do it, rinsing a rod/reel only takes a minute or so and goes a long way in keeping tackle in tip-top shape. It kind of drives me crazy when fishing gear is abused or neglected, so I like to do what I can to maintain functionality, resale value, and appearance.
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