It's hard to believe spring is only two weeks away, it doesn't seem like this winter will ever end but eventually it will and when it does the fishing should be excellent. There is still a lot of snow in the mountains making access difficult but once the roads are passable, the hatcheries will be hard at work making up for lost time and we will be fishing before you know it. If you're like me you are ready to spend some time on the water, and do battle with a trout on the end of your line. But, is your gear ready?
There is nothing more frustrating than being out for the first time after the long winter to discover your waders leak or the line on your reel is rotten or some other thing that drives you nuts, something that could have easily been prevented or fixed prior to the beginning of the season.
One thing that can ruin a day on the water, especially early in the season is leaky waders. I know from personal experience that there are few things more miserable than walking a mile or two into a favorite fishing spot only to discover icy water flowing freely across your foot as soon as you step into the water.
Aside from the discomfort of walking around with one wet foot and one dry, in cold weather there is a real chance of frostbite with wet feet in ice-cold water all day. Checking for leaks is easy and most leaks are small and can be easily repaired. For boot foot waders and hip boots, fill them with water and see if water comes in, only problem is you have to dry them out before you can wear them.
For stocking foot neoprene and breathable waders, simple turn them inside out and fill with water, lay them on the ground and don't suspend them off the ground as this can put stress on the seams and create leaks. If they leak, you will see water seeping in where the hole is, on breathable, nylon, or rubber waders mark the hole and patch it on the outer surface when the waders are dry.
Neoprene leaks are a bit trickier, water can come trough the outer surface and move some distance before it finds a hole on the inner surface. Because of this, you need to patch these waders on the inside where you find water coming through and on the outside where water gets in. Use a patching kit or glue made for the type of material the waders are made from. Pay attention to your wading boots as well, laces can dry rot and always seem to break at the worst possible time, like when your fingers are cold and tired which makes tying the broken ends together difficult.
One of the most overlooked and the easiest thing to replace is fishing line. If it was in good shape when it was stored last fall, it should still be in good shape right. Not always, if the reel was stored where sunlight could reach it, the line may have rotted making it weak and brittle, the worst way to find out your line is bad is to break off fish after fish, once again something I have personal knowledge of. Monofilament and fluorocarbon lines have memory and after months of being stored on the reel these lines can remain coiled when they come off the reel causing tangles and knots.
It is possible to stretch and straighten these lines but it is easier to replace the lines. Fly lines should be checked for nicks, cuts and cracks in the coating on the outer surface that creates the smooth travel of the line through the guides. If it is not in good shape, replace it.
Fly lines last a long time if well taken care of but dirt, slime, and grit stick to the surface and should be cleaned off periodically to help the line last longer and cast better. Simply take the line off the reel and place it in warm soapy water to soak for a while and with a soft cloth wipe off the dirt then apply a fly line dressing and it should be ready to go.
Another thing that can help things go smoothly the first time out is to organize your vest. Take everything out of the vest and take inventory of the tackle. Check the hooks on lures and flies and sharpen or replace the hooks or throw out if rusty, a rusty hook is a weak hook. Organize the tackle in boxes or whatever method you prefer and put what you need within easy reach. I always accumulate a bunch of junk and debris in my vest over the course of a season and rarely if ever clean it out until the following spring when I'm getting antsy to get on the water. Flies, split shot, hooks, candy wrappers, spinners, leaves, twigs, all kinds of stuff seems to find a place to hide in my vest and the loose flies especially like to stick me once in a while when searching through pockets. Clean all that stuff out, salvage what you can and toss the rest.
Wipe down rods and reels with a damp cloth to get the dust and cobwebs off, this will help the line slide through the guides better for more accurate casts. A drop or two of oil on the gears of reels, then check, and tighten the drag, (you should always store reels with the drag backed off, it prolongs the life so it will work smoothly when you need it), and you should be all set.
These few simple things can make your first fishing trip of the year go a little smoother, with your gear and tackle organized and in good shape all you have to do is work the rust out of your casting.
New line will help with that so all you need to worry about is staying warm and catching fish. Oh, one final thing, check your waders for critters that may have made a home in them during the winter, I overlooked this small detail once and after a few minutes of discomfort discovered that a mouse had left a nest in one of my boots, complete with babies. Trust me this is not how you want to begin a day of fishing.