February 16th, 2004

I Was Wrong About Cleaning Lines
By James Castwell


Boy, you've just got to know how I love sitting here, writing that title. For years I have enjoyed cleaning and dressing my fly lines. First with silk lines. Many times at stream-side during a lunch break, it looked like a giant inebriated spider from Mars had been at work. I would stick my fly into the bark of a tree, walk around it twice snagging the leader into the bark, then stretch the line to some distant point, car, table, tree or big bush. Armed with a pad of paper towel and a little dish of soapy (Lava) water, stroll back and forth and wash them, rinse them, dress them, burnish them and let them dry. Mucillin was the only dressing to use. Red can at that, they had not yet invented the green can.

With the introduction of the plastic fly lines came the inevitable parade of ointments for me to clean, dress, preserve, refurbish, recondition, renew.. and oh yes, rub on to make them float really good too. Mostly waxes in a solvent base, some were thick, some were thin. Some seemed to work better than others, some were horrid. All were intriguing and they sold well, still do. Then silicones arrived with much the same results. We all bought them and used them. At times some voices were raised and a few noses were bloodied during less than gentile discussions on the various merits of local favorites.

It has been said that 'necessity is the mother of invention,' but in my case there was no real need, it was my goofy inquisitive nature, I can't leave well-enough alone. 'If it ain't broke, mess with it.' Castwell, who knows zip about chemicals and solvents surely must know more about line dressings based on the single principle that I am, of course, just plain smarter than those guys in the white lab coats. Always wanting to be the guy who knows some secret, I gave into the temptation and tried odd-ball ointments on my lines. You name it, I've tried it. Than just to defend my actions, I, when plied adequately, would give in and tell of the great secret line dressing I had figured out. All manner of products, mostly of a liquid, or semi-liquid consistency were tried, used and properly defended. And them discarded for some newer formulation.

"My God man, don't use that stuff!" As if coming down from a mountain top on tablets, the word rebounded among our ranks like a well struck five cushion shot. "It will leach out the plasticizers, make the line stiff and crack. It will sink!" It seemed that everyone new to fly-fishing discovered some new juice, WD-40, Rain-X, Armour-All, and was soon warned of the dire results of such unwiseness. That "it's use with abandon would surely result in ruination of his gear." Old timers had the information and we tried to warn the youngsters. But, alas, it seems the word got out. Today, guys are using all manner of products, only a very few actually designed for fly lines and defending them to the death.

I have most recently been in contact with the designer of fly lines for a well respected company. In a nut shell he told me that, "for the most part, all those products will help make the lines a bit more slick, at least for a little while. Then they will wash off. The good part though is, none of them will cause any permanent damage." There are even some lines today which claim that you need nothing at all to treat them, clean them yes, but nothing is needed for a dressing afterwards. He said, "these products on the market today will not harm them at all." So, what does this all mean to guys like you and me? This:

You and I and them too, are now free to blow more bucks on those intriguing little containers of gooy-goo which will certainly do something good to and for our fly lines. The days of terror and timidity when we had to sneak about to dress our lines in private, lest we be seen by some well-meaning, but uninformed Samaritan who would attempt to explain to us the error of our ways, those days are a thing of the past. Go ahead, gooy 'em up, have a ball, all is well, you are free at last; and you are on your own!

Yes, on your own, and I mean that. So help me, if even one of you guys tries to shake me down because you used some stuff on your fly line because I said it was alright, I will hunt you down and pummel your shoulders stridently with a slow-action rod. So there. From Jiffy Creamy to lower-unit grease, fear no formulations.

Will I revert to my former ways of cleaning and dressing my lines? In a heart-beat I will. Heck, that is one of the parts of fly fishing. The things I can do when I can't get out on the water. Cleaning, dressing, oiling, petting, and just plain fiddling with my fly gear. Remember, all a worm fisherman can do is dig 'em, buy 'em or feed the things; we get to play with all the neat toys. ~ James Castwell


Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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