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Fly Rod Cleaning Made Easy
By Joe Evans, (Emerger)

Keeping a fly rod clean and nice-looking is not a difficult task, nor does it take a lot of time. Yet, it is a job that most anglers tend to avoid, if they do it at all. They clean their fly lines and reels and other items of equipment fairly regularly, but for some reason they often seem to neglect their rods. With the cost of good fly rods skyrocketing, it only makes good sense to keep them clean and in top condition.

Cleaning the Cork Grip

The cork grip on a fly rod generally needs the most attention, because it can really become dirty over time. Just the natural body oil from our hands can cause a grip to become soiled rather quickly. And add to that, fish slime, floatants, sunscreen, and numerous other items that often come in contact with our hands while fishing, which can build up layers of dirt and grime. I have tried several different types of soaps and mild chemicals to clean cork grips, including dish detergent, tooth paste, alcohol, hand soap, household bleach, spray cleaners, and several other things. Most of these work pretty well, but the one I like the best is liquid household cleanser. One such product is "Soft Scrub Cleanser with Bleach." It not only cleans a soiled grip quickly and effectively, but it helps to bleach-out any dark blemishes in the cork, as well as lighten the cork back to its original color. Having used this product for many years, I can attest to the fact that it does not harm the grip in any way when properly used. Here's how it's done:

First, assemble all the items you will be using, including the rod, the cleanser, a sponge or old wash cloth, and a clean, dry towel. Also, have something to protect your clothing from any splashes of the bleach containing cleanser. Any drops that get onto your clothing will have a permanent bleaching effect that will end up as a white spot.

Work at the kitchen sink with a small stream of warm running water. Wet the grip under the tap, apply a quarter-size blob of cleanser to your dampened sponge or wash cloth (be sure to shake the bottle of cleanser well before using), and scrub-down the cork grip. Scrub the cork thoroughly, starting at one end of the grip and working towards the other end. As you work, avoid rubbing the metal hardware and wood spacer on the reel seat, as well as the finish on the blank. Scrubbing those shiny surfaces can cause light permanent scratches, so keep the cleanser off those parts as you work.

After the grip has been thoroughly cleaned, wash it off under the stream of running water, rubbing it well with your fingers to remove all traces of the cleanser. Then dry the grip and with a soft clean terry cloth towel and set it aside to dry thoroughly before putting it back into its case. When dry, the grip will be clean and look almost new again.

Cleaning the Rod Blank

The most effective way that I have found for cleaning the rod blank is by using another common household product called "Pledge Furniture Polish" in the aerosol spray can. Other brands will likely work equally as well. This product removes dirt, grime, dried-on bits of algae, water spots, greasy smudges, etc., from the rod quickly and easily, and it leaves the rod looking clean and polished. Here's how to use it:

First, shake the can well before using, as directed on the label. Working with one rod section at a time, rotate (spin) the section between your thumb and fingers while you lightly spray a mist over the entire surface. Next, use a clean, dry terry cloth towel to wipe-down and polish the entire section until all the spray residue has been wiped off and a clean shine appears on the rod. Work a small corner of the toweling under and around the guides until you can see that every part of the surface has been cleaned. If you have difficulty getting under the guides, use a clean Q-Tip to do those parts. Repeat the procedure for each rod section until you have cleaned and polished the entire rod. This type of product not only cleans the rod quickly, but it also leaves a light, protective wax-like film on the finish that helps to repel further soiling. It works well on all types of rods, including graphite and bamboo.

Note: Most anglers tend to overlook the condition of the guides on their rods. Guides can and do wear out; particularly those on rods that are used a great deal. Because of this, it is a good practice to inspect the guides carefully at least once a year. And a good time to do it is when you are cleaning the rod. This is easiest done under the illumination of a bright light, where you can look for signs of wear or grooving, which can cause premature line abrasion and early failure of the line.

To find worn places that are not readily visible to the eye, pass a gathered section of an old nylon stocking (women's pantyhose works very well) through each guide. If the material tends to "stick" to the guide, it is a good indication that wear has occurred. If this is the case, the guides should be replaced. Normally, if one guide is worn, the rest will be worn as well. Have them replaced as a set.

Cleaning the Reel Seat and Hardware

The same method used for cleaning the blank (described above) is also used to clean wooden or metal reel seat spacers and the associated nickel-silver hardware. When cleaning these smaller surfaces, however, it usually works best to spray a small amount of the polish onto a soft, clean cloth, then rub the surfaces to be cleaned. Finish the job by polishing with a clean portion of the cloth until the surfaces are dry and shinny.

Cleaning and Lubricating Glass and Graphite Ferrules

Take time after every two or three fishing excursions to clean and lubricate the ferrules of your rods. This will help the sections seat together more smoothly and precisely and -- more importantly -- it will prevent the sections from sticking together. Many an angler has finished his day of fishing, only to find that he can't get his rod sections apart. A regular practice of cleaning and lubricating the ferrules will prevent this annoying problem from occurring.

To clean the female portion of the ferrule (the one with the open end), use a Q-Tip saturated with plain rubbing alcohol. Rub the inside surface thoroughly, around the entire inside circumference, then use a clean swab to wipe off any dirt or old wax residue.

Clean the male portion of the ferrule with a soft cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol. Rub the male slide well to remove any dirt or old wax from the surface. Finish by drying the ferrule with a clean, soft cloth. After the alcohol has dried, apply a light coating of white candle wax to the entire surface of the male ferrule.

Cleaning and Lubricating Metal Ferrules

The basic care and maintenance of most quality metal ferrules requires simply keeping them clean. Most of the time this is easily accomplished by simply wiping off the male slide regularly with a soft clean cloth. The female portion can be cleaned with a clean, dry Q-Tip. If the ferrules occasionally seem to need a more thorough cleaning, alcohol can be used, as described above for graphite ferrules.

Metal ferrules should be joined and separated with a straight pull only. Do not "twist on" and "twist off" as you do with graphite ferrules. When joining the sections, the male portion of the ferrule should be seated completely into the female tube. Occasionally, some metal ferrules may require some light lubrication to keep them working smoothly. If you feel this is needed, apply a very scant film of silicone grease or other suitable lubricant, or wipe the male slide lightly with a good quality machine oil. Very little should be applied and it should be removed and reapplied on a regular basis to prevent dirt from accumulating in or on the ferrules.

Caution: Do not use the oil from the side of your nose to lubricate metal ferrules! Body oil is not a suitable lubricant for fine quality ferrules. It can be corrosive to some metals and it almost always contains dirt from the skin, which can cause premature wear on the ferrules.


Keeping your fly rods clean and in good repair requires only a small amount of regular care and maintenance. It will not only keep them nice looking, but it will also help to protect your expensive investments should you ever decide to sell or trade them. Keep your rods inside their protective bags and cases when not in use, and take reasonable care with them to prevent accidental breakage. If you do this, your rods will last longer and give you greater service and satisfaction for many years to come. ~ JE

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