A fine day for tinkering and oiling

Paul Smith
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As I sit to write this week's column, there's a strong northerly wind whipping up snow outside my window. It's March 31, and I think we've just experienced the heaviest snowfall for winter 2012.

We weren't blessed with much of a winter here on the Avalon Peninsula; in fact, it might be the sissiest winter I've ever seen. I had just three or four deep snow hikes on my beloved snowshoes.

Those of you who read this column regularly know that I've been wishing and praying for more of the white stuff ever since Christmas. I love a snowy winter. I'm not much for snow before the festive season, but after New Year's, bring it on. But today's snow I could live without. The land was beginning to dry nicely and sea trout fishing was first and foremost on my mind.

Actually, today I'd planned to head to Trinity Bay in search of trout. I've heard rumours about some good-sized fish being caught. I debated heading out in the storm for a few casts, but thought better of it. I've done foolish stuff like that plenty of times before, but today I decided to tend to a few indoor chores I have been putting off.

My fly fishing reels were in dire need of their yearly overall. With a snowstorm raging outside, and forecasted to continue until late evening, what better time to tackle a tedious indoor task. I brewed a pot of strong coffee and assembled my reels, tools and cleaning gear on the dining room table.

There are probably better locations than the dining room to perform fly reel maintenance, but on this morning it seemed a perfectly logical choice. I'm not sure Goldie agreed, but she is very tolerant, except for the time she found a caribou hair in her Corn Flakes. That was the end of tying bombers at the table. I digress.

I have two desks in the house: one for tying flies, which is naturally covered with feathers and fur at all times, and my computer desk where I write. Neither is suitable for stripping down and oiling reels. The garage is too cold, so I sit at the dining room table with plenty of natural light from the patio door, taking apart my prized Islanders and Abels.

Before I go any further, I should explain something about fly reels.

Some of you might be starting to feel guilty for not cleaning and lubricating your reels this season. Most likely there is no need, either to feel guilty or clean your reels. Nowadays, the vast majority of fly reels on the market require absolutely zero maintenance, especially if used only in fresh water.

There are two distinct design philosophies to which all reels can be categorized. Their moving parts, including drag and bearings, are either factory sealed or open to the elements. If you own a reel with its vitals exposed, it requires regular cleaning and lubrication.

Which is best? Well, that depends on you, and there are varying opinions. If you buy a top-quality reel with unsealed bearings and lubricate it as required, it will likely serve you faithfully for a very long time. I expect my grandchildren to catch salmon with my Islanders.

If you don't maintain them, they will seize up and die. So, if you aren't the handy type who likes getting your hands oily, buy a reel with sealed bearings. But in my humble opinion, they will not stay in service nearly as long as a reel that gets oiled and greased regularly.

Most manufacturers assume we are slobs and construct completely sealed and maintenance-free products.

There are only a few companies that build unsealed reels, but they are considered the best among serious fly anglers who tackle big nasty fish, especially in salt water. Tibor, Islander and Abel reels all have exposed working parts. Why? First and foremost, it is difficult to contain a significant size drag surface and dissipate heat inside a sealed box.

To fight strong fish you need a powerful drag, and it runs hot in the heat of battle. Also, open drag systems are straightforward and easy to repair. Parts can be replaced when they wear out. I like that.

And finally, if an angler maintains regularly a reel built precisely and soundly, it will perform as designed for many decades. But the key is maintenance; don't buy one of these reels if you aren't going to care for it. Back to the dining room table. I have three Canadian-made Islander reels; two in size 8/9 that I use for salmon as well as saltwater fishing in the tropics. Down south I use this pair for snook, bonefish and similar size species. The third is my "big iron" that I use to battle tarpon and the like, big fish that can really raise a stink. It's a size 12/13. The big fella didn't get much use this year, so I worked on it first. Once disassembled, I cleaned off any accumulated gunk and removed all the old grease and oil with cotton swaps and cloth. Then I freshly oiled and greased everything as per the instruction sheet. It is critically important to lubricate the cork drag on these reels to keep them smooth and running like a Rolex. My oldest Islander, about 10 years, was up next. Despite a fair share of nicks and scrapes, it's reeling in fish like it just came off the assembly line. I think that's because I keep it oiled up. All its inner workings checked out perfect.

Next I took apart its twin, a new reel I bought last spring. I should say, tried to take apart. The spool was stuck on the frame. I took a sip of black coffee and thought for a moment. I'd used this reel kayak fishing in Florida last summer - saltwater. I'd rinsed it in fresh water each time, but I didn't strip it down for cleaning and oiling when I arrived home in Newfoundland. I should have; saltwater demands extra diligence.

After a bit of a struggle, I got the reel apart and cleaned it. One of the bearings had seized with corrosion onto the shaft. I'd been neglectful. It was my fault. I oiled everything and reassembled the reel; no permanent damage, although I'm ordering a new bearing to replace one that feels a little rough. I like stuff I can tinker with.

If you use your reels in saltwater, be sure to rinse them after each and every outing. And before you store them, or after a stint of salty fishing, be sure to do a full strip down and complete lubrication. Unless your reel is designated maintenance free, in which case just cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be

contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: Rolex

Geographic location: Trinity Bay, Florida, Newfoundland

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