How to clean a fly line? (and why it is important)

Many fishermen do not know that fly lines should be clean. They then start to complain when there three month old floating line starts to sink. I use to think to myself, “But, my line gets washed every time I cast it into a crystal clear spring creek or alpine brook”. I do not have to waste potential fishing time cleaning it.

While the water in the trout streams might look gin clear, all natural water is full of algae, microbes, pollen, and other fine sediments that over time will stick to a fly line. Not to mention, every time we strip it onto the sand, or grass more grime comes in contact with it.

With that said, the dirtier the water, the more often the fly line needs cleaning to maintain peak performance and prolong its life expectancy. A dirty line, feels stickers, does not shoot as well, and feels less responsive. It is also more likely to sink, rather than float.

In extreme cases, the grime stuck to the outside of a fly line can even act as an abrasive slowly wearing groves into fly rod guides.

Is your new floating line starting to submarine at the tip? Well, chances are it needs cleaning.

How often to clean a fly line?

I know many of us only clean our fly lines once or twice a season, but this is nowhere near enough. It is generally recommended to clean them once every two or three outings to maintain peak performance.

It should be done after every outing if fishing in dirty, colored water or if it has been trampled into the ground.

How to clean a very dirty fly line?

There are several ways to clean a fly line, and depending on how dirty it is some methods remove more caked on grime than others.

If you have never washed your fly line before, I suggest stripping it into a bucket of warm soapy water and allowing it to soak for 10-15 minutes. Then lift the fly line out of the water and wipe it dry by pulling the line through a micro-fiber or clean cotton cloth. This will leave a lot of grime behind on the cloth.

If the line still seems to be dirty, I suggest giving it a second soak in a new bucket of clean soapy water. The cleaner the line, the better it will cast and the longer it will float.

After I have finished cleaning my fly line, I then rinse it thoroughly in warm, fresh water. This is to remove any remaining soap smell.

How about the backing?

The backing does not have to be soaked along with the fly line. If the backing is becoming sticky or problematic it is probably a good idea to replace it. Otherwise, consider giving the top portion a quick wipe to remove the worst of the grime.

I have been fly fishing for over twenty years, and have never had any problems related to the backing. Although, I rarely get to even see it when out fishing, I have never seen it when trout fishing.

What soap to use to clean a fly line?

I use standard liquid hand soap, I prefer ones without a strong performance but it probably does not matter. I avoid using dishwashing liquids because they tend to be a bit more aggressive at removing oils. Although, they can leave the line feeling slippery with a nice, shiny appearance.

If you want to get extra fancy, then fly line manufacturers do make their own fly line cleaning soaps. I will include a few examples (affiliate to amazon) in the box below.

Weekly fly line care and maintenance

Long soakings are only required to clean a dirty fly line, otherwise, they just require a quick wipe down.

Running the line through a dump cotton cloth, or makeup removing pads works well, but it is probably a good idea to use a specially formulated line cleaner and dresser. Such dressers apparently replace some of the oils that keep fly lines sleek and supple.

Different manufacturers release their own products, and they all seem to work similarly in my experience. I will include a few examples (affiliate links to amazon) in the box below.

After cleaning food grade silicon spray can be used to dress a fly line

A quick spray of food grade silicon can make a fly line feel very sleek and shoot further. I advise against applying it directly to the fly line, but spray it onto a dry cloth, and strip the fly line through the cloth to apply the coating more evenly.

I advise against using mineral, or non-food grade silicons, they probably will not damage our fly lines, but we simply do not need any more strange chemicals in our waterways.

How about using WD-40 on fly lines?

This is a topic that can generate a lot of discussions, some fly fishermen absolutely swear by WD-40, while others find silicon sprays make their lines extremely buoyant and sleek. Other fishermen go out of their way to discourage the use of auto-products on fly lines.

It is best to avoid WD-40 and similar products as a fly line treatment because they contain petroleum products and solvents such as Stoddard that can damage fly line coatings. So the reason why WD-40 can make a fly feel very supple, and smooth is because the chemicals in it is slowly dissolving the coating.

Avoid using any petroleum based products on fly lines

Fly lines are typically made from Flexible (plasticized) PVC, which is a type of plastic. Petroleum based products over time dissolve, degrade and damage all non-stabilized plastics. For this reason, it is best to avoid cleaning or treating fly line with any petroleum based products.

How about  Armor All Auto cleaner?

Many members of my fly fishing club swear by Armor Aall Auto Cleaner, because it makes the line very slippery and easy to shoot. But if you want your line to last, it is not recommended to use such products to clean fly lines. This is because it contains solvents such as propylene glycol n-butyl ether.

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