The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Fishing Gear


The thought of cleaning your fishing gear may make you cringe, but it is an essential skill for anyone who fishes.

Ideally, you should give your fishing tackle a quick rinse with clean water to remove salt and dirt deposits after every fishing trip. Give your fishing equipment a deep clean annually or at the end of the season before putting your fishing gear in storage.

It can get pretty messy if you don’t clean your fishing tackle often. This looks unsightly but can also negatively affect the performance of your fishing gear.

Here are the best ways to help you get the job done right.

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Fishing Rod And Reel Cleaning Materials

The materials and supplies required to clean your fishing rod and reel are pretty simple, and you might even have most of these things on hand already.

Here are the basic things you will need to clean your fishing rod and reel:

  • Fresh Water
  • Mild Dish Soap
  • Clean Clothes or Paper Towels
  • Baby Wipes
  • Q Tips
  • Plastic film
  • WD-40
  • Pledge Wipes (Optional)
  • Cotton Balls (Optional)
  • White Vinegar (Optional)

If you are looking for a quick and easy solution for cleaning your fishing rod and reel, it might be good to consider investing in a rod and reel cleaning kit. (Ardent Reel Kleen, Penn Rod and Reel Cleaner)

The Best Rod And Reel Cleaning Product I’ve Used

PENN Rod and Reel Cleaner, 12-Ounce

PENN Rod & Reel Cleaner

This is my absolute favourite all-in-one solution for cleaning my rod and reel. Does a great job removing grime and salts from my equipment and saves me time not having to do more steps. You can check out this product on Amazon for yourself.

How To Clean A Fishing Rod

A fishing rod can get extremely dirty from seaweed, grass, water spatters, and bacteria in the water. Cleaning your rods will make them look new and last longer. The best part is cleaning rods is straightforward!

Whether you fish in freshwater or saltwater, here are the steps to clean your rod:

Step 1 – Remove Reel From Rod

  • Remove reel from the rod’s reel seat for cleaning. The amount of dirt that can be sitting in there is surprising.

Step 2 – Wipe Down Rod Shaft

  • Soak cloth or rag into soap water and ring out excessive water. 
  • Thoroughly scrub down the shaft of the rod. 
  • Gently scrub away any salt or dirt deposits that are on the rod.

Tip: You can use cleaning wipes, such as Pledge or Lysol wipes. If you use wipes, then don’t use them to scrub rod handles. The soft or cork texture will cause the wipes to break apart, causing more mess.

Step 3 – Clean Fishing Rod Guides

  • Using the same cloth or wipe, gently scrub the rod guides and inspect them for corrosion.
  • Grab a new Q Tip (it can be dry or wet the end with soapy water) and insert it in the guide while twisting and moving the Q Tip slightly in and out of the guide. 
  • Check Q Tip if you notice any fraying or if there is any cotton in the guide. If so, this could be a sign of more dirt or a burr caused by corrosion. 

How to remove corrosion from a rod guide

There will be a time when you will notice corrosion around or in your rod guide. A bit of corrosion might not look like a big deal until you lose a fish. 

Corrosion creates a rough surface and sharp edges that can dig into your line, especially from the pressure created when fighting a fish. So let’s talk about how to remove this corrosion. 

I found that using vinegar to remove rust has been the most effective for me. Here is what you can do:

  • Using cotton balls or paper towels, soak them in some vinegar. Ring out excessive vinegar, or it will make it harder to handle. 
  • Pack the inside of the guides with cotton balls or paper towels. 
  • Using the same cotton balls or paper towels, pack around the guides. Do this to every guide. 
  • Using shrink wrap or plastic film, wrap the guides tightly to stop the vinegar from drying out and forcing the soaked balls or paper towels onto the guides.
  • Let it soak for about 30 minutes or longer.
  • Unwrap the film and remove the soaked cotton balls or paper towels. 
  • Using a new Q Tip, scrub off the corrosion and reinspect the guides.
  • Repeat as needed. 

Tip: Once your guides are clean, I would spray fresh water on the guides to remove or reduce the concentration of vinegar. Then use a clean and dry cloth to wipe the guides dry to remove water.

Step 4 – Dry Rod Shaft

  • Wipe down your rod with a dry clean cloth to remove the wetness from the rod. If the rod drys naturally, then any dirt leftover on the rod will show up again.

Step 5 – Clean Rod Reel Seat

  • You can use the same damp cloth to scrub the reel seat.
  • Depending on the design of your reel seat, you can use a Q tip or a soft bristle toothbrush to scrub in the tight areas.

Step 6 – Scrub Rod Handles (Including Cork)

  • Using a damp cloth or baby wipe, gently scrub the rod handles.
  • If the handles are cork, then pay attention to getting inside the cracks and grooves, as a lot of dirt likes to hide in there. 
  • Once you notice no more dirt coming off the handle, wipe down the handles using a dry cloth.
  • If the handles are cork, consider investing in a cork sealant to help protect your cork handles from dirt, keeping them looking like new for longer.

How To Clean Your Fishing Reel

I find that there are a lot of anglers that make cleaning your reels overly complicated, and it does not have to be. 

Here are the steps you need to follow regardless of whether your reel was used in freshwater or saltwater fishing.

Step 1 – Gently Rinse Your Reel

  • Using a spray bottle or gentle running water, wet the reel and wind the reel a few times to work the water inside some crevices.
  • You are trying to rinse any salt or dirt deposits on the reel away. By winding the reel, you are trying to get these deposits to break loose and wash away.

Tip: Don’t angle the reel so that you are forcing water into the reel internals when using high-pressure water. Salt or dirt deposits can be pushed further into your reel, and if they find their way to the reel’s gears, it could lead to damage. 

How to remove corrosion from a reel?

When it comes to removing corrosion from a reel, you can do several different options.

Option 1 – You can use a similar technique used to remove corrosion from the rod guides as mentioned under Rod Cleaning – Step 3. 

Option 2 – Apply WD-40 to the corroded area and let it soak for a few minutes. Then try scrubbing it off using a cloth or paper towel. If that fails, use a soft-bristle toothbrush and try scrubbing the corrosion away. If you are too rough when cleaning a reel, you could damage the protective metal plating making it more likely to experience more corrosion in the future.

If you are not deep cleaning your reel, jump to step 6.

Step 2 – Disassemble Your Reel (For Deep Cleaning)

  • Remove the reel’s drag system, bail, and hand from the reel body. It would be best to refer to your reel’s manual for instruction on how to do this for your particular reel.
  • Place the components neatly on a clean paper towel.

Step 3 – Clean The Separate Components (For Deep Cleaning)

  • Wipe down each component with a clean paper towel or cloth to remove excess grease or dirt deposits. Using a reel cleaner will help break down the old grease to be cleaned off easier.

Step 4 – Lubricate Reel (For Deep Cleaning)

  • Apply your favourite reel grease and oil to each of the components. I would recommend referring to your reel’s manual for instructions.

Step 5 – Reassemble (For Deep Cleaning)

  • With your newly greased and oiled-up components, it’s time to reassemble your reel.
  • Once your reel is assembled, tight down on the drag to force the grease further into the different components and give the reel a few turns. Then back off on the drag to a more normal setting and give it a few more turns.

 Step 6 – Apply WD-40 On The Reel

  • Apply some WD-40 on a cloth or paper towel and rub it on the reel. The WD-40 will create a protective waterproof coating preserving the reel.

Should You Clean Fishing Lures And Spoons?

Every lure and spoon will eventually become rusty, especially if you are fishing saltwater and need to be cleaned. Some anglers suggest using WD-40 as the main cleaning agent.

While that might work, I don’t like using WD-40 on tackle that will go into the water more or less what a fish will bite on.

I like cleaning my lures and spoons using vinegar. Put your lures and spoons in a container and pour vinegar. Let the lures and spoons soak for about 24 hours. Then scrub the rust off using an old toothbrush.

If your lures or spoons have new hooks, I recommend removing the hooks. The vinegar will remove or weaken the protective metal coating on the hooks.

Should You Clean Soft Plastic Baits?

Soft plastics don’t get rusty, but they can get pretty nasty-looking and smelly. Image what that is doing to your bait presentation!

The good news is that there is something you can do about it. Here is how you should clean your soft plastics:

  1. Fill a container with hot soapy water. I like using non-scented soap as I don’t want additional scents to be infused into the plastics.
  2. Let this sit in the hot soapy water for a bit. Stir the baits around in the container and give each one a good rub. 
  3. Rinse each bait under running warm fresh water and place them in a clean container with fresh water. By letting the baits sit in freshwater, the idea is to help the freshwater “push” out the dirty water in the bait.
  4. Place baits on a dry surface to dry. Once dry, you can place the baits into a clean storage container. 
  5. In these containers, you can apply your favourite scented oil to the baits to let them infuse into the bait.

Should You Clean Fishing Hooks?

If your fishing hooks are in good shape (no signs of rusting), you want to protect that protective coating. You should give your hooks a quick rinse in freshwater to wash any salts or debris. 

If you have hooks that are in rough shape and look pretty rusty. Then you can use the same techniques outlined in how to clean lures and spoons with vinegar. 

To remove the rust from hooks, you should soak your hooks in vinegar for about 24 hours. Then under clean running water, use an old toothbrush and gently scrub the rust away.

Should You Clean Swivels?

Swivels are generally made from nickel-plated brass or stainless steel, which don’t rust. Therefore I will not be worried about rusting. However, I recommend giving your swivels a quick rinse under gently running water to wash away any dirt and salt deposits.

Should You Clean Weights?

Fishing weights are generally made from materials that are not subjected to rust. Therefore there is less of a need to worry about them. That being said, I recommend giving your weights a quick rinse to remove any salts or dirt. It keeps your weights looking newer and feeling not so grimy. 

Should You Clean Fishing Line?

Fishing line can get pretty dirty depending on the type of fishing you are doing. If you are fishing near a lot of vegetation or in saltwater, then I can see you needing to give your line a quick clean from time to time.

Luckily cleaning your line is pretty simple. Here is how to clean your line:

  1. Fill a bucket with warm soapy water. Use non-scented soap.
  2. Put your reel into free spinning and pull the line out of the reel into the bucket.
  3. Let the line sit in the water for a bit.
  4. Get a damp clean cloth and as you reel the line back into the reel, gently run the line through the cloth. 

Happy Fishing & Tight Lines

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