There is not a better time to do your basic fishing rod maintenance than right now after a hard summer on the water.
First of all, let’s talk clean up. Oil from your hands or other sources can attract dirt and grime to your rod handles making for a poor grip and unattractive appearance. This is the simplest task of your agenda. Some say to use fine grit sandpaper to clean your cork handles. Over time, this may actually wear down the grips hindering their usefulness. A simpler solution is to bathe them with degreasers such as Dawn or Ajax Orange. Use warm water and a sponge or toothbrush to gently scrub your handles to make them look new again. Stubborn stains may require some Comet or Ajax Cleanser. You’ll be surprised how this improves the feel of them. This works on synthetic handles as well.
Next step is to check your rod tips. If your tip is not in good shape, the rest of your rod doesn’t matter, as your lines will be weakened by the scoring. Take a cotton swab and pass it through the tip. If strands of the cotton are caught in the tip, the tip is cracked and should be replaced. Tip repair is an easy task. Loosen the worn tip by heating it with a cigarette lighter. If it is not wrapped on by thread, it will slide off on its own. If wrapped, cut the thread with a razor blade or Xacto knife before heating. Hot glue your new tip in place and let cool. There are numerous glue products made specifically for fishing rods as well as some emergency shrink tube kits.
Next, check your guides with the same method. Bent guides can sometimes be reshaped without damage to the ceramic or hardened metal inserts. If your guides need replacing, you can do it yourself or pay a repair shop to do it. Repair shops charge from around ten to fifteen dollars per guide depending on its construction.
Should you decide to replace your guides yourself, here are a few pointers. Match the replacement guides to the old ones in size and structure. Most of the newer rods have one-footed guides as opposed to the two-footed designs. Some have combinations with one-footed models closer to the tip. The recent popularity of micro guides where all are one-footed makes it difficult to work with due to their diminutive size. No matter the size, all must be “feathered” to make the threads flow evenly for a smooth finish. This feathering can be achieved by gently rubbing the tip of the foot of the guide on a whetstone. Some guides may only be loose and can be reattached by placing a small amount of epoxy into the opening from whence they came and reinserting the foot of the guide allowing them adequate drying time before the next use.
Replacing guides can be exasperating to those of us whose vision is not what it used to be. A steady hand and excellent sight are required or you might have to utilize a jeweler’s magnifier. First off, clean the area where the guide was mounted. Some light scraping may be required for a good, smooth fit. Use a small strip of masking tape to temporarily secure the foot of the guide. Place the rod on a mount so it can be easily turned. Mounts are available commercially or one may be made by using a flat, horizontal board and two vertically mounted boards with V-shaped notches attached at each end about a foot or so apart. 1×4 board is adequate.
This next step requires steadiness and patience. Place your spool of wrapping thread behind a weight such as a book and run the thread through the book creating resistance while you start your wrap. There are also commercial thread holders with tension adjusters for this step. Begin your wrap by placing the end of the thread on the blank facing the foot of the guide and wrap over it keeping tension on the thread. Start your wrap about 1/4 inch away from the guide while gently winding over the tag end of your loop, rolling the rod away from you and winding thread making sure the thread is tightly wound and even leaving no space between winds.
After winding several winds, pull the tag that will pull the thread under the wraps, cut the tag with a razor blade and continue winding. As the winds approach the guide, keep tension on the thread and place a tag loop on the rod with the loop facing the guide. Wind over the loop leaving enough loop so you can run the end of the thread into that loop when you have completed the winds. After cutting the thread and running the end through the loop, pull the tag just as you did at the beginning of the wrap and cut smoothly. You former Boy Scouts may recall this as “whipping” a rope. Small gaps in your wrap can be corrected by gently rubbing them together with your fingernail.
By now you should have completed an attractive, smooth wrap or said “To heck with this!”
Assuming you have accomplished the maneuver, coat your wrap with color preserver, let dry, and finish with a coat or two of epoxy being sure to turn the rod every few minutes to produce an even finish. These procedures can be used to build a rod from scratch but we’ll just save those details for another article assuming you still have any patience left.