A man taking care of his fishing rod and tackle

Fishing Rod Maintenance: Make Your Gear Last (2021)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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Back in my early 20’s, I didn’t know much about fishing rod maintenance. Truth be told, I fished with reckless abandon and, many times, I didn’t pay much attention to taking care of my rod or reel

But I had to leave that mentality behind —it became too expensive so I got smart and figured out how to make fishing rods last longer. 

Over the years I learned how to take care of my poles, and one thing is for certain —they last longer and perform better when you practice proper maintenance. Some of my rods and reels are over 5 years old and still work great.

If you’re ready to give yours the care it deserves, dive into this quick article and learn everything it takes to maintain them like a pro

Why Rod Maintenance Matters

Like everything else, rods need to be cleaned, stored and cared for properly. It’s the best way to make sure you get peak performance. Taking care of them has many upsides.

  • Preserves the life of your pole
  • Ensures max distance, action and accuracy
  • Stops line chafing
  • Helps lures perform better
  • Makes your blanks look nicer 
  • Helps your fishing rod, reel and gear last longer

Do Fishing Rods Really Wear Out?

Fishing rods are made of tough materials like graphite and fiberglass. These materials give the blank nice strength, flexibility and durability.

But even though they’re tough, fishing rods will lose a little stiffness and power over the years and their components will wear out. The good news is that you can prolong the life and performance of your rod by using proper fishing rod maintenance.

TIP

Keep in mind that several small parts make up a rod. The most important pieces like guide loops, ferrules and windings run down the rod blank. If these parts are damaged or neglected it can have a big impact on casting and overall performance. 

On average, anglers who treat their gear with care get 5 – 10 years of use. But if you don’t know how to maintain one then its lifespan can be 1 – 2 years —maybe less.

If you have one of the beginner’s rods from this review, with the proper maintenance tips you can even stretch the lifespan a bit further before you decide to upgrade 

Rods Wear Down for Three Main Reasons

Normal Wear and Tear

If you fish a lot your fishing rod will eventually start to weaken. After years of intense use, rods bend less and become less stiff and powerful —things like casting heavy lures and battling big fish take their toll. This goes for the spool and drag on your reel as well. Even your lures and hooks.

You may not notice the difference in your equipment until it becomes obvious. A good test is to compare it to a newer rod to see how much stiffness and power it’s lost over many a fishing trip. Sling the same lures with each pole and gauge the difference. 

Not Maintaining Your Fishing Rod

Your car wouldn’t run very well if you never changed the oil or replaced parts. It’s the same with a pole —if you don’t take care of it, the most critical piece can wear out and break down.

Here’s an example of what I mean —

It’s important to keep smaller parts like guides and ferrules in great shape. For example, lubricating ferrules with candle wax can help reduce friction. When these pieces crack or break it puts uneven pressure on the rod blank. In turn, this causes the rod and reel gear to weaken faster. 

A close-up of a fishing rod and reel's parts
A close-up of a rod’s parts

Here are some other examples of neglect that wears down a fishing rod —

  • Allowing dirt and minerals to build up on the guides and windings
  • Storing your fishing rod in hot and dry places
  • Storing your pole without a sleeve
  • Letting buildup solidify on the main shaft
  • Letting dirt or scum build up on the blank 
  • Allowing the ferrules to dry out and crack

Using Lightweight Rods to Catch Big Fish

It’s fun to catch trophy bass on an ultralight fishing rod and reel, but the fun comes at a heavy price. The more trophy fish you land, the more it loses stiffness.

When your pole bends like a palm tree in a tornado, it stresses smaller pieces like the guide loops and windings. Heavier-weight rods stand up to massive fish much better —trust me, I’ve seen several anglers snap their ultralight gear wrestling lures against trophy largemouth. 

Okay, now you know the main culprits that wear out your fishing rod. Since poor upkeep is the simplest to correct, let’s talk about ways to make your equipment last longer.

Top Ways to Maintain a Fishing Rod

Inspect Your Fishing Rod and Reel Frequently 

It’s okay to be a little OCD about checking your rod and reel for wear and tear. Check out your spool, lures and hooks while you’re at it. It’s best to catch things early so you can wash it or fix it to prevent corrosion and rust from happening –no matter how many times it takes.

Here are things to look for when you inspect your rod —

The Guide Loops 

Guide Alignment Tips

The loops that run down your pole and are also called the “eyes” of the rod, or the guide. On a spinning reel they’re underneath, and on a baitcaster they’re on top. The loops are crucial parts for casting and retrieving lures and hooks, so it’s smart to frequently check them.

If they are not properly aligned, they can wear out everything…

If they are not properly aligned, they can wear out everything –your line and lures. Poor alignment will also affect the accuracy and distance on your cast every time.

Check out the video below to see some tips on how you can make sure your guides are all aligned.

(How to properly align your guides)

It’s also crucial to make sure they aren’t chipped or cracked. Chips and cracks in the guide loops can chafe your fishing line and cause it to snap with a fish on. 

Guide Inspection

Carefully examine each guide to see if it’s cracked or out of alignment. 

Step 1 is to check the alignment 

One of the most straightforward tips I’ve received to do this is to look through your pole guides like a telescope to see if they are aligned. If one looks out of whack then it’s time to adjust or replace the guide. You don’t need professional gear or equipment, it can be done at home using — 

  • a guide replacement 
  • razor blade 
  • guide wraps 
  • rod finish
  • rubbing alcohol
  • paper towels 
  • cotton swab

You can find these rod repair items at pretty much any bait and tackle shops or fishing store 

Chipped or Cracked Rod Guide?

The best rod guide materials are silicon carbide and titanium carbide —they’re strong and reduce line friction. They are less likely to chip or crack and hold up against the elements.

Some freshwater anglers prefer stainless steel guide loops while ocean anglers prefer a ceramic guide because they handle saltwater fishing better. But any guide can sustain damage, so here’s an easy way to check.

Do the Q-Tip Test by hand

Test your rod’s guides for cracks by using a Q-tip. Insert the soft tip of the cotton bud inside the guide ring and turn it in a circle. If the cotton frays that means the guide is likely chipped or cracked and should be replaced.

Most use replacement guides and fix it themself while some opt to visit a pole repair shop. Either way, the q-tip test is a simple and fast way to diagnose a bad guide loop. 

Remove Buildup from Guide Loops

What causes guide buildup?

Fresh Water Rod Guides and Water Minerals

Wet fishing line runs through the guide loops all day, so they’re constantly exposed to minerals in the water. This is the main reason guides get gunky —mineral buildup.

A shot of a man's back in a red shirt fishing in a river
Casting in the river comes with considerations

Minerals from ponds, lakes and rivers cause the line to slide and hinders casting accuracy most. It also dries and weakens the loops over time, so it’s important to clean them when you spot grime. 

Buildup Removal

To get rid of fresh water mineral buildup on guide loops 

  • Use mild detergent, Simple Green, Dawn dish soap or WD-40 solution for thick grime, never rubbing alcohol. (If you use WD 40 make sure not to get any near the reel because it can deplete the lubricants in your reel)
  • Scrub inside of guides with a soft plastic brush or a cotton bud
  • Rinse guides clean with lukewarm water

Minerals can also form on reel seats so if you want to get rid of the most buildup on your reel then look into getting a reel cleaning kit 

Saltwater Fishing Guide Loops 

Corrosion Buildup Tips

The best way to protect your saltwater fishing guide loops from corrosion is to rinse them often. Make sure to spray them off while you’re on the water –many anglers bring a portable rinsing device so they can periodically blast salt off their rod and reel. 

If you want to clean salt & water buildup or rust off your rod, here are some simple ways —

  • Apply a small amount of rust dissolver solution then spray with tap water
  • Apply a small amount of toothpaste and scrub lightly with an old toothbrush or any small brush
  • For stubborn rust, including rusted hooks, use vinegar and rinse with tap water

Also, here’s a tip –don’t forget to apply a small amount of auto clean to prevent rust from forming.

Even though it’s better to prevent rust altogether. the video below also shows you how to get rid of rust in case you do have a pole with a bit of wear on it.

How to remove rust from your guide rings

DIY Repair Tips

If you’re looking for a DIY for guide repair then check here’s a more thorough video to explain. Like I said, you don’t need high tech equipment –here’s everything you need for basic pole and fishing reel cleaning and repair—

  • Toothpicks
  • Tweezers
  • Reel Oil
  • Small wrench 
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Cleaning products 

Now that I’ve explained why guide maintenance is so important, it’s time to talk about the rod blank. The blank is the entire cylindrical part of the pole —the actual rod. 

About Rod Blanks

Rod blanks come as one-piece poles, or as segments called ferrules that fit together to form a full pole. Segmented rods consist of 2 – 6 ferrules that form a complete rod blank, but some rods come as one solid pole. 

One-Piece Rod Blanks

Many bass anglers prefer the stiffness and strength of a one-piece rod and reel. Ice anglers and fly fishermen tend to roll with heavy one-piece poles for extra security and power.

NOTE

Other fishermen prefer ferrule rods for travel and convenience. Both types of rods provide everything you need, but some anglers think ferrule segments create “weak spots” on the blank. 

The truth is that ferruled rods are quite strong, but the more connection points the more susceptible they could be to cracking or breaking. This scares some anglers away, but for saving space, stowing and traveling these rods work great every time. 

Multi-Piece Rod Blanks

Multi-piece fishing rods break down into smaller segments for easy transport, while heavier rods tend to have fewer segments. It’s not uncommon to see travel rods that break apart into 5 or 6 pieces for easy stowing. 

The Golden Rule for Segmented Rods

From the highest mountain top —Dry all the water on the ferrules when you put your rod back together! When you take your rod apart by hand to clean it, make sure the ferrules are dry before reconnecting. 

A shot of a 3 fishing reels on separate upright rods
Multiple rods mean more management

When water gets inside the connection points it causes internal buildup and it makes the ferrules stick together. Many anglers pull too hard and break rods when the ferrules are stuck.

Here’s a trick to use when your ferrules get stuck

Set a freezing cold ice bag on the section that is stuck for about 20 minutes. Most of the time this breaks the vapor seal created by the moisture and frees them –everything back to normal. 

How to Take Care of a Rod Blank

Freshwater Rods 

Rinse and Dry Them After You Fish

Mineral buildup can mess up your pole pretty badly if you let it. The grime that settles on your rod and reel causes problems like

  • cracks in the blank
  • increased friction on line roller and reel spool
  • weakened rod fibers 
  • uneven reel spool

Rinse Thoroughly

It’s a good idea to rinse it well after each use. You can use plain or soapy water, just make sure it has some pressure behind it. This will help scoot off minerals that cake up along your rod blank. 

If you notice some grime buildup on your rod, go with soapy warm water. You can also wipe it with a soft cloth or bristle brush, and use a little elbow grease. If you use soap products on your pole or other gear be sure to keep it away from the rod reel. 

Completely Dry Your Rod 

This part is more important for salt buildup for saltwater anglers, but it goes for fresh water fishermen too. It helps to dry your pole after you wash it —this is because residual water can harbor minerals sometimes.

Take a towel and blot your rod blank until it’s dry to keep off lingering minerals

Saltwater Rod Blanks

Ocean rods, inshore spin rods and reels are exposed to harsh elements like waves and salt water. Sodium is the enemy when it comes to preserving your rod and tackle, so you have to fight it hard.

Everything you do for freshwater rods, you also do for saltwater fish poles —plus a little more —

Everything you do for freshwater rods and reels, you also do for saltwater fish poles —plus a little more —

Spray Your Rod While Fishing

When you’re bass angling in a pond you can wait until you’re done to rinse your rod. But when you’re on a boat in the ocean you should spray it down often to stop salt damage, especially on your hooks. Again, I use this thing called a Rinse Kit to spray my rod off every 20 minutes when I’m offshore fishing.

A close up of a man setting up his rod
Taking care of your rod before and after a saltwater trip is paramount

If you don’t rinse the salt water off your fishing rod and reel here’s what you’ll get —

  • Saltwater corrosion on the blank and reel seat
  • Damaged line and drag
  • Chipped or cracked guide loops
  • Less performance from rod and reel
  • Weakened rod blank fibers

Dry Every Water Drop

A light amount of salt can remain in the residual water droplets so make sure to dry your rod as best as you can, especially after a boat or fishing trip. Over the long run, water droplets with small amounts of sodium can cause corrosion and weakness in your hooks, lures and reels. It’s crucial to dry your blanks and guides very well after each wash and store them properly.

So there’s the skinny on how to clean a rod blank. Now it’s time to look at the dumbest way anglers tend to screw up their pole

How to Clean a Rod handle 

A rod handle can be made of various materials but most are cork, graphite or aluminum. It gives you the grip you need below the fishing reel seat so it’s important to remove buildup from your handle. It’s pretty simple to do —

  • For cork handles try using a baby wipe or a clean rag
  • If the grime is thick you use rubbing alcohol (be careful to avoid the reel seat)
  • You can use a soft small brush for hard handles 
  • Try a damp hot clean rag for graphite 

How to Store Your Fishing Rod 

Out of Harm’s Way

I’ve known lots of careless anglers who have chipped and snapped parts to their rods and reels. You can’t treat it like a tackle box and leave it laying around any old place. 

Make sure you store your rods straight in a place where nothing can fall on it or bump into it –this includes while traveling and after you get home. If something hits the loops or windings it can easily chip or crack them.

A tackle box with a plethora of fishing gear
It might be a mess but a tackle box is a good option in a pinch

Temperature Control

Heat and moisture can degrade your fishing rod a lot, so the best place to keep your rod is inside your house on a rack or in rod sleeves. There may be times like cool dry days when it’s okay to stow them in your truck, just use good judgement.

When you’re traveling, a carrying case or plastic holder works fine for gear. But don’t store your rod in your car or truck. Long term moisture and heat will get them. You need to store them somewhere they can be dry, safe and breathe.

Long Term Storage 

Are you putting your rods and reels away for a few months or more? It’s important that you store your fishing equipment in a cool dry place especially if you love a region of high heat or humidity. This goes for other fishing gear as well. Remember to store extra rods in rod sleeves for additional security.

But not only that, if you’re putting your rods away for long-term storage you should —

  • Remove the fishing line (This helps preserve the fishing reel and keeps the line from transferring residual salt onto the loops) 
  • Loosen the drag knob
  • Hang on a vertical or horizontal rack when you get home

Wrapping Things Up

Taking extra care of your fishing pole doesn’t take a lot. In fact, it starts to become pretty fun —like a bond between you and your rod.

So don’t be afraid to practice fishing rod maintenance and don’t forget that your reel needs maintenance too, show your fishing gear and tackle some love –treat your rods and reels and other gear like you’d want to be treated. I can assure you of one thing —if you do, they will return the favor.

Okay guys and gals, go ahead and grab your most trusted lure-slinging six-shooter and hit the water. Watch something awesome and send us a pic. We might post your trophy fish on our site next time. Whatever you do, fish hard, have fun and take care of yourself and your pole.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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