Hacks for keeping gear, equipment, and yourself from smelling like a sardine.

Glory not Gory:
Tips for Fishing Clean

There are many good reasons for keeping your fishing gear and equipment clean. For starters, nobody wants to walk around smelling like month-old trout. Taking precautions and being diligent about cleaning your clothes and tackle will also help prolong their lifespan. In addition, many fish—and prize catches like salmon in particular—have a keen sense of smell that could send them swimming the other direction if your gear isn't properly maintained.

First things first

How you approach keeping your gear and equipment in good working order begins with location, location, location. Before heading out, consider what type of fishing you're going to be doing—the habitat you'll be in, the fish you're after, the bait, and the weather conditions. And, of course, the water.

  • Fresh water has some advantages in terms of keeping your gear tip-top, namely that it isn't salt water and can be used for cleaning throughout your excursion. But you still need to be conscious of the types of lake, river, and stream muck, slime, and debris that can cling on after a full day of casting.

  • Salt water is a different challenge altogether because of the invasive and potentially corrosive effects that salt and sand can have on gear and tackle. Extra measures—and attention to detail—is necessary to leave the dock in the same condition you arrived. That includes having some fresh water on hand for on-site cleaning.

Bring it

No two ways about it, fishing can be a messy sport, particularly if you're having a good day reeling them in. But there are some ways to mitigate how much mess you must clean up.

  • Water-and-stain repellency. Purpose-built fishing gear can feature special fabric treatment and construction that allows liquid—like water, blood, and viscera—to bead up and run off rather than soaking into fabric and staining.

  • Dry bag. Use a waterproof dry bag to secure extra gear and other essentials without exposing them to the elements.

  • Sweat-wicking fabric. It's easy to work up a sweat fishing in cool weather, let alone when the heat is on. Wearing gear featuring moisture-wicking fabric designed to keep you cool and dry can also help limit potential sweat stains.

  • Gloves. Fishing gloves are built to keep a grip on rod and reel while helping minimize slip and spill when baiting, cleaning, and otherwise putting all hands on deck.

  • Footwear Many of Columbia’s PFG shoes feature Omni-Shield™ Blood ‘N Guts Technology to help keep your shoes clean by resisting the absorption of liquids into the fabric.

  • Fresh water. If you're fishing in a lake, river, or stream this will be easy to come by. But even if you're hitting the saltwater shallows, having a bucket or large jug of fresh water with you (or accessible back at the marina) will be useful for clean-up.
LEARN MORE Find out how water-and-stain repellent technologies work to keep your fishing gear protected.

The messiest catch

Many recreational anglers employ catch-and-release techniques (in fact it's a requirement in some vulnerable fishing grounds), though there's still plenty of fish slime and water spray to deal with when letting your quarry go. For those planning to keep their catch, there are a few things to consider for on-the-spot cleaning:

  • Advance prep. Even if you're not going to cook fish immediately, it's a good idea to begin cleaning ASAP. Soon to come: a detailed article with steps on how to gut, scale, and filet. For the time being, you can remove the entrails and head (if preferred).

  • Gut bucket. Having a receptacle to catch innards is a good idea, so you aren't slopping onto the dock, bank, or floor of the boat.

  • Wash on the spot. Have fresh water handy to give the fish a good rinse (inside and out) and to clean your prep area.

  • Storage. You can divvy your fish into sealable bags and stow them in a cooler with ice water. Other options include freezing fish whole in an ice chest, keeping caught fish on a stringer in the water or using a livewell.

Rinse and repeat

One of the most important things you can do after a fishing trip is to prepare for your next fishing trip. That means giving all your fishing gear a thorough cleanse. From cleaning reels to boats to shirts, there are many home remedies (including everything from baby shampoo and furniture polish to laundry detergent and WD-40). While your solutions will vary, mild and biodegradable cleaners are both gentler on your gear and the planet. A few tips:

  • Gear (clothing, shoes, accessories). Pre-soak in clean, cold water (with stain-lifting enzymes as needed) and then hand-or-machine-wash in cold water. Hang dry. Avoid the dryer—especially on high heat—to keep stains and scents from setting. You can also spot treat stubborn stains while avoiding rubbing them into the fabric.

  • Tackle (rod, reel, lures, etc.). Cleaning tackle with fresh water while you're fishing helps, but it's essential at the end of the day to remove any lingering build-up. Use fresh water, avoid spraying with high-pressure hoses, use a soft-bristled brush for trouble spots, and blot dry before storing to avoid rusting.

  • You. How you prefer to wash up is ultimately your business. But don't be shy around the soap, scrub brush, or loofah. Your loved ones will thank you.
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