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How to Remove Memory from Your Fly Line and Leader

Stretching fly line

The longer a fly line or leader sits unused, the more likely it is to develop memory. This memory is usually in the form of tight coils from being stored on a reel or, as is the case with leaders, tightly wound in packages on store shelves. Fortunately, no matter how bad the memory is, it’s relatively easy to fix using one of two methods: stretching or adding heat.

  • Simple stretching. Work down the fly line or leader, starting at the butt section, and simply stretch it out a little at a time. Use slow, firm pulls. No need to yank it. Repeat this process as necessary until the memory coils have all straightened. I usually start with my hands close together, grasping tight with my left hand, and then pulling the line taut with my right, slowly working down the line a foot or two at a time. Never pull so hard that you’re straining, otherwise you could damage the line, not to mention hurt yourself.

For leaders that have been sitting a long time, the butt section can be particularly troublesome, so you may have to work this over several times. But it will straighten if you repeat this stretching process until it’s good to go. If necessary, try method number two.

  • Apply heat. With leaders and tippet material, just the friction of your fingers over the line can create enough heat to remove memory. If you’re like me, though, you just might have a few leaders in your vest that you’ve been carrying on the water for years. If you know you’re going to be using them, a little preparation prior to fishing can solve the issue. Remove them from the package and pulling them through a warm, wet washcloth help straighten them prior to attaching them to the fly line. For these leaders, the thicker, butt section can be the hardest to straighten, but even still, you should rarely have to do more than this. Never use an open flame to heat leaders or fly line as this can damage them.
fly leader
Leaders that have been sitting on shelves or in fishing vests for long periods of time can have lots of memory, but with a little work, they can still be usable.

Why is Memory Bad?

Memory is bad because it creates a disconnect between you and the end of your line. When Euronymphing or tightlining, for instance, these memory coils prevent contact with your flies, making it hard to detect strikes. When using an indicator, these coils lay a lot of extra line on the water, which is more line you have to pick up and then pull tight when setting the hook, resulting in fewer successful hookups.

fisherman euronymphing
When nymphing, a tight connection to your flies will increase strike detection and hook ups.

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How to Prevent Memory in Fly Lines and Leaders

Most fly lines are made with a PVC coating that tends to hold its shape when stored in a certain manner for prolonged periods of time. Just the nature of the material means that at least some memory will always be present when you start the day. This memory becomes more persistent when months pass between use. 

I’ve pulled lines from old reels that have sat for years, even decades, and returned them to use. With these old lines, it’s imperative to soak them first in warm soapy water to clean and soften the PVC coating before stretching, otherwise they may crack. Once soaked and cleaned, though, they can be worked back into functional lines. As long as the PVC coating isn’t damaged, most fly lines will still be usable. If you notice cracks or splits on the concave side of the coils, you’re better off discarding it and buying new line than trying to rehabilitate the old stuff. 

Store lines in areas that aren’t too hot or too cold. Extreme temperatures either way can accelerate memory, not to mention deteriorate the integrity of the line.

So what’s the real secret to preventing memory? That’s easy. Fish as often as possible! And if you have to, use the stretching and heating methods described above and even the most unruly line will straighten up in no time.

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