Angler's Angle: Fishing reels need maintenance at the season's end

Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2003

Most quality fishing reels will last a lifetime if they are kept clean and lubricated. A little maintenance is especially important at the end of the season so that corrosion does not build up over the winter. Here are a few tips to make sure your reels are ready to go when the kings arrive in April.

First, rinse your reel gently in fresh water and let it dry completely.

Some people like to submerge their reels completely in fresh water. This is generally not a good idea unless your reel is especially salty or has been overboard. If you do submerge your reel in water, be sure to tighten the drag first so that water does not get into the drag system.

After rinsing and drying your reel, it is a good idea to apply oil or grease. Be sure to lubricate all moving parts, including the handle, the level wind, and spool end bearings. You'll need to remove end bearings on most reels to lubricate the spool end. When you replace the end bearings, it is important to leave some side-to-side play in the spool; otherwise, you'll ruin the end bearings.

You may want to spray WD-40 lightly on the surface of the reel to clean and displace moisture. But remember: WD-40 isn't a lubricant; in fact, it cuts grease so it should never be used inside a reel.

Following just these two steps will greatly increase the longevity of your reel and increase the odds that your reels will perform well next season. However, salt water also can get inside reels, and when it does it cannot be removed by a surface rinse. Fortunately, it is easy to open most reels. Spinning reels are perhaps the easiest to open. After removing the handle, take out the sideplate screws and remove the side cover to expose the gears.

Opening conventional star drag generally requires removing four or five screws on the outside of the handle side of the reel. Be forewarned: Do not remove the screws (usually four) closest to the handle, unless you are mechanically inclined and not afraid of springs popping out and burying themselves in your shag carpet.

Once the reel is open, you'll be able to tell immediately if there is any internal corrosion. If there is, you've got two options: Take the reel to someone who can completely dismantle and clean it, or get a parts schematic - many are available online for free - and do the work yourself.

The point is that any visible internal corrosion almost always leads to problems that will get worse over time.

If there is no visible corrosion, you're in luck and need to do only a couple of things before putting your reel back together. First, apply a small amount of fishing reel grease - avoid using heavy grease such as wheel bearing grease - to the gears. Next, use a toothbrush to paint a thin layer of grease on all internal metal parts to reduce future corrosion. Finally, grease the side plate screws and put your reel together.

Clean, dry reels should be wrapped in a soft cloth or stored in the box they came in. Do not seal them in plastic bags or internal moisture will cause rust. Be sure the spool end bearings are loose and that the drag is backed off completely before you put your reel away for the season.

If you keep your reels clean and free of corrosion, this simple maintenance is enough to keep you catching fish for quite a long time.

However, some parts do wear and need to be replaced periodically. The most common parts that need replacing are drag washers. These are inexpensive but do require a complete disassembly of the reel before they can be replaced.

Drag washers need to be replaced if the line jerks when it is pulled out slowly at a moderate drag setting or if it is difficult to fine tune the drag; that is, turning the star a small amount quickly adjusts from a very light to a very heavy drag.

Levelwind reels will need to have their levelwind pawls and worm gears replaced periodically. There is a good chance your pawl is bad if the line does not lie evenly on your reel. On the other hand, if the levelwind gets stuck at one place, odds are that the levelwind worm gear and pawl both need to be replaced.

• Bill Brown is an avid fisherman who runs a reel repair shop in Juneau. He can be reached at 789-2448 or

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