Hopefully you’ve never been in the middle of a heated battle with a potential trophy fish and had your reel lock up or other equipment malfunction.
But it happens and almost always while an angler is locked into a mano-a-mano confrontation with something big. The sad thing is many of these incidents could be prevented by showing equipment a little love and respect.
Call it “R&R love” or whatever you want, but fishing equipment needs the same care and maintenance as a boat, motor, truck or other mechanical equipment. If anglers don’t service their tackle, it’ll eventually fail, usually at the worst possible time.
Who would constantly drive a truck without changing the oil? Don’t expect more out of fishing equipment just because you paid less for it than a stump-jumper.
Because February at the N.C. coast usually is the slowest fishing month of the year, it’s a good time to service and repair fishing equipment. Even then, a couple of late-winter fishing opportunities exist so anglers might not want to have all their reels laid out across the work bench at the same time. But still, it takes a great weather window to fish during February.
But when it’s blowing a gale, cold, rainy, icing up or snowing outside, it’s the perfect time to clean, lube and repair rods and reels.
So here are some of the basics for servicing fishing reels. It’s not rocket science, but a task anyone with basic mechanical skills and a few tools can do with ease. However, if you feel intimidated or unsure, most tackle shops will do this work or serve as collection centers for someone who does.
Just as not knowing the law isn’t an excuse for breaking it, a lack of mechanical ability isn’t an excuse for ignoring rods and reels.
Show them some love and make sure they are treated correctly. They’ll repay you many times during fishing season.
Proper care of a reel begins immediately out of the box.
My friend Pete Allred, who ran Pete’s Tackle in Morehead City for years, worked hard to get me to understand all reels need basic servicing before being put into use.
For various reasons, one being as simple as not wanting to take a chance and soil the box, reels are shipped with an absolute minimum of grease. They have a touch of grease at key points and will be plenty smooth for an in-store test spin.
Unfortunately they may not last through a single large fish, without being properly greased. Allred suggested greasing a new reel before putting line on it the first time and did this religiously for those who purchased a new reel at his store.
The next step in properly caring for your rods and reels is washing them after every use. This is exponentially more important when fishing in salt water, but even fresh water equipment needs to be washed and rinsed.
Do you know how to wash your equipment?
Most fishermen really mean well when they wash their equipment, unfortunately, they just think, as in so many other things, water pressure is the key and it’s directly opposite.
The proper way to wash a reel is with it in gear, at a normal drag setting, with low water pressure and using a misting spray. Too much water pressure and/or disengaged gears or low drag settings could allow water, salt, grit, and other unwanted substances into the reel.
Use the water at low pressure to wet and rinse reels. A soft rag or cleaning mitt, a mild salt-removing soap and just a little bit of elbow grease are the tools for cleaning rods and reels.
Washing and cleaning is just an exterior preventative and reels still will need regular servicing. For the average fisherman, once a year is probably enough for a thorough inside cleaning and servicing. If you use your equipment on a near daily basis or subject it to extreme stress, it’ll require more frequent internal cleaning and servicing.
Those extra cleanings and greasing may not be necessary for everyone, but it’s far better to err on the side of caution. Going too far between good internal cleanings and lubrication is a recipe for lost fish, raging tempers and high blood pressure. It’s too easy to do to have to worry about it.
If you have any mechanical ability at all, you should be able to do your own reel cleaning and servicing. Some reels feature complex assemblies, but all come with an exploded parts list that’s helpful for taking reels apart and even more helpful for reassembling them.
I service my reels for several reasons, primarily because (a) I know how to do it, and (b) I know whom to blame if I have a reel failure.
If you service your own reels, always remember this rule: never, never, never use gasoline to clean reels.
Even the exteriors of reels have plastic and rubber fittings and other parts that can be irreparably damaged by harsh solvents such as gasoline.
However, kerosene works well as an all-purpose reel solvent. It has an oil base, with slight lubricating properties, and can be used inside and out.
The first step to service a reel is to clean the exterior. Even casual fishermen should change line at least once a year. When servicing a reel is an excellent time to remove old line and see if there’s any corrosion underneath.
The second step is to open the reel. Anglers should follow several basic steps, regardless of the brand or type of reel.
First, clean all the goop and gunk out of the reel. Problems may be hidden in or underneath an accumulation of goop. After removing the gunk from the reel’s interior, you can examine the parts for wear and/or corrosion.
The only repair for severe wear is replacement. A mild solvent, such kerosene, some elbow grease, and very fine grit emery cloth or extra fine steel wool often will remove minor corrosion without scoring or scratching the parts to the point of needing replacement.
Once a reel has been cleaned and worn parts replaced, lubricate the interior before reassembly. My favorite lubricant for most fishing reels is one of the lighter, white, waterproof Teflon greases which cling well, lubricate and protect the reel without forming “goop.”
Some heavier lubricants that work well with larger trolling reels actually cling to the shafts, bearings and gears so well they can hamper the reels’ casting ability and shouldn’t be used with smaller casting reels.
I spoke with several guides, tournament and surf anglers who require extreme casting distance from their reels and they recommended graphite-based products. They said a reel may need more frequent cleaning and servicing, but the slicker qualities of graphite really reduce friction on the bearings and spools and allow for longer casts.
Penn Reels has worked with X-1R Performance Products to develop a line of reel grease and reel lube that also protects against corrosion. Anglers should be able to get these products at most tackle dealers.
A few aspects of different types of reels require special attention. With spinning reels, gears and drag washers are of the utmost importance. Most heavier spinning reels have front-drag systems where the drag washers are enclosed in the spool and adjusted by a knob at the front of the spool.
The next most-common spinning-reel drag system, used mainly with lighter reels, is a rear drag, where the drag is adjusted by a knob at the rear of the reel. Drag washers may be located in the spool or in the body of the reel.
Live-liner spinning reels are more complex and use a combination of front (fish fighting drag) and rear (bait presentation) drags.
Other spinning-reel components that often get overlooked and result in problems are the bearing under the line roller and the spring that produces tension for the bail.
Most conventional or “bait- casting” reels utilize a star-type drag adjuster and are pretty close in design and parts.
While I never had it happen, I’ve heard that with extreme use, graphite-bodied reels may warp. Graphite that’s reinforced with metal isn’t as susceptible to warping, and the metal-bodied reels just don’t warp.
However, during reassembly, make sure all the parts line up correctly. A difficult or forced fit is usually a sign of incorrect reassembly but could indicate warping of the reel body.
Also, pay special attention to the springs in conventional reels. Most conventional reels have either one or a pair of springs that keep the anti-reverse mechanism working.
The other spring in conventional reels is the free-spool spring. This spring, which allows disengaging the spool from the drag mechanism, must be clean, at the proper tension, and function in order to cast the reel. The grease on the springs is typically a light coating used as much to prevent corrosion as for lubrication.
Generally, drag systems of conventional reels use several alternating fiber and metal drag washers. Corrosion on the metal drag washers usually cleans fairly easily, but if it doesn’t, replacing them is a good idea. Unless corrosion or wear is severe, anglers can clean metal drag washers and replace fiber ones. For most reels, the cost of a set of the fiber drag washers is quite reasonable.
Lever-drag conventional reels are durable but have a different internal design and their own special needs for cleaning and lubrication. Be especially careful washing lever-drag reels, as using high pressure or washing the reel in free spool, can force water and gunk around the edge of the spool and into the reel’s internal parts.
Many parts, especially the metal drive plate can rust and/or pit from exposure to water. After you clean the drive plate, especially if there’s any pitting or corrosion, it’s important to use a very light (600 grit) emery cloth and polish it to prevent recurring rust and/or pitting.
Lever-drag reels have another primary spring — the tensioning spring in the drag preset knob assembly — to clean, examine and lubricate. The proper tension of this spring is necessary to prevent the preset assembly from rotating and altering the drag setting.
With regular and proper cleaning and servicing, reels will last quite a while. This task also is a good winter project anglers can perform.
A secondary result in servicing reels is gaining knowledge of how they work. If you understand how reels operate, you may be able to prevent problems or quickly repair them when they do.
Proper cleaning and service of fishing equipment is a must. It’s just machinery and could fail without warning, but treating it poorly is just asking for problems — which always seem to occur at the absolute worst times.
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