Avoid Tackle Failure

With manufacturers constantly trying to upstage one another, the advanced technology that goes into today’s fishing reels is quite spectacular. Dartainium carbon fiber drags, high-speed gear ratios and advanced cast control systems are only some of the latest innovations aiding anglers in intense battles. While it’s no surprise that sporting the latest and greatest is a dream, properly caring for your tackle will ensure your reels stand the test of time.


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Photo: Steve Dougherty

Saltwater is extremely corrosive and will leave its mark on nearly anything it encounters. In addition, the game fish we seek are powerful predators that will test even the most advanced line-winding workhorses. It doesn’t make a difference where you encounter nature’s salty ale, if you’re serious about your time spent on the water then you should make it a point to avoid tackle failure. No matter what brand you’re loyal to, after each and every use it is imperative that you rinse your reels with a gentle, low-pressure freshwater spray. If you use a powerful jet, harmful contaminants will only be pushed and lodged deeper into your reel’s crevices and internal components. Washing with freshwater is undoubtedly the most important preventative measure you can take. It is necessary even for reels fished in freshwater and will extend the service life of your reels by many years. Proceed to dry off your reels and store them out of the sun.

If you suspect significant damage, or your reels have been submerged in saltwater or used excessively in or near the sand, consider a qualified tackle shop or the manufacturer for extensive overhauls.

While a simple rinse will wash away saltwater, there comes a time when you need to do a bit more to ensure season after season of dependable use. You wouldn’t ever neglect to change the oil in your outboard(s), so why would you neglect to properly care for your fishing reels?

When it comes time to start dissecting, it will be in your best interest to get your hands on a detailed diagram of your reel’s schematics, or at the very least shoot step-by-step digital photographs along the way that you can refer back to if necessary. If neither a schematic or digital camera is available, you can sketch an illustration as you remove the reel’s components. Before you turn the first screw make sure you have a clean workspace—one that is spacious with ample lighting. If at all possible, we recommend servicing an entire set of reels at once versus individual reels, but do not confuse matters by mixing sizes or manufacturers. You’ll also want to make sure that all the necessary tools are at your disposal including screwdrivers (both standard and Phillips head), pliers, reel lubricants, clean rags, Q-tips, and whatever specialized tools (if any) were provided by the manufacturer. It’s also important to note that lubricants with various viscosities serve different purposes. As a general rule of thumb grease is reserved for a reel’s main gears and oil is used for bearings and other moving parts. Be sure not to overdo it when applying lubrication. Too much grease may attract dirt and grime and can actually do more harm than good. If you’re really nitpicky you can also apply a thin coat of multi-purpose protectant to the outside finish of your reels, but do not spray with penetrating grease or WD-40 that may attract dirt and loosen screws.

Make it a point to use the proper sized tools for the job. Bulky pliers and one-size-fits-all screwdrivers are a sure way to damage fragile parts and strip tiny screws. You can find a small set of screwdrivers and pliers at most hardware stores. If you can’t find the wrench that came with your reel, order several more.

Below are some basic steps towards keeping your conventional reels in top condition, as well as some essential maintenance tips to avoid expensive repairs. If your reel doesn’t have any mechanical issues than it should only be cleaned and lubricated. If you suspect significant damage, or your reels have been submerged in saltwater or used excessively in or near the sand, consider a qualified tackle shop or the manufacturer for extensive overhauls.

Conventional Reels
Both star and lever drag conventional reels are extremely durable, but due to their complex internal design they require in-depth cleaning and lubrication. First of all, when washing off salt and grime after a day on the water, be sure to engage the drag before hitting it with a light mist from your hose. Loose drag settings can allow water and other unwanted substances to enter the reel. Once you’ve given your reels a light spray you want to store them in free spool to prevent flat spots on your drag washers.

Conventional reels aren’t standardized and the brand and design of your particular reel will determine its precise dismantling procedure. With that being said, most conventional reels offer access to the spool by removing the external sideplate. Don’t remove any pieces without carefully noting the proper placement. When you remove the spool clean the frame from any dirt or debris with a Q-tip while exercising caution not to lose any tiny springs or small washers. If you want to dive deeper remove the handle and adjoining faceplate to gain access to the cooling shield, internal gears and drag washers, again making sure to keep everything well organized. As you remove parts, clean thoroughly before allowing the pieces to dry. Then carefully inspect each piece for damage prior to lubrication and reinstallation.

Maintaining your equipment doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t matter what kind of reel you are working on—when you remove parts and screws get in the habit of putting them down in the order they were removed. When you finish cleaning and lubing your reels you can simply re-install everything in reverse order. With the right preparation and by following a few easy steps you can ensure your reels will perform flawlessly when you need them most. If you are not mechanically inclined and confident in your own abilities this may be a job best left for the professionals.