Home Fishing Tips & Advice How to Maintain a Fishing Reel: A Beginner’s Guide

How to Maintain a Fishing Reel: A Beginner’s Guide


Taking care of your equipment is essential for optimal performance. It does take some time and effort to keep your fishing equipment in good working order. Veteran fishermen understand this concept quite well. Most of the time they were either taught well by someone from a previous generation or they didn’t clean and maintain their tools in the past and learned the hard way- by throwing away money.

Now, before digging into detail of how to clean and maintain different types of fishing reels, it is wise to dedicate a few moments of reading to basic maintenance and cleaning. This can be as simple as rinsing the reel inside and out with clean, fresh water and allow it to air dry. If you do this after a day of fishing, you will be well ahead of some people who don’t take this basic step on a regular basis.

After rinsing, it is also a good idea to lubricate the moving parts with a light oil. Most people do not pay attention to this but lubrication and protection of parts is essential if you’re using your gear for saltwater fishing or you’ve been in dirty conditions throughout the day. Salt eats away at metal as this concept is similar to rustproofing your car in the winter.

TIP: Don’t use the reel again until it’s very clean.


The Basic Detailing…

If you’ve invested a good chunk of change in a good reel for any type of fishing, it would be wise to learn more about them than just the simple cleaning steps already mentioned. Take your maintenance and cleaning seriously! Get familiar and be comfortable with removing reel covers, spool, clutch ring, center-shaft assembly etc. You may want to use Google to get a manual for each piece of equipment, if available, so you have it for reference when issues arrive.

A great tool to use is a tooth brush and a mild detergent to remove debris and grit from the parts. Once you’ve done this, rinse everything very thoroughly and dry the parts with a clean cloth. Allow the reel sit for a while to air dry before reassembly. Before reassembly, follow the manufacturer’s directions on lubrication. If you do not want to perform maintenance yourself (which is understandable) take your reel in to a service center near you.

For Saltwater Enthusiasts….

If you are a saltwater enthusiast you will want to take a few extra steps that focus on treating corrosion from salt. Salt always causes problems for moving parts. Again, the basic steps involve removing the spool and soaking it in fresh water and letting air dry. The body of the reel should be rinsed with clean water using a light spray. Some fishing gurus use a new, clean spray bottle for this step. However it is important to note that you must make sure the bottle you use hasn’t contained any other chemical or cleanser.

When using quality reels for saltwater fishing, your focus should always be on removing the salt residue. The reel may bind during use or wear gradually over time due to the residue. It is recommended to use a soft, clean cloth to remove excess water, then apply a lubricant designed to also prevent corrosion (there are many different types available). Rest assured if you are an avid fisher this is money well spent.

Different Types of Reels

1. Clean/Maintain Spin-Cast Reel

Let us start with the most common reel that most beginners use- a spin-cast reel. The design of the spin cast serves to keep most of the essential parts inside the cover.

The line feeds out of the hole in front. You press the thumb button on the back during the cast. When you let go of the button, the line stops feeding out. The spin-cast reel is super easy to use, though you may be giving up some distance and accuracy when casting. However, it is a great choice for beginners.

  • Remove reel covers
  • Disassemble spinner head, spool, clutch ring, center shaft, crank bearing etc.
  • Use a tooth brush or small tiny brush with a light detergent
  • Lubricate with light oil ( Look for one made for fishing equipment)

Remember, Google and YouTube are your friends you may find a guide that is perfect for you.

2. Clean/Maintain a Bait-Casting Reel

If you are using a bait-casting reel, the spool turns when you cast and must be controlled so the line doesn’t become a tangled mess. This reel type can be best with heavier lines and lures with more weight, which make the reel accurate.

You can maintain your bait-casting reel by wiping it with a clean, damp, soft cloth. Regular maintenance is always recommended by using a light oil on the handle rivets and both ends of the spool shaft.

Oil should be used on:

  • Handle Knobs
  • Spool Shaft
  • Spool-Shaft Ends
  • Spool Release
  • Stabilizer Bar
  • Ball bearings

Grease should be used on:

  • Main Gear
  • Pinion gear
  • Worm-Shaft Guard
  • Pinion Yoke
  • Release Slider
  • Bushings

3. Clean/Maintain Spinning Reel

The spinning reel, has become extremely popular. The open-faced design of these reels help make this type more accurate than a spin-cast design and much easier to use than bait-casting reels. Many people prefer this design due to its line capacity, and because it works very well with line weights under 20-pound test.

Oil should be used on:

  • Handle Knobs
  • Arm Lever
  • Kick lever
  • Pickup Pin
  • Ball Bearings
  • Clutch Screw
  • Spool Release Mechanisms

Grease should be used on:

  • Crank Shaft
  • Center Shaft
  • Crank Gear
  • Roller Wheel
  • Spool Washers
  • Bushings
  • Pickup arm

Overview and Summary

It is always wise to pay attention to some general advice for keeping your fishing gear in good condition and working order. If you are a saltwater enthusiast, do not think you are doing an adequate job by hosing it down and allowing it to air dry, if anything you may be ruining your reel!

Always keep and use a spray bottle on hand to do this rinsing. Always take a few minutes to wipe down your reel with a soft, moist cloth. Pay attention to the drive-gear bearings. Learn how to remove the reel handle (Google and YouTube can help) or have someone do it. A few of drops of light oil is enough. Put the handle back on and you’ve done your reel a great service. If you feel uncomfortable doing maintenance yourself, take your reel and rod into a service center in your city, there are many shops where professionals will care for your gear.

Final Thoughts

Before starting any maintenance or cleaning procedures, Google and YouTube will help you get a good understanding and you may even find the maintenance process on your exact gear, which makes life 100x easier! Always make sure you have read the manual and gathered the tools you’ll need such as cloths, lubricant, screw drivers and a small brush. If you still have the manual that your reel came with always give it a read before starting your cleaning process.

The most premium reels can be a bit complex so it is always best practice to familiarize yourself all you can about your reels before you try to disassemble anything or perform any maintenance. Remember if you feel like you can’t perform this maintenance yourself, there are trained professionals in your city who are glad to help you out! Have Fun!

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Growing up on the south shore of Long Island, Chum Charlie has always had a passion for fishing. His favorite fish to catch is a striped bass and his favorite bait to use is bunker. Off the water, he enjoys blogging and sharing his favorite fishing tips & tricks that he has learned over the years.