Reel Talk: Maintenance Saves Time and Money

By Dennis Doyle

A friend passed me his second rod as he was already solidly engaged with a sturdy rockfish on his first rig. Picking it up that chilly morning, I leaned back into the bite and found myself hooked up as well. Trying to crank down to get a more solid purchase to the fish, I felt the reel suddenly start to seize. Fighting through the lockup, I finally got the handle turning and was able to bring in some line. This went on periodically for the duration of the battle.

“What’s wrong with this reel?” I asked. My buddy answered, “Nothin’, it just does that from time to time, I’ve had it for years, one of my favorites.” 

It was an expensive model, one of my favorites as well, but something was wrong.

Later after we had cleaned our catch, washed down the skiff, dumped the offal and returned home, I took the reel off the rod and examined it again, “When was the last time you serviced this?” I asked. 

“Never, I just get a new one when they start to go bad.” 

“Isn’t that a little expensive?” 

“Not as expensive as what they charge for fixing them, plus it takes forever,” was his answer. 

He had a certain point: reel repair and servicing specialists, at least the good ones, are inevitably pricey when you factor in packaging, shipping and the time, experience and materials involved. 

“You know you can do most of it yourself? These spinning reels are fairly simple.” 

“Simple for you maybe—I’ve never been able to get one apart much less back together. Easier just to replace them.” 

There are only a few real tricks to servicing a spin reel and one of the most important is knowing that the axle nut holding on the spool apparatus is invariably reverse threaded, if you aren’t aware of that, it will usually be all downhill from there. 

I didn’t bother telling my friend this trick, as personally, it was a pretty humiliating experience when I first found that out.

However, the internet has blossomed to the extent that there is undoubtedly a video out there detailing just about any repair or servicing procedure for any reel you may have. All it takes is an adventurous attitude, a computer, an adjustable wrench, and a screwdriver. And I speak from the perspective of someone who is still challenged by changing my pickup’s oil every few months; it’s just something you’ve got to do.

The problem with my friend’s reel was a big glob of dried-out, congealed grease caught up in the pinion gears that cold morning. The reel, incidentally, hadn’t been serviced in probably a decade. These machines, while ingenious, just don’t go on functioning forever without a little bit of care.

Fishing reels in general have never been better made, of more superior materials, nor better engineered. With a little attention, they can now last a score of seasons, at least the better quality models. 

I have an embarrassing number of spin and casting outfits that I’ve been caring for and abusing most of my life and though I occasionally come up against a problem that is unsolvable and in need of expert attention, most are correctable if not preventable with a toothbrush and the proper lubricant, or at the most, the correct replacement part.

Your rigs must be regularly rinsed of salty debris, lubricated and sheltered from the elements if they’re expected to continue in operation indefinitely. 

Well-used fishing reels, like all good tools, are treasures in themselves.