Not that we are all not dummies when it comes to reel maintenance - but for some this is an overwhelming task, especially for kayak anglers fishing in saltwater. After all, we are fishing at nearly the same level as the fish, which provides a greater risk that our reels will be more in contact with the water then if we were fishing from a boat, dock/pier, or from the shoreline.
Here is a simplified approached to cleaning and maintaining your fishing reels that applies to those that fish salt and freshwater. The only difference is the frequency of maintenance. Saltwater anglers need to clean gear after every trip, and freshwater anglers can stretch it to weekly, monthly, quarterly, or a couple times a year. Whatever the frequency, remember your fishing reel is the most important tool and investment for catching that record-breaking fish. Does it have to be a “100% tear apart your fishing reels process”? I don’t think so, but it depends on the conditions your equipment has endured.
If your fishing trip had incidents that caused you to submerge your reel into the water, or tested the rod that claims that it will float with the reel attached, you will have to either take your reel to your local reel repairperson, or do the maintenance yourself. If your trip had no incidents, then a simple approach to cleaning and maintenance is all you may need to do. First, let’s look at how to clean your fishing reel after an incident free fishing trip.
After a day’s fishing, there are several methods that you can use to clean your fishing reel.
When you get home, you can use the garden hose with the nozzle adjusted to a light spray to rinse off any salt or dirt debris. Some anglers even take their expensive reels into the shower with them, while others soaking a rod and reel in a bucket of water. I don’t have a problem with the garden hose method, but the shower concept scares me - having those hooks close by while taking a shower with my rods and reels… Soaking your reels in a bucket of water is like submerging your equipment in the water when you are fishing. The water might be clean when compared to the water that you are fishing, but I would discourage you from cleaning the reels in this manner.
Another suggestion is to use a reel cleaner like Penn Rod & Reel Cleaner after a day of fishing on your reels, and those rods as well. I spray my reels after each trip then, lightly wipe down when I get home to help prevent the moisture and salt build-up that can cause corrosion. Using this method is very simple.
My last simple solution is to use Blakemore’s “Real Magic”. This is not a cleaner, but a petroleum distillate. The manufacturer claims Real Magic reduces line memory, helps casting distance, and prevents corrosion and UV damage. It is also very friendly on marine electronics. I use this product on my reels prior to getting on the water to protect my reels from paddle spray or waves slapping the kayak.
These three suggestions are great preventative measures to ensure the longevity of your investment in fishing reels. They will not prevent damage to reels that have been submerged in the water or temporarily lost to Davy Jones’ locker. When your reel has been put into the fish’s habitat, you will have to open that reel up for some deep cleaning. Each reel is a little different, but the basics are the same. In my opinion most anglers use spinning reels, so the instructions from this point on will be concerned with this type of reel.
1. Assemble the proper tools. You will need two small screwdrivers (a standard & Phillips), a pair of tweezers, an old toothbrush, and a toothpick. If you have the wrench and parts list that came with your reel, have them handy as well.
2. Assembly the cleaning supplies. I use Penn Rod & Reel Cleaner but you could use Simple Green cleaning compound, Ronsonol lighter fluid, etc. - something that will help remove the contaminated oil/grease. Along with the cleaner, I use the Penn Angler Pack that contains synthetic reel oil and precision reel grease. Other items that will work are Quantum's Hot Sauce grease and Hot Sauce oil, Ardent Reel Butter grease and oil. I’m sure there are other products, but these are available at my local tackle shops.
3. Now comes the scary part of this tip on maintenance of your fishing reels - disassembling your reel. When I take my reel apart, I lay the parts on a mat. I add a strip of masking tape under the line of parts. Number each part as you remove it from the reel. This will allow you to assemble the reel by following the number sequence in reverse order.
4. I suggest that you always hold your reel in the same hand when disassembling and putting it back together. I always hold the reel in my left hand and work with my right. This keeps the reel oriented the same way during the disassembly and assembling.
5. When disassembling of the reel you might notice that there is never metal against metal. All manufacturers of reels have the parts designed metal to fiber. If you are numbering the parts as they are removed from the reel and reverse the numerical sequence during assembly you will not really have to be worried about this rule. [Editor’s note – Many reels do have all metal gears, and other metal parts that bear on one another. Your mileage may vary. –IR]
6. Use the tweezers to handle springs and wire clips. Using the proper tool to handle these parts should help prevent them from flying all over the place and getting lost.
7. Either remove or secure the fishing line with masking tape or that little clip before you remove the spool. If you don’t secure the line, you provide the opportunity for the line to get caught between the spool and the reel frame, making removal very difficult.
8. Clean the parts with the Penn Rod & Reel Cleaner. Don’t use gasoline or similar products to remove dirt and grease from the parts - they will damage plastic. Use a biodegradable product and a toothbrush that will not harm the plastic or fiber parts of the reel.
9. Apply the grease to the bottom of the teeth on the gears, not the top. Applying the grease to the tops of the teeth will allow the gears to throw the grease everywhere. You do not need to slop grease all over the place; a light coating is all you need. This is where the toothpick will be handy to apply the grease.
10. Clean the bearings with the cleaner or lighter fluid. Remove the dirt and grunge from the bearings. After they are cleaned give them a spin. This will tell you if they are clean. Oil them with synthetic reel oil. One drop per bearing.
Reassemble the reel, ensuring that there are no parts left over. Check to make sure everything operates the way it should. Back the drag off and apply a little Real Magic to the exterior to protect the finish and line. Casting reels can be maintained using this same process. Just keep in mind that basics of staying organized, cleaning properly, greasing the bottom of the gear teeth, and a drop of oil on each bearing.