Maintaining your own tackle today can be lots of fun. But today's tackle is far advanced from the tackle of the 40's and 50's that I cut my teeth on. Spinning reels have line layering and wrapping systems on long-cast spools, velvet smooth and sophisticated drag systems, free-line systems (Bait-Runners), infinite anti-reverse systems, quick-fire bail systems, trigger bait/line release systems, inner-rotor bails, and on and on. The baitcasters of today are just as advanced with features like magnetic spool controls, variable braking systems, flipping switches, infinite anti-reverse systems, line layers level-wind systems, and bearings and shims everywhere.

BoatUS ANGLER: Bait and Tackle

Maintaining Your Tackle: Fun or Frustration?

by Capt. Butch Rickey, Barhopp'R Charters and BoatUS Ask The Experts contributor
Photo of Capt. Butch Rickey holding a redfish

I can still remember my first spinning reels. They were an old Quick and a French-made Centura. They were given to me by an old couple who were friends of my parents when we lived on Captiva Island . The reels were in bad need of repair. I, about age 11, set out to make them work again. Thus was born my love affair with tackle in general, and tinkering with it in particular. As it turned out, it was mostly a matter of removing sand and dirt, tightening loose parts, and lubricating moving parts. That still holds true today.

Maintaining your own tackle today can be lots of fun. But today's tackle is far advanced from the tackle of the 40's and 50's that I cut my teeth on. Spinning reels have line layering and wrapping systems on long-cast spools, velvet smooth and sophisticated drag systems, free-line systems (Bait-Runners), infinite anti-reverse systems, quick-fire bail systems, trigger bait/line release systems, inner-rotor bails, and on and on. The baitcasters of today are just as advanced with features like magnetic spool controls, variable braking systems, flipping switches, infinite anti-reverse systems, line layers level-wind systems, and bearings and shims everywhere.

Baitcasters are much more susceptible to loss of performance (casting distance) from improper lubrication and maintenance, or marginal parts because the spool actually revolves to feed line during the cast. When properly functioning they offer superior drag systems, smoother operation, and superior casting distance with all but the smallest baits. The laws of physics are responsible for longer casts, that is, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. They also offer superior casting control, in my opinion.

Spinning reels, although refined to new heights recently by Shimano's Dyna-Balance System and twist reducing line roller, still have one bugaboo that's a function of design -- they still twist line, and they always will. Casting distance is superior with small baits like whitebaits or small artificials because there's no spool inertia that has to be overcome as with the baitcaster. That advantage soon disappears with increasing bait weights.

Another obvious advantage of the spinner is casting into the wind. Even the best of us will backlash a baitcaster into the wind occasionally. Of course, I've seen lots of my clients have real problems casting down a serious breeze. The line keeps peeling off the spool after the bait has hit the water. The resulting first few wraps are stacked very loosely, and the whole mess likes to jump off the spool in one twisted lump on the next cast.

With the sophistication of today's tackle has come an increase in the number of parts it takes to build a reel, and a decrease in their size. Typically, there are a host of small mechanical parts, bearings, springs, shims, shafts, etc, in a reel that can be difficult to handle just because of their size. On first examination by the inexperienced, the function of many of these parts is not immediately apparent either. In fact, some of these systems are quite complicated, and best left to the experts. Of course, even the experts sometimes have trouble remembering the placement of parts, because they don't work on the same reels every day.

Fishing reel exploded view

Having said all this, repairing and maintaining you own tackle can be fun and give you a great sense of accomplishment, as well as save you money. For a fishing guide like myself, this is doubly true. Someone is always dropping tackle into the water, banging it against the boat, or sitting or stepping on something. Things get broken!

If you're on the water a lot, learning to maintain and repair your own tackle would serve you well. A word of caution, though - if you're not mechanically inclined to begin with, you may wind up doing more harm than good. If you are so inclined, and like to tinker, this is for you.

Presuming you are now still interested in doing your own thing, you will need to set up a little shop. You work area can be as simple as your kitchen table or as nice as your garage workbench. The main thing is that it's kept neat and clean. I suggest the first thing you do before ever turning the first screw, is lay down a large white towel or cloth of some kind. This will absorb cleaners and oils, but more importantly, give you a good contrasting surface to lay parts on. Sometime small parts, particularly tiny springs, just disappear before your very eyes, and the reel won't work without that part.

You also will need a cleaning tank - it doesn't have to be large, you're only working on reel parts. I use a cold sterilization tank from a dental office. It's about 12 x 6 x 4 inches and has a self-draining tray that lifts out of the cleaning solution when you open the lid. This is just the first of many dental tools I'll discuss that are perfect for tackle maintenance chores. So get to know your dentist - ask him or her if you can have some of the discards, they'll still work for you.

As for cleaning solutions, the best is plain ole' garden variety kerosene, which is readily available, and cheap. I keep a large plastic container around from which I top off or refill my cleaning tank. You also may want to have other solvents around like CRC Marine Degreaser, but kerosene will cut all but the toughest stuff. Be careful with the degreaser, as it will melt some plastics.

Another item that will serve you well is a plastic egg storage container. Our refrigerator had a two tier container which was not being used. I scarfed it for my reel repair business. Those little egg cups are perfect for keeping parts separated by the system it belongs to, thus avoiding confusion later. Sometimes small screws, springs and things that look alike at first glance, in fact, aren't.

Your supply of lubricants is very important. One of the most important elements of reel performance is using the proper lubricants. You will need a gear lube like Penn's Blue Grease or equivalent, drag grease, which is not the same as gear lube, light oil for bearings and other lube points, and sometimes special lubricants like Shimano's TBM Grease, and drag grease that is used on many, but not all drag systems. A word of caution here: not all reels use lubricated drag systems. If you grease a dry system, you will render it ineffective, so pay attention to this. Make sure you have a supply of the lubricants on hand before you ever crack the reel open. Also make sure you've got plenty of clean rags on hand - you'll need them.

Now, to the tools. Throw away your crescent wrench and kitchen pliers. Those two tools, in the wrong hands, can damage more parts than anything else I can think of. Another tool that inflicts a great deal of damage is the screwdriver. Too many people just don't pay attention, or don't realize that there is a proper screwdriver for every job. If the tip of the screwdriver you're about to unscrew that pretty gold plated screw on your Stradic with doesn't fit into the screw head like a glove, nice and snug, don't use it. Find the one that does. If you don't, you're going to wind up damaging the screw. If it's a stubborn screw, salt water aged and full of corrosion, you may wind up having to drill it out. The lesson here is use the proper tool for the job.

Tools you already own will probably serve you well. All you need is a set of small sockets and small end wrenches. You'll also need a small file, a small hammer, pliers, wire-bending pliers, magnifying glass, small flashlight, inspection mirror, and tweezers.

Now it's time to see your dentist. He can give (or sell) you an inspection mirror, fine tweezers, hemostats, and a myriad of scraping, shaping and spreading tools designed to do who-knows-what. They sure are great for working on reels. You'll find something that's great for reaching into places you can't get your chubby little fingers to place a part, hook a spring, or spread grease where you can't reach. If he offers it, take it. You'll find some use for it. Also, don't forget some fine steel wool and emery paper.

I use an antique dental work stand with one drawer. The drawer is large enough to hold all my tools and lubricants, except spray cans. On top I keep my cleaning tank, egg container, and spray cans. On the bottom shelf I keep clean rags. The stand has roller feet and easily goes where I want it, right next to my work surface. When I sit down to do a reel, I have everything I need right at my fingertips.

Line drawing of an expolded view of a fishing reel

Let's take down a spinning reel for a routine D and C. If it's a front drag model, which are superior to rear drags, the first step is to remove the spool. The drag system is in the spool. This should be your first area of attention if it is anything less than silky smooth at all settings. Refer to your owners' manual for proper lubrication.

The next step is usually to remove the handle. It's probably a folding one of some variety and removing it should be simple. Lay it and the related parts in the egg container. To further disassemble many of today's spinners any further it is first necessary to remove the rotor housing. This will allow access into the reel body through the side plate. This is usually accomplished by first removing a locking screw, then the rotor nut from over the spool shaft. If your reel is a rear drag model, you may first have to open the side plate and disconnect the spool shaft from the rest of the drag mechanism. Once the spool shaft is removed, you can remove the rotor. Note: Some of the newest reels have a left handed thread on the rotor nut.

Now, if you haven't already done so, you can remove the side plate. You will now have the internals revealed and have access to the rotor bearing on most reels. On many reels, you may have to remove the anti-reverse mechanism before you can remove the rotor bearing for replacement or lubrication. Study it carefully. Study the owners' manual exploded parts view carefully. When you feel confident that you understand what everything does, proceed. Same for the insides. Reel make, design, and features will dictate what you will find inside. You may or may not encounter a level-wind mechanism, anti-reverse mechanisms, free-spool mechanisms, as well as the main gear drive and spool actuator mechanism. If you're feeling a great deal of anxiety at this point, you may want to stop here, and put Humpty Dumpty back together again for your reel service man. If not, keep going. Just be patient and careful. Note the location of shims, springs, and such. Make sure you understand where it goes and what it does after you have it clean and ready for installation and lubing.

Wash each part carefully. If you're confident, you may want to put the whole ball of wax in your tank and let it soak overnight. If not, you may want to wash each part individually and return it to the egg container so you don't get things mixed up. You may want to remove the kerosene film from some parts before applying the prescribed lubricant. You can do this with spray degreaser. Pay careful attention to the recommended lubricant in the owner's manual. Don't put grease where oil belongs, and don't overdo it. Too much can be as bad as too little.

You may find sealed ball bearings, some requiring oil, some requiring grease. Greasing sealed ball bearings often confounds people. There's a simple way to do it, but it's messy. Put a blob of grease in the palm of your left hand. Now take the bearing and press it into and drag it through the grease in your hand. After a couple of times you should notice new grease coming out of the sealed side of the bearing facing you. Ahead of it will usually be the old grease remaining after you cleaned it. Just keep pressing the bearing into your palm until you can see that only fresh grease is coming through. It's ready to install. Of course, new grease is not a cure for a rough bearing. If it's rough or noisy, replace it.

The reassembly process should be the exact opposite of the take-down. Remember to pay close attention to the order of things done. The last step is to spray the reel with a good quality protectant. I recommend Corrosion Block. It's expensive, but worth it.

Now, function test the reel. Check every feature on the reel to make sure it works properly. You don't want to find out when you get on the water that your anti-reverse doesn't work or that your drag is jerky. When you're finished, you should have a reel that feels and works as good as new, sometimes better. If all this sounds like too much hassle, I'd be happy to service your reel for you. I guarantee 24-hour turn around on full take-down and service, not repairs. Visit my website www.Barhoppr.com for details.

If you take your reel down and can't get it back together properly, consider this story. I have a good friend here in Sarasota who owns a copier repair business. He amazes me with his ability to fix one of the most complicated devices ever contrived by humanity - the copier. I mean, they're complicated. He can often fix them without parts, using little tricks he's learned over the years. But, to this day, he cannot take a rear-drag Shimano reel apart and have it ever work properly again. For some reason the whole concept seems to be beyond him. It just doesn't figure.

So, if it happens to you, don't feel too bad!

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