Reel Deals

By Capt. Steve Chaconas

Buying a used car can be a harrowing experience, but buying a used bait casting fishing reel doesn't have to be.

Buying a used car can be a harrowing experience, but buying a used bait casting fishing reel doesn't have to be. Some anglers want to upgrade their gear and are willing to unload perfectly good reels. Find these on the internet — flea market sales are loaded with used reels. If you are fairly handy, willing to learn reel repair, and know what you want, a used reel is nothing to be afraid of!

Reel Repair Shops

Finding a trustworthy reel repair shop is also a good idea! Ask them which reels might be a good target in the used market! Find out how much they charge for reconditioning. I spoke with Jim Funkhouser at Dominion Tackle & Reel Repair, trained by Lake Fork Tackle Repair and he had several noteworthy suggestions.

Brand Name Reels

Try to stick to one of the better-known brands. Shimano, Abu, Daiwa, and some Quantum reels are a safe bet. From there, you need to know a bit about the reels to know if they were popular or not. If you have time, a few trips to some of the bass fishing chat rooms will at least give you a start. The biggest concern will be parts availability. Check around first. You can call any repair or parts supplier to find out.

Unless the reel is brand new and in the box, you should try to get the reel at least 50% off the retail price. You have to assume you will be spending at least $20-30 on getting it maintained to bring it up to snuff, more if there are obvious parts issues. Most shops will only charge for necessary parts under the maintenance fee. Ask the owner how it was used. If used in salt water, stay away from it! Look for signs of corrosion.

Inspect Before You Buy

Before you even consider a reel, check the exterior of the body for cracks. Body parts are hard to find and usually cost a good bit more. Each piece could be $20 and might not be worth replacing in a lot of reels. Stay away from this one, it's a "parts" reel!

The next thing to check is the reel handle. It should be pretty easy to spin the paddles, and check the handle for other damage like being bent. This is easy to replace, but will also carry a replacement cost that could run from $15 on up! Then turn the handle. Feel for grinding or resistance. Grinding could be a gear or other internal problems. These gears run about $15 or more and need to be installed by someone who repairs reels.

Worm Gears

If there is no line stuck between the spool and the housing of the reel and you get resistance when you try to crank the reel, turn the reel over to look at the worm gear. This is a gear that moves the level wind back and forth. If it is scarred or marred in any way, this could be the visible reason the reel isn't performing. This part usually runs about $15 plus installation. If the level wind doesn't go left or right, and the worm gear revolves, then you need to replace the pawl. This is about $5 and easily installed.


Check how the spool revolves. Loosen the spool adjustment cap, turn off all of the brakes and then disengage the spool. Spin the spool with your finger and see how it revolves. If it keeps spinning then your bearings might just need to be cleaned and oiled. If it only makes it through a revolution, then bearing replacement is probably indicated. Bearings run about $10 and up.

Drag System

If the reel has line, pull on it to check the drag system. Loosen the drag first, and then apply incremental adjustments to tighten and see if the line pulls out smoothly. If not, drag washers and a bit of grease will fix that. If it appears the drag is not working, and there is braided line on the spool, you might have a steal here! Many anglers do not put a monofilament backing on the reel before the braided refill. The braid works loose and will not hold onto the reel spool. This will appear to be a major drag issue. Test by tightening the drag. If the braided line pulls out, this is most likely the issue, So don't let this scare you away from this one!

Sometimes a reel that is covered with accumulated dirt might be a diamond in the rough. The previous owner probably never cleaned it and when the performance decreased, he wanted to unload it. This is a reel that can be bargained for! Make a low-ball offer on this dirty reel. If nothing else, it's another "parts" reel, but may possibly only require a thorough cleaning to bring it back to life.

Also, with some of the older reels, which you can actually use to fish with, assume you will either be replacing existing bearings or removing bushings to replace with bearings.

Learn which models you like and recognize a good deal when you see it. And, when you see the deal, seal it before it gets away! There is nothing wrong with older reels. They might be a bit heavier or slightly larger, but they are usually well built and can offer many more years of service.