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Caring for Saltwater Tackle

Do you treat your rod and reel as well as you do your 12-gauge? You should.

By Larry Bozka

Rare are the hunters who fail to clean their guns after returning home. Many perform gun-cleaning duties while still at camp. With the price of high-end fishing reels approaching that of moderately priced firearms, it only makes sense that anglers should do the same. In the case of saltwater angling, prompt cleaning is not only sensible, it’s essential. Even the finest bait-casting and spinning reels cannot withstand the corrosive effects of salt water without regular post-trip maintenance.

Hunting season arrives with summer still lingering. In their haste to sight in deer rifles and sharpen wing-shooting skills, all too many coastal anglers-turned-hunters simply stash their reels “for later.” “Later” rapidly becomes “too late.” It’s an expensive mistake, one that results in an ugly shock when bay fishing suddenly beckons and a long-neglected reel is retrieved from a salt-encrusted tote bag.

Fortunately, the heartache of frozen reel handles and rusted bearings can be avoided with a few simple steps.

It’s best not to blast a fishing reel with pressurized water, be it from a car wash or even a water hose or faucet sprayer. Likewise, it’s risky to submerge a reel and leave it immersed. Doing either can trap water, salt and sand inside the reel and set the stage for hopelessly damaged equipment.

Always remove the reel from the rod before cleaning. Rinse it gently with warm water and immediately wipe it dry with a soft cotton cloth.

Most baitcasting reels break down to three separate pieces: the housing, side plate/handle and spool. Flush those pieces with warm water to dissolve salt traces and displace embedded sand. Blow the pieces dry with either a compressor or hair dryer. At the very least, place the pieces in a drain basket over the sink and allow them to drip-dry.

Once the reel is dry, apply a reel lubricant, but use it sparingly. Most people tend to gum up the works by applying too much oil. It’s best to use a lubricant designed for fishing reels. A few of the more notable ones include ReelX, XIR Reel Lube and Inhibitor V80.

Be sure to lubricate all moving parts. Lightly oil the worm gear and place a tiny drop of oil on each of the bearings. Back off the star drag and oil it as well. Crank it tight and then back it off again in order to thoroughly distribute the lubricant.

Reel handle knobs are extremely susceptible to salt retention and corrosion. Many reels have handles fitted with small plugs that can be removed with an ice pick or other pointed tool. Remove the plug and add a drop of oil directly into the opening.

Reassemble the reel and spray an absorbent cloth with reel lubricant. Wipe the reel as completely as possible, making sure all surfaces are coated. Cotton swabs are handy for getting the hard-to-reach places.

Spinning reels are substantially easier to break down and clean than baitcasting reels. Remove the reel spool, rinse it in warm water and be sure to oil the shaft. Clean and oil the handle knobs and bearings. Then revolve the handle several times to assure that the interior gears and assembly are coated. Some of the newer spinning reels come with special lube ports for ease of application. Either way, don’t overdo it with the oil.

Maintenance of this sort, performed after every trip, will greatly enhance the performance and longevity of fishing reels. If you wade-fish on a regular basis, especially in the surf, it’s important to clean the reel promptly upon returning home. Without immediate attention, a reel that has been dunked is virtually doomed.

Depending on how often you fish and your preferred method of angling, you should completely break down and clean your reels at least twice a year. Most reels come with schematic drawings to aid with breakdown, reassembly and ordering of replacement parts. If you are (understandably) intimidated by the task of comprehensive cleaning, take your reel to an established tackle repair facility and let a pro do the job; $25 is a meager investment when spent to maintain a $200 to $300 fishing reel.

As for rods, reel seats should always be washed and lightly sprayed with lubricant before the reel is remounted. Wash the rod from handle to tip and apply a light coat of oil on the guides and inserts.

Also, periodically check for cracks or other defects in the ceramic inserts as well as the thread wrapping around the feet of the guides. Fraying thread can be arrested easily with a light coat of urethane varnish or even clear nail polish.

If your favorite 12-gauge were immersed in salty marsh water, you wouldn’t fail to clean it promptly. It only makes sense to treat your rods and reels with just as much care.

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