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Jan/Feb 2012 cover image

Skill Builder: The Real Deal About Reels

Get ready for spring fishing with a gear check.

By Kevin Cunningham

Because of the demands of daily life, many of us can go fishing only a few times a year, so our equipment sits for long periods of time. Sometimes we forget the “end of trip” maintenance that will keep our equipment going long and strong.

With the spring season approaching, take a few minutes to make sure your gear is in good working order. Here are some essential tips.

Reels: Reels need to be checked for cleanliness, operational smoothness and full function. Spin the handle a few times, depressing and releasing the casting mechanism, and pull line out to make sure the drag isn’t stuck. With a little testing, you’ll be able to tell if there is grit or dirt in the moving parts while reeling, if the casting mechanism doesn’t engage or release smoothly or if the drag disk simply doesn’t release. You might need to take the reel in and have it rebuilt. However, many problems are located at “entry points”— places where dirt, salt and water can affect the reel — and simply cleaning and lubricating these points can fix the problem.

The main problem with spinning reels is the release bail bar. When the swivel points and line roller at the end of the bar are exposed to the elements, they will eventually feel rough. The bail spring won’t have the force to swing the bar back over to re-engage the line after casting. Disassembling the bar — usually two screws and a spring — and cleaning it with brush and water and adding a few drops of oil will fix the problem.

On baitcaster reels, the two parts that go out first are usually the worm gear, which drives the level-wind mechanism (the part that makes sure line goes back onto the spool equally distributed), and the anti-reverse bearing. The worm gear can usually be cleaned and reused. Unfortunately, if the anti-reverse bearing is worn out, it probably needs to be replaced. For these repairs, you do have to take more of the reel apart, but it’s not that difficult. Practice with some old ones.

Spincast reels are often the kind that will need to be replaced. These are the easiest to use, but since the line is retrieved back into the enclosed reel housing, water and dirt can accumulate inside and decrease the overall life of the reel much faster than other reel types. The best way to check for problems is to remove the outer cap bezel and inspect the bell housing. The housing can get warped, making it so the line pins don’t engage and release smoothly, and sometimes line gets bound up underneath the bell housing itself. Remove the bell housing either by removing an attached nut or unscrewing the housing counterclockwise while holding the reel handle to keep from spinning. Inspect for dirt and wound line, and then clean and regrease the line pickup pins, making sure they slide smoothly back and forth when the casting button is depressed. Don’t take too much time attempting a repair since parts will usually cost more than a new reel.

Make sure you clean your reels after each fishing trip. Wipe them down and lubricate parts as needed. If fishing in saltwater, lightly spray with a little fresh water first to remove salt. Don’t make the mistake of forcing water into the reel by using a hose nozzle. You need to get the salt off the outside, not drive water and salt inward.

Fishing line: It is usually recommended that line be replaced once a year. However, your line can last for several seasons if you don’t fish often and you keep your reel stored in an area free from sunlight, excessive moisture and extreme temperature. At the beginning of each season, strip a few yards of line off your reel to eliminate line that may have been exposed to the elements. Use your eyes or fingertips to check for twisted, brittle or nicked line. If the line has been exposed to excessive sunlight or used for a long time, its strength will be reduced. Simply give the line a good pull — if it breaks easily, some or all of the line will need to be replaced.

Fishing rods: Check the rod for missing or broken guide inserts or a broken tip. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people make it out to the fishing spot with haphazard rods. Rod repair can be difficult, so take it to a professional for repair or buy a new one.

Have fun fishing this spring and enjoy seasonal opportunities such as the white bass run and largemouth bass spawn. And if we fish the same spot, may your reel go down before mine.


Related stories

Family Fishing Vacations

New Life for Old Fishing Lures

See more stories on TP&W magazine's Fishing page


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