Spinning Reel Maintenance – 8 Practical Tips for Maintaining Your Fishing Reel


Your spinning reel is the ‘engine’ of your setup, and like any good engine, it needs to be maintained to keep it in perfect working order.

If the engine breaks down, your car, or more accurately, your catch rate isn’t going anywhere!

You’ll find all the answers right here. Today I’m looking at spinning reel maintenance and how to keep your pride and joy in top condition.

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How do You Maintain a Spinning Reel? (The Quick Answer)

Look.

Nobody is asking you to become an engineer. That’s not what I mean by fishing reel maintenance. Maintaining something is keeping it at a level where it can perform well! It’s a fairly simple process. In short, you’ll need to:

  • Change out lines semi-regularly.
  • Clean the exterior after every use.
  • Let the drag off after every use.
  • Tighten any loose screws.
  • Keep your spinning reel out of direct sunlight.
  • Occasionally remove a few parts and ensure that they are lubricated.

That’s it. Most of the above list can be done quickly and easily. If you make it part of your post fishing session routine, then the majority of it is a breeze.

man repairs a fishing spinning reel

The upsides to maintaining your spinning reel?

Well, there are plenty.

Maintaining your reel will:

  • Prolong the life of your reel.
  • Prevent corrosion.
  • Ensure it performs better.
  • Allow you to fish with utter confidence in your equipment.
  • Save you money.

Wait, what?

Save money? How?

Easy, if you’ve invested in a decent reel, by looking after it, it minimizes the chances of you needing to purchase a replacement!

Some types of fishing can be particularly hard on your gear, and you’ll need it to work. Take bass fishing. Your reel and rod are in constant action. If you are struggling with your bass fishing gear, perhaps it is high time to consider a replacement?

Ok, here’s my detailed guide to keeping your real in perfect working order…

8 Practical Tips for Maintaining Your Fishing Reel

1) Add a Fresh Line When You Can

This might be one of the easiest ways to ensure reliability and keep your spinning reel in good working order.

Those lines… Yeah, they don’t last forever and, over time, will begin to degrade. While a crack-off mid cast (or heaven forbid while fighting a fish) isn’t the end of the world, what will seriously spoil your day is if the reel gets tangled or overstressed due to breakage.

Even the best fishing lines are relatively cheap. If you buy a big spool, you can probably afford to add a new line at least once a month.

Here’s how to spool a spinning reel

2) Clean The Outside… Often

The area of your reel that is most subject to dirt, damage, and the elements is the outside casing of the reel.

In short, if you can see it, then it’s a place where grime can accumulate.

Give your reel a quick clean after every session. A wipe with a damp cloth and freshwater should suffice.

If you want to do a proper job, I’d advise treating your reel, the way you do dirty dishes. Give your reel a 5 minute soak to loosen any stubborn dirt particles. As an additional advantage, I find that this often softens the line and allows it to ‘bed in’ better on your spool.

3) Dry Your Reel

Water is the #1 enemy to all spinning reels. In particular, water left in place. Even the hardiest of spinning reels will suffer if you leave water pooled on it after a session.

After rinsing, be sure to give your reel a good going over with a dry cloth to remove and traces of standing water.

4) Clean and Lubricate the Inside of Your Spinning Reel

This is the most involved maintenance you’ll have to perform.

Want the good news?

With spinning reels, it is really easy. Here are the two areas that I remove and lubricate:

  • The spool.
  • The winding handle.

That’s it!

Once you have removed the spool, it is simply a matter of giving it a quick scrub and then applying a few drops of grease or a good quality oil. The same with the winding handle bearing.

Once you reassemble the reel, give it a few turns, and that lubrication will eventually spread to where it needs to be.

Here’s how to remove the spool:

5) Take Pictures

Listen.

There’s nothing worse than taking something apart and putting it back together, only to find that you have a screw or bolt left over at the end.

While disassembling a spinning reel is pretty easy, you want to be sure that it goes back together the same way it came apart.

Here’s the answer.

Take pictures. That way, you can be confident that all of the parts are where they should be.

6) Loosen The Drag

Compressing parts together is never a good thing for longevity. This is a shame as it is exactly how fishing reel drags work…

So…

When you are not using your reel, turn the drag until it is really loose. This will stop parts from binding as they aren’t in contact with each other.

Here’s a video showing how easy it is:

7) Tighten It Up

Once you have cleaned, disassembled, and oiled your reel, it is time to put it all back together. Make sure that all of the bolts and screws are tight without any play.

A part falling off or coming loose while you are fighting a big fish could be a disaster.

8) Keep Away from The Sun!

Sunlight is actually quite damaging to most things.

I mean…

It is radiation from a star, after all?

Your line and any plastic components in your reel will be degraded by UV light, so when your reel is not in use, keep it somewhere dry, tucked away, and dark.

fisherman fishing with spinning rod in pond

What Tools Will I Need to Maintain My Spinning Reel?

A good workman needs good tools. Spinning reel maintenance requires nothing fancy, and I guarantee you’ll have all of these items at home.

Here’s the perfect spinning reel maintenance kit:

  • Screwdriver – used to remove reel panels, it also makes for a really good scraper if you have got any dried on grime.
  • A damp cloth.
  • Scissors – for removing trapped line.
  • A dry cloth.
  • A mild cleaning agent – my personal recommendation is a mild dish soap. A couple of drops will do it.
  • A toothbrush – good for nooks and crannies.
  • Oil.
  • Q-tips – for those hard to reach areas.

That’s about it!

How Do You Keep Your Fishing Reel Clean?

Keeping a fishing reel clean isn’t rocket science. Here are some key tips I normally follow.

1) Clean The Line on Your Last Cast

This is something you can do while fishing. As you fish, the line will start to accumulate microscopic dirt particles. If you don’t clean the line, they end up all being accumulated in one place.

Where?

On your spool.

When fishing, cast out, and while you are retrieving, pinch the line against the blank with a damp cloth. Reel in as normal.

Hey, presto! Clean line!

Here’s a quick video detailing the technique:

2) Use a Mild Detergent When Cleaning the Reel

A couple of drops of dish soap is more than enough to get your spinning reel nice and sparkly. You don’t need to create a foam monster. A drop or two in a whole bowl of water is fine.

3) Be Sure to Lubricate After Cleaning

Dish soap, like most cleaners, is actually a degreaser. It will remove most of the old lubrication, so you must replenish that lubrication after each cleaning session.

4) Clean Inside and Out

Often it isn’t the dirt that you can see that’s the problem. It is the dirt that you can’t.

Be sure to clean the inside of the spool and the post that it attaches to. This is where a toothbrush comes in handy…

5) Saltwater is the Devil

One time you will have to clean your spinning reel is if you are using it in saltwater. That stuff is seriously corrosive. At a bare minimum, you need to give your reel a rinse in fresh water.

How serious is it?

Well, you could find that over a single week, your reel becomes unserviceable due to salt accumulation.

Are you looking to do a bit of saltwater fishing? Why not take a quick glance at my dedicated article on the best surf fishing rods and reels.

different types of spinning rods on the fishing boat

What To Use Clean a Spinning Reel – Do’s and Don’ts

Alright, to avoid you messing up your reel, here’s a quick list of do’s and don’t when cleaning your reel:

Do

  • Use a soft cloth.
  • Use warm water.
  • Try and get into all the little crevices where dirt can accumulate.
  • Dry your reel afterward.
  • Lubricate your reel after each cleaning session.

Don’t

  • Use anything abrasive. Metallic sponges or wire wool are a real no-no.
  • Use any harsh products like bleach, acetone, or disinfectant. This could strip the finish off your reel.
  • Use hot water. This can soften plastic parts or warp your reel.
  • Avoid cleaning your reel because it looks ok. It’s the dirt you can’t see that causes problems.

How to Lubricate Your Spinning Reel

You’ll have heard me constantly talk about lubrication.

Do you know why?

Because it is super important! Moving parts need oil. It’s that simple. Here’s why:

  • Moving parts generate friction, oil stops them wearing away.
  • Oil protects against moisture, preventing corrosion.

Here are some great tips on lubricating a spinning reel:

  • Use a high-quality mineral oil. This will be the right viscosity to flow where it needs to and stay there.
  • Don’t apply too much. A drop here and there is all it takes.
  • Turn the reel once you’ve applied the lube. This will spread the oil to where it needs to be.

Where do I need to lubricate?

I’m glad you asked. Here are the main areas to focus on:

  • The main shaft (that’s the pointy bit that goes into the back of your spool).
  • The line roller.
  • The corners of the bail arm.
  • The handle and elbows of the handle.
  • The drag nut.
  • Any visible gears.
  • The bearings.

Want to see all of the above oiled in full? I bet you do! Here’s a quick video:

Can I use WD40 to Lubricate My Spinning Reel?

Hell no!

Look, I know it seems easy. Give your reel a quick squirt, and you are done, right?

Wrong.

WD40 can actually seep in, dilute, and in some cases, remove grease from your reel. What’s more, it is a real pain to clean off. Because it is so thin, it also tends to do a sub-standard job when talking about lubrication. It might be good for a squeaky door hinge, but it is trash for lubricating a spinning reel.

Don’t believe me?

Well, don’t take my word for it… Here’s what the guys at Daiwa, one of the world’s biggest fishing companies, have to say on the matter:

In Summary

Spinning reel maintenance doesn’t have to be a chore (in fact, you’ll probably enjoy it). With a few simple steps, you can keep your reel in perfect working order.

Avoid spray-on lubricants, clean it regularly and make sure that it goes together in the same way it was taken apart. It is about as easy as that!

There are lots of reels, and how they are cleaned and maintained can be different. Why not check out my guide on the different types of fishing reels to learn the subtle differences? I cover everything, from the best carp fishing setups to great gear for ice fishing!

Have you got any reel maintenance tips? Why not share them in the comments below?

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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