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Reel Maintenance

Lets pretend for a moment that it's late June and the early morning bite has been on with big bass crushing surface plugs and inhaling slow trolled live baits.

It's predawn, conditions are prefect, with the moon sinking and the sun yet to crack the horizon. You have been up for hours anticipating this long-awaited trip.

You arrive at your favorite spot either by walking up over the dune or slowly maneuvering your boat toward an inlet. The air is still, and the sea surface is like glass, only interrupted by the swirls of huge fish. Your chest is pounding as you ready your first cast or set the lines for a troll. You haul back and launch your favorite plug toward the swirls only to have the spinning reel bail trip mid-cast resulting in a snapped line and lost lure or you witness the starboard aft rod go off and layover nearly touching the gunnel with a screaming reel and having the reel handle fall off as you begin to fight the fish. Ugh!

Losing a great catch due to tackle failure that could have been prevented is disheartening.

On Wingman we use a variety of reels depending what fish we’re pursuing. It makes no difference how big or small, conventional or spinning they all require preventative maintenance by regular servicing.

Here are a few steps to keep those reels in good working condition, and to help set you up for success and prevent downtime during the season. 

Basic Reel Maintenance

In depth reel care and inspection should be done at the end of each season, and basic reel care at the end of each trip.

Prior to each season, complete disassembly, and cleaning and lubrication, is highly recommended. Due to the intricate design and configuration of some reels, this task is best left to professional technicians at reputable tackle shops.

Being a member of the Goose Hummock Pro-Team, Wingman’s gear is handled by Phil and his staff of experienced anglers and trained technicians at the Goose Hummock. They will completely disassemble, clean, inspect all components, and lube your reel for $25.

If you choose to do it yourself, be sure to have the owner’s manual available with an exploded view of the reel. Also, I highly recommend you take photos as you disassemble the reel as a reference for reassembly.

Common tools such phillips and flathead screwdrivers, box or adjustable wrench or those provided with the reels are all that’s required. For cleaning, q-tips or cotton swabs, alcohol, small brush and rags or paper towels are needed.

Pay attention to the manufacturer’s requirements regarding drag washers. Depending on use they will last a few seasons and may require lube or be left dry - depending on the material used to make the drag washers.

Lubrication is an essential part of reel maintenance. Use the lube/oil provided by the manufacturer or use those shown below. Internal components such as bearings, bushings and shafts tend to collect water and salt and could result in seizure or failure if not addressed. Its better to use oil and lube sparingly, as a little goes a long way, and excessive lubrication can slow many reels.

Daily Reel Care

After each charter aboard Wingman we clean and inspect the exterior of the reel and line for wear. I carry a small spray bottle of SALT-AWAY, and completely coat the reel (particularly the spool) and let it soak.

I follow this with a light rinse of fresh water.

Note if we’re using wire line, I spray the spool as the wire is being brought in as we’re recovering gear before heading home. This gives the SALT-AWAY ample time to soak in prior to rinsing at the dock. I lightly spray each reel with WD-40 or spray wax and wipe them down for the next trip.

On my boat I typically carry four sets of different rod/reel combos:

  • 3 spinning setups with braided line

  • 3 conventional setups with braided line

  • 3 conventional setups with lead core line

  • 3 conventional setups with wire line

Each different set consists of three identical rods and reels. I number each rod/reel setup so I can keep track of which one(s) we hooked fish with, and which ones took a beating and may need closer inspection. This takes away the head scratching at days end.

Also when trolling, I note which combo is in what position, be it aft starboard, center or port, and record what position hooked up. I'll speak to this more in my next post on “Keeping a Log and Networking”.

Captain Steve Leary

WINGMAN Sportfishing


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