TLC for Spinners

How to keep your spinning reels humming.

Spinning reel maintenance is a snap.

A quality spinning reel is not an insignificant investment. It should deliver top performance for many years. Brent Mayes, who heads the reel repair department at Gainesville’s Tackle Box, sees a lot that don’t. In almost all cases, the demise of the reel can be traced back to the angler.

Surprisingly, one of the easiest ways for an angler to destroy a reel is to follow “conventional wisdom.”
“For years,” Mayes says, “anglers have been told that they need to wash the reel in fresh water after a saltwater trip. They line them up and hose them down. Others actually dunk the reel in a bucket of fresh water. Neither of those is good for the reel.”

The problem, according to Mayes, is that either washing method forces water into the reel. Once there, it has nowhere to go. It will evaporate, condense and keep repeating that cycle. If a hose is used it will also force salt and grit into the reel. All of that ultimately ends up in the rotor bearings and rusts them out.

Mayes favors a very light misting spray, like Penn Rod & Reel Cleaner, although a soft cloth moistened with fresh water does all the cleaning a reel requires. Once the reel is wiped down and allowed to air dry, a drop or two of a light synthetic lubricant (like eXtreme Products Slick ‘Em or Corrosion X Reel-X) should be applied to the handle and shaft, line roller and bail spring arm junction.

Sticking drags are another common problem and can cost anglers a good fish. One way to avoid that is to loosen the drag knob after each trip. That removes the pressure on the individual drag washers and prevents their sticking together, warping or taking a set. Mayes, however, goes one step further.

If the reel has been in service for a few years, or feels rough, it might be wise to clean the old grease out of the gearbox (especially if you’re guilty of excessive dunking) and replace it. Remove the side plate to expose the gears. Carburetor or brake spray cleaner will strip the old grease. But, they can be a bit tough on paint and cosmetics, and if they are not allowed to thoroughly air dry (which takes several hours), they can eat the new grease you apply. Mayes prefers to remove each gear and gently clean everything with mineral spirits. Once cleaned, he applies a light synthetic oil to the bearings and a thin coat of grease to the gears. Final tip: Keep your reel schematic close at hand, or find one online.

Mayes, working on a Penn SS, touts an old favorite: Shimano Star Drag Grease. It’s a light synthetic grease available in small consumer containers. A very thin coating on the top of each drag washer smoothes out the drag and protects stainless steel washers from pitting or corroding. A key trouble spot is the top of the spool where the bottom drag washer sits. Saltwater intrusion, if not addressed, will cause bad corrosion here. Grease protects that spot.

While the spool is removed, add a thin coat of grease to the spool shaft, as well. But, don’t be in a hurry to reassemble the reel just yet.

A nut at the base of the spool shaft secures it in the proper position. It’s a good idea to check the snugness of this periodically because if it loosens you’ll get excessive and uneven wear on the shaft.

Lastly, check the tension on each screw on the reel. Most reels depend upon screw tension to maintain the proper relationship between parts. When loose, they change the way parts bear against each other and can create excessive wear. This is especially true of the side plate screws. The side plate is what holds the gears in the proper meshed position. A loose side plate changes the tolerances on the meshing of the gears, which over time can result in critical failure.

Drag systems exposed to salt water must be cleaned and dried regularly. This carbon fiber washer needs no grease, but Teflon and some others do benefit from a light coating.

To access the individual drag washers, remove the spool from the reel. The drag washers are held in place by a spring clip that circles the top of the spool. Slip that out and remove the washers, remembering the order in which they come out so you can replace them in the same sequence. Wipe them dry. “Finger coat” a thin film of grease on the upper side of Teflon or felt washers; carbon fiber washers such as the one shown above do not need grease. Clean the top of the spool and apply a thin coat of grease before re-installing washers.FS

FS Classics: Published in March 2009

  • Akash

    great advice, i'm guilty of some of the bad practices mentioned here. also, my spinner, a penn 850ssm has been in use for five years and works great. i use WD40 sparingly to lubricate my reel. (finding proper, purpose oriented lubricants like you mentioned is tough in Trinidad W.I.!)

    is this another bad decision? what else can i do to ensure my glorious 850 continues to land me keepers years from now?

    Akash (FishMish, Trinidad and Tobago, W.I.)

  • G8trbait

    Wow thanks for the info! More articles like this please.

  • pat

    wd40 causes damage to mono,dont know about braid. i have a 6500ss for14 years ,they are one quality reel.
    I saw many on the key west charter boats-a good sign of quality

  • eric

    what is a good all around reel spray lubricant for internal parts?