FRANKFORT - A group of old friends of mine gets together every spring for a fishing trip in March or April, usually to Kentucky Lake. After our first day of fishing on our recent trip, one of the friends asked for help with a balky spinning reel.
The handle was “loosey-goosey,” along with a floppy rotor that holds the reel bail assembly. He considered retiring this reel for a new one, but a few minutes of work made the reel sing like new.
Spinning reel handles loosen with use, especially if you catch a lot of fish. The screw holding the handle in place backed off a little over time and made the handle wobbly. The screw lies opposite the side of the handle, under a threaded cap that keeps water and grime out of the handle assembly and reel. On some reels, especially Shimanos, the screw holding the handle in place is embedded in the threaded cap. Periodically tighten this screw or the threaded cap.
The loose rotor that holds the reel bail assembly took a few minutes to fix. The culprit was a loose nut on the bottom of the spool shaft. Loosen the drag on the front of the reel spool continually until the drag assembly comes off the spool shaft. Then, pull the spool off the shaft. The nut at the bottom of the spool shaft keeps the rotor tight. This nut often loosens, especially when playing large fish.
Use an open-end or crescent wrench to tighten this nut, although pliers will suffice in a pinch. Some reel models have a screw in the rotor to keep this nut in place, but the screw can loosen over time along with the nut. Make sure to lightly oil the spool shaft before replacing the spool.
Problems such as these often arise after the first couple fishing trips of the year. After a long winter, a spinning reel can sometimes feel like the Sandman used the reel last fall. It feels gritty and sluggish when you turn the reel handle. A catch can develop that ruins a rhythmic retrieve.
Reel grease and reel oil applied in the correct places will fix these problems. An old egg carton makes a great holder for reel parts removed for maintenance. Nothing is as frustrating as trying to find a tiny screw in berber carpet.
In the last decade or so, some new reel oils and greases entered the market that form a molecular bond with the metals they contact. I highly recommend these new high tech lubricants as they make on old reel feel like it just came from the box. However, they cost twice as much as traditional reel oil and grease. Don’t use cheap household oil as it thickens and hardens much quicker than reel oil.
The first thing to do is remove the spool. Clean the spool shaft and the inside bottom of the spool with a cotton rag or oiled ear swab. Apply a light coat of reel oil to the spool shaft. Some reels have a small bearing assembly on the bottom of the spool that goes around the spool shaft. Apply oil to this bearing.
Don’t forget to apply a few drops of oil to the roller bearing on the bail that lays line on the spool. Also lubricate where the bail arm meets the rotor housing.
Remove the handle to access the screws on the slide plate of the reel. Remove these small screws with gentle pressure as they easily strip. Make sure to note if the screws are of different length. Arrange them so you put the correct length screw in the correct hole when you reassemble the reel.
After I fixed the one reel for my friend recently, he asked me to oil another reel for him. I didn’t pay attention to the length of screws and put the longest screw in the wrong hole in the reel. The screw nearly poked out of the opposite side plate of the reel.
Some reels also have a decorative plate that covers part of the back of the reel. This plate is usually held in place with a tiny screw and usually covers one of the side plate screws. Be careful not to lose it. .
After removing the screws, gently pry the side plate from the reel and remove it. You will see the large main gear with a bearing assembly on top it. Remove this bearing and drop it in lighter fluid or rubbing alcohol to dissolve sludgy oil, grease and other gunk. Clean the main gear, the worm gear in the bottom of the reel and the drive gear in the front with an old tooth brush and hot soapy water. Allow to dry.
After drying, replace the bearing on top of the main gear and apply several drops of reel oil. Lightly grease the main gear, worm gear and drive gear. Don’t over grease these parts. Too much grease makes a reel sluggish and attracts sand, dirt and other particles. Remember to always oil bearings and grease gears.
Put the reel back together and place a few drops of oil on the handle shaft before replacing it.
Some people try to see how long they can use fishing line before they respool the reel. This isn’t a smart idea. Worn, sun-damaged, crinkly line will fail you when you need it most. Respool with fresh line several times a year and you’ll land the big fish when it strikes instead of breaking it off. This goes for monofilament and fluorocarbon lines. Braided lines last a long time.
Do these simple procedures and keep your old trusty reel working fine for many years.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.