FREE SHIPPING No Minimum thru 12/15Details

Dock Talk: Fishing Reel Maintenance

Maintenance. One word that seems to apply to everything we spend our hard-earned dollars on...


Our homes, vehicles, boats, ATVs, watches... Okay that last one may be a personal vice, but you get the idea.

Performance, longevity, and reliability are attributes we all wish to use to describe our investments. Our fishing gear, particularly reels, are no exception. To get the best performance, longest use, and reliable functionality out of our reels, it is paramount that we maintain them properly.

Here we will cover basic fishing reel maintenance for spinning reels and baitcasters, as well as any extra steps that may be needed for you salty seadogs out there. It is important to note that maintenance needs will vary based on how often you use your equipment. Your average angler will want to perform regular reel maintenance on a monthly basis, daily if used in saltwater. Tournament anglers will want to work through their arsenal before each event to ensure everything is in perfect working order.    

Alright, before we get started, make sure you have a 10/11mm wrench, flat head and phillips head screwdriver, oil, grease, and Q-tips ready on a clutter-free, flat workspace. You may also want to lay down a towel or rag, something that will catch those small parts that we both know if dropped will disappear into the same black hole that consumed your 10mm socket. So, go ahead and separate those rods and reels and let's get to it. 

Tools Needed for Reel Maintenance

If you need a good fishing reel maintenance kit, check out this offering from Abu Garcia.

Spinning Reel Maintenance 

Spinning Reel Maintenance: Figure 2


Spinning Reel Maintenance: Figure 3


Spinning Reel Maintenance: Figure 4


To get started cleaning a spinning real the first thing you will want to do is remove the handle. This is done in one of two ways depending on if your reel is secured by a bolt or screw. For handles secured by a bolt, start by removing the bolt cap on the opposite side of the reel from the handle.

Once this is done, the handle should slide free from the reel. If the handle of the reel is screwed on, you will need to hold the reel securely while you rotate the handle backward toward yourself until the handle is removed.

You can now remove the cap on the opposite side of the reel. Now that the handle is removed, place a small drop of oil in the bearing hole. Don’t use too much oil here as it can slow down the bearings. (See Figure 1)

Now that the handle is taken care of, let's move on to the side plate  . There are most likely a handful of small screws holding the side plate to the reel. Use the phillips or flat head screwdriver to remove these. Now, be very careful when lifting the side plate off the real as you don’t want any of those internal gears to escape. You also do not want to remove any of the gears manually as they have very high tolerances and can be difficult to realign properly. (See Figure 2)

If you are working through this process on an Abu Garcia Revo or Zenon model reel you may have noticed it does not have a traditional frame and side plate design. Rather, it employs a one piece frame and butt cap design.

To remove the butt cap, you will need to remove two torque screws. One is in the front side of the stem, the second on the bottom of the reel on the rear cap. Simply remove these screws, then the butt cap will come off. This allows easy access to the internals of the reel.

Lightly grease the main gear, lightly oil bearings and the oscillation slider. Be careful not to over oil any of the components and do NOT oil the one way clutch. Don’t worry too much about spreading out the grease. This will occur naturally through the action of the gears. That’s it for the bottom portion of the reel. Reattach the side plate and let's move on to the spool. (See Figure 3)

To make things easier here you may want to remove all the line from the spool. It's probably time to respool that reel anyway! You can find more information on that topic HERE.

To remove the spool, start by turning the drag adjustment knob at the top of the reel counterclockwise until the knob comes off. Now, place a small amount of grease on the spool shaft and reattach the spool. Once the spool is back in place, place a small drop of oil on the two bail attachment points. To finish up, reattach the handle to the body of the reel and you are good to go! (See Figure 4)

Baitcaster Maintenance

Baitcaster Maintenance: Figure 2


Baitcaster Maintenance: Figure 3


Baitcaster Maintenance: Figure 4


The first thing to do when cleaning a baitcaster is to disassemble the reel. Start by removing the spool tension knob and the palm side, side plate. Simply unscrew the spool tension knob using a counterclockwise motion.

To remove the side plate, release the side plate locking mechanism on the underside of the reel. Next up is removing the side plate by quarter turning the side plate backwards toward you, on some reels this quarter turn is not required. The spool can now be removed.  (See Figure 1)

Once the spool is removed, use a dry microfiber cloth or shop towel to wipe away any debris or grime from the spool housing inside the side plate. Once that is complete, repeat the same process on the spool itself being sure to get the shafts as clean as possible. You will also want to wipe clean the main housing inside the reel. A Q-tip can come in handy here to remove dirt and debris from small nooks and crannies. (See Figures 2 & 3)

So, now that everything has been wiped down and is free of dirt and debris it is time to lubricate. Apply a small drop of oil to the bearing of the spool tensioner and the bearing of the side plate.

Just like spinning reels, you don’t want to over oil here as it can slow down the bearings. A small drop of oil will also need to be applied to the spool bearing, the reel handle bearing, and the grooves of the level wind. 

Now it’s time to grease those gears. You will notice a small square plate on the underside of the reel below the handle. To gain access to the gears you will need to remove the small screw next to the plate and lift the plate off the reel.

Once this is done, apply a small amount of grease inside the opening. As with all lubricants on your reels, less is more here. Replace the small plate making sure not to over tighten the small screw. Now that everything is clean and lubricated, let's get your reel reassembled.

Insert the spool back into the main reel housing, reattach the side plate, and replace the spool tension control knob. Give the handle a few turns to ensure the oil and grease are spread evenly. And you're done, essentially a certified reel engineer if you ask me. (See Figure 4)

Reel Maintenance Suggestions for Salt Water Reels

As promised, here are a few tips for the saltwater anglers out there:

- Clean your reels after every use in saltwater

- Remove the reel from the rod and submerge in fresh water with a little soap to loosen any salty debris left on the reel. This can also be done with a rag if you don’t want to submerge the reel.

- Avoid using pressurized water from a hose as this can force salt residue deeper into the inside of the reel

- Once the reel has been cleaned, pour fresh water over the reel to remove any remaining soap

- Be sure to dry the reel thoroughly with a microfiber towel

- Once the reel is clean and dry, proceed with the steps outlined above for spinning and baitcasting reels

Abu Garcia Maintenance Kit

Abu Garcia Reel Grease

Abu Garcia Reel Oil

Shawn Smith, Author, Pure Fishing


Shawn Smith is a native of Northwest Georgia and a graduate of the University of Georgia. An avid outdoorsman, he was introduced to fishing as a child and has spent the better part of the last 25 years with a rod in hand while venturing throughout the United States. As the Ecommerce Marketing Manager for Pure Fishing, Shawn is able to put his passion into practice while sharing his knowledge and love for the sport with others.

Find Shawn on LinkedIn

By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies to collect and record information about your browsing session, to optimize site functionality, for analytical purposes, and to advertise to you through third parties. Please review our Cookie Policyhere