Fishing reel maintenance provides a steady stream of business for The Fisherman’s Warehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Owner Mark Minshall spends a lot of time winding new line and replacing worn-out bearings, which are two of the biggest reasons reels fail to perform properly.
Minshall says some issues are more common than others and while most fixes are fairly simple, many can be prevented with basic maintenance. Spinning reels and baitcaster reels each have their own performance problems.
Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them based on your style of reel.
1. Line Twist
Line twist is the most common problem in spinning reels and can happen for several reasons including long-term general use. Some lures, like in-line spinners twist the line if the shaft of the lure is not straight. Line twist occurs when the lure, rather than the blade, spins in the water as you reel-in and cast.
Line twist also occurs when spooling new line by hand which can result in uneven and often loose line distribution. Line twist is a common problem for closed-face spinster reels with tangling beneath the cap.
FIX: If you have line twist, the best remedy is to strip off old line and apply new with a professional machine for a tight and uniform wind.
2. Bail Spring
One of the biggest mechanical failures in spinning reels happens with the internal bail springs. When the return spring fails to flip the bail back open, the bail springs are likely damaged. This can happen from impact or from long-term use.
It is important to note that a problem with the bail functionality, could be from the bail wire, not the bail spring, so it is important to first check for external bending of the exposed wire before disassembling the reel to repair the spring.
FIX: Bail springs are simple and inexpensive to replace. If you have an older model reel, replacement parts can be difficult to find, but usually a reel repair expert can recommend a good substitute.
3. Braided Line slippage (Spinning Reel/Baitcaster Reel)
Braided lines are quite popular and becoming more common. While extremely durable, braided lines have no stretch which can result in tangles as the line slips around the spool. New users may not know that the slick line does not adhere easily to the spool. Braided line requires some anchoring for the highest performance.
FIX: Apply a backing directly onto the reel to serve as a grip for braided line. You can use a few wraps of monofilament line on the base of the spool before you wrap the braided line, or use electrical tape. Both options provide easy backing to prevent line slippage.
4. Line Size
Many anglers simply use the wrong size of line for their reel. It is important to go by the manufacturer’s recommendation. Using a line that does not fit the reel can inhibit performance and cause tangles and casting issues. Most commonly, anglers use too heavy of a line for the reel.
FIX: Use the manufacturer recommended line for your specific reel. They are usually printed directly on the spool of the reel or listed in the product information.
5. Level Wind
The exposed level wind on baitcaster reels makes it one of the most common maintenance issues. The level wind is used to evenly spool the line as you reel. The level wind, operated by the worm gear assembly, is regularly exposed to water, dirt, grit and sand, which can clog the parts and prevent ease of movement. This problem is common for anglers who fish from the bank and often set the rod on the ground.
FIX: The level wind is easily replaced if it is damaged, but oftentimes it just needs cleaned. A wipe-down after each use is recommended. It is also recommended to occasionally disassemble the reel completely to clean and lube the worm gear, which keeps the mechanics of the part functioning properly. You can do this yourself with simple reels, but complex reels may require professional cleaning.
6. Paw damage
Any amount of dirt in the worm gear assembly can prevent proper movement of the paw against the tight track causing the gear to lock up. This can cause stripping of the gear or an uneven ride of the paw, which will stick to one side of the equipment.
The result is a pile-up of line on one side of the spool. If this happens, oftentimes several parts will need replaced.
FIX: Due to the delicate nature of the paw, there is generally no fixing it. I must be replaced. You can prevent general wear on the paw with regular cleaning and maintenance.
7. Old Bearings
Plain and simple, bearings wear out over time. Dirt and grit are the most common culprits for damaging bearings especially if the reel has been submerged. Low performing bearings can impact the casting and reeling of your line. When replacing bearings, you may want to upgrade to a higher performance, longer-lasting style.
FIX: Bearings can be taken off and soaked in a metal cleaner to de-grease and remove dirt, but they are inexpensive and usually just easier to replace.
8. Over Lubrication
Over lubricating the reel is just as bad as not lubricating it at all. Too much lubrication or the wrong lubrication clogs bearings and lowers the overall performance of your reel. The result is too much drag on the line, slow functionality and more pressure required to turn the handle.
FIX: It is almost impossible to properly clean the bearings from over lubricating, so replacement is your best option. This problem is easily preventable. Use only a drop of grease or oil on the bearing. Be mindful of the proper lubricant for steel versus ceramic bearings as they are not the same.
Corrosion can quickly impede the performance of your reel. Saltwater is especially tough on equipment. Left unclean, corrosion can permanently damage equipment and all of the parts of your reel. Corrosion can also happen when rods are regularly placed on the ground exposing them to dirt or using rod holders when it is raining. The splashing dirt from the ground sticks to parts in the reel.
FIX: Too much damage to your reel, and you may need to replace it. Your best bet is to clean the level wind with a toothbrush several times a season to aid in regular maintenance. If you are fishing in saltwater, it is recommended to rinse off your reel after each use with freshwater. When you return home, wipe down with a light coat of oil on pivot points and knobs that will help prevent rust and corrosion.
10. Worn out parts
Over time, general wear and tear is going to happen, but if you notice parts wearing out quickly, it might be time to not only replace, but upgrade the internal mechanics. Big game fishermen are the biggest category for this as they fight for fish that quickly wear out manufacturer issued parts. Upgrading parts can make the reel spin faster, enable more control over casting and offer longer lasting performance.
FIX: Replacing worn out parts in general is fairly simple, but selecting quality upgrades requires professional input. The two most useful upgrades are the cogwheel and the spool bearing. The factory-issued steel bearing is often changed out for ceramic, which enables with less pressure.