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Basic Winter Fishing Reel Maintenance

Basic Winter Fishing Reel Maintenance

If you're one of the unlucky fishermen that experiences iced-over water during the winter season, I feel your pain. To the die-hard fisherman, spring can't get here fast enough. But there are some important items of business that can be taken care of in the off-season.

No matter how many days a year you fish ( I personally fish around 200 days out of the year) your gear is bound to get dirty. From banging around in the back of the truck to getting dropped in filthy water after trying to land a trophy bass on a jig - dirt happens. As a result fishing reel maintenance is a must.

Whether your offseason will be a short two months, or a miserable six, your reels will need some sort of upkeep if they are to perform the way you need them to. The winter months provide time to give your reels a deep clean, but for the purpose of this article, I will simply cover the basics.

If you practice these fishing reel maintenance steps at least once during the season, I promise your reels will stay working as they should.

Winter Reel Maintenance Essentials:

In order to properly clean your reels, you'll need the following:

  • A clean but older rag that you won't mind getting dirty
  • A dozen or so Q-tips
  • Access to warm water
  • Bottle of reel performance oil (brand preference is your choice)


Now that you have your essentials laid out, it's time to clean! First, lay your cleaning materials out on a piece of cloth or clean work station. Then, run a portion of the clean rag under warm water and wring it out.

Wipe the entire reel down, removing all the crud and dirt accumulated from the long, hard, season of fishing. If you want to remove any dirt from your reel's worm gear that is fine, just note to go back and reapply oil/grease.

Next, you'll want to take the side plate of your fishing reel off. This is what hides your reel's braking system. Some models have a detach button that once released, all you have to do is turn the side plate in the opposite direction for removal. Other reels require a screwdriver to remove a single screw and others will have a small pin. No matter the make or model your side plate should be easily removable.

All reels, no matter the brand, when properly maintained, provide years of dependable high performance. Doing the little steps now will pay off for you big time in the future.

With the side plate removed, the cleaning begins. Now is when your Q-tips will come into play, and for the most part, take over the cleaning process. Next, take your reel oil of choice, and drop one or two drops on the end of a q-tip. The old saying "A little bit goes a long way" couldn't be more true when it comes to reel oil.

Ardent Reel Butter is my lubricant of choice. They make a great line of fishing reel maintenance products that will keep your reel working till the end of time. The bottle comes with a pin-point applicator nozzle tip, which allows you to apply oil in all the tight-knit places found on the modern fishing reel.

Now, take the clean end of your Q-tip and gently remove any dirt particles that you can see inside the spool control mechanism. Carefully clean the spool control mechanism and the internal bearing. This may require more than one Q-tip depending on how dirty your reel is, so having more than one on hand is essential.

Then, take your oiled Q-tip and rub both the inside and outside of the spool control mechanism bearing. If preferred you can lightly oil the backside of the side plate. This will help to keep the spool control mechanism lubricated and clean.


Next, set aside your freshly cleaned spool control mechanism, and move on to your braking system. The brakes are an extremely important part of your reel, so keeping them clean of debris is vital.

More modern reels use multiple ( usually six ) brakes that can easily be locked in or out. You can use just one brake or any combination all the way up to six. Depending on your lure weight and how you cast, it is best to start with all of them working and just disconnect one at a time until you get comfortable. Keeping them clean is vital to your reel's lifespan.

Using a clean Q-tip, get rid of any dirt or debris left on the braking system and around the brakes. It won't hurt to make a couple of swipes around the brakes with a touch of oil.

Now that your braking system and spool control mechanism is cleaned and oiled, you're ready to move on to the moving parts of the baitcaster.

Moving Parts

Just like an old car, the moving parts of your fishing reel need some TLC every now and then. There are a couple of moving parts on your baitcasting reel that deserve special attention: those include the worm drive, spool spindle, and reel handle.

Some people like to put grease on their worm drive, I prefer to wipe mine down as clean as possible with a new Q-tip. While slowly turning the reel handle with your opposite hand, you can clean the entire worm drive with only a couple of turns of the handle.

Grease holds dirt and can wear out a worm gear in one season. By wiping the entire worm gear and adding a couple of drops of reel oil onto it, you can keep the gear running smoothly and effectively. Lubricant on all moving parts is very important and should never be skipped when cleaning.

After you've gotten your worm drive wiped down and clean, either apply a couple of drops of oil directly onto the drive or use an oiled Q-tip to lubricate it. The worm drive is a vital part of your baitcaister's arsenal of parts, so keeping it clean is important.

Once you are finished with the worm drive, drop a couple of drops of oil down inside the reel handle where the drag star and handle meet. This part of your reel can sometimes hide dirt or debris (especially if you bank fish a lot) and can jam up if gone unattended.

Adding a couple of drops of oil will keep the handle running smoothly and efficiently. Now, reattach the side plate and take a step back to look at your shiny, like-new reel.

By taking 20 minutes out of your winter day, you can clean up that hard-working baitcaster that treated you so well throughout the spring and fall. By performing your own fishing reel maintenance, you not only received a sense of satisfaction, knowing you are capable of cleaning your own reel, but you saved some hard-earned money in the process.

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