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Keeping it reel clean: Cleaning, oiling reels properly can improve their performance

Keeping it reel clean: Cleaning, oiling reels properly can improve their performance

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Lee Wright couldn't help but chuckle when he cracked open the side plate on the weathered level wind reel, a Shimano Calcutta 400. The owner of the reel -- a saltwater angler -- had complained that the anti-reverse mechanism wasn't functioning properly, and he summoned Wright, a veteran reel doctor, to get it back in working order.

"I couldn't believe what I found when I opened it up," said Wright, owner of ADCO Rod and Reel Repair in Milam. "Somebody had taken the side plate off and packed the reel full of axle grease. It was a mess in there. It was so gunked up the spool would barely turn."

Wright has seen it all over nearly three decades of overhauling fishing reels. In the process, he has learned a few tricks that can help anglers extend the life of a reel and help improve its performance.

Perhaps the best one is keeping it clean. Running a close second is making sure the bearings and gears get regular lubrication with quality oil and grease. This keeps moving parts operating smoothly, which in turn reduces friction that can cause things to wear out prematurely.

Choices, choices

Wright said the key word to remember when choosing an oil or grease is "lightweight."

"Lubing a fishing reel with axle grease is akin to dumping diesel grade motor oil in a 4-cylinder Chevy," Wright said. "The viscosity of the oil is way too thick for the task. Gumming and excessive wear are sure to result."

Wright doctors his fishing reels only with premium oils and greases. He likes teflon base products like Tri-Flow (oil) and Super Lube (grease), but says other lubricants like Abu Garica's Reel Oil and Reel Lube also will do a good job, so long as they are used in moderation.

"A lot of guys are inclined to think more is better, but that isn't the case at all," Wright said. "Moderation is the key no matter what lubricant you are using."

It also is important to use the right lubricant in the right places. If you forget everything else about reel maintenance, remember this: Use oil on rotating parts and grease on parts that mesh.

Wright suggests using oil for all bearings (except the one-way roller bearing) as well as the worm gear. A lightweight grease is the best choice for interior stuff: drive and pinion gears, clutch pawl, drive shaft post and the one-way roller bearing.

How often?

How often you should you oil reel bearings or grease its interior parts?

That depends entirely on how much you fish and where you fish. Wright says a serious bass tournament angler should oil reel bearings once every couple of months and grease the gears once or twice per year, especially if he or she fishes a lot around grass.

Reels used in saltwater need attention more often. A reel that has been dunked in saltwater should be rinsed with freshwater and re-lubed as soon as possible.

Moderation is best

As earlier mentioned, moderation is the key. A couple of drops on each bearing is plenty. Wright will use a small brush to coat gears and other interior parts with a thin layer of grease.

"Too much oil or grease is not a good thing," he said. "In many cases, it can actually take away from your casting distance."

The only exception to this rule applies to the most abused working part on a level wind fishing reel -- the worm gear. The casing around this gear is an excellent hiding spot for sand, grime and other debris that can cause a pawl to wear out way ahead of its time. When Wright oils a worm gear, he cleans it at the same time.

"I'll turn the reel upside down and spray it using a high pressure can of oil like Tri-Flow," he said. "The oil will foam up and wash any sand or grime that might be trapped inside. You can do the same thing with WD-40, which in my opinion is a good cleaner. But you will need to come back with a few drops of reel oil when you are done."

? Matt Williams' e-mail address is

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