Getting the most out of your gear - Rod and reel maintenance

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Michael 'Smudge' Parker
21 December 2015

A great rod and reel can become a lifelong friend, but only if you look after it…

You know, I am pleased to admit I still own and often use gear that is over 20 years old. I have always serviced my own gear and made a few screw-ups along the way so have learnt what works.

Like most of us I started out using cheaper equipment that wasn’t really appropriate for the fishing I had access to, which was fishing off rocks, wharves and beaches with an occasional boat charter in the mix.

I only used fixed spool (otherwise known as spinning) reels and they really were budget items with poor drag performance and not a single bearing anywhere to be seen. The gears inside were die cast alloy of questionable quality and would only be good for a year or two.

After a few years, and a lot of learning, I was starting to see what successful anglers were using to catch their fish. These guys looked like they knew what they were doing and their gear looked expensive.

I wanted some of that action so I went and bought myself a Penn 8500SS Spinfisher and a Penn 505HS Jigmaster.Straight out of the box, this gear was so nice to use! I just knew it would last a long time and it has.

However, within a couple of months the Spinfisher was starting to make a noise and was feeling rough to wind. I was well practiced at taking reels apart by now, so rather than taking it back to the shop for a warranty claim, I pulled it to bits and found the main bearing on the spool shaft was badly corroded. I also knew the reel had taken a wave over it two weeks earlier and although I had washed the reel I knew what the likely outcome would be before opening it up. I had not serviced the reel properly and was paying the price.

I replaced the spool shaft and it remained my go-to reel for many years after that. To this day it remains the only part I ever replaced on that reel.

How to wreck your gear, quickly

Rusty reels

So how do you misuse a reel? The easiest way to destroy one is to dunk it in saltwater. If you do, then servicing it straightaway is essential. Rock or beach fishing can be particularly hard on reels, sand does them no good at all and neither does a drop onto the rocks.

While most people understand that it is not a great thing to send your reel for a swim many of us don’t give a thought to leaving a rod and reel sitting in a rod holder copping the full force of all that sea spray. Once that stuff gets inside the workings of a reel no amount of fresh water sprayed on afterwards will get it out. While a good reel can resist a certain amount of spray, sooner or later the salt water will work its way in, which in turn will cause corrosion, destroying even the best equipment.

Pulling gear apart for a service is a good way to get to know its function better, with the caveat that more modern kit is probably best left to the professionals.

There are plenty of other ways to wreck even the best of reels too, such as throwing a star drag or baitcaster reel into gear when it is in free spool mode with a fish screaming off line.

Leaving the drag done up tight for extended periods can cause serious damage, as can storing wet reels in a closed container or plastic bag.

Broken rods

So what are the biggest wreckers of fishing rods? Easy, misuse and a lack of general TLC. But surely they aren’t that delicate? They can be, and there is no better way of smashing a rod than by point loading it.

Point loading happens when you try to bend a rod over through only a portion of its length. High-sticking is the most common way for this to occur. Imagine you have a fish directly below your rod tip and you think it is a good idea to lift that big fish into your boat simply by using the rod. Then imagine you are lifting the rod upwards at a 45-degree angle. Rather than spreading the load over the length of the rod, you are concentrating it over just the tip section of your rod and it won’t make for a happy ending.

Other rods meet their fate simply by poor handling such as poking the tip into something immovable or by slamming car doors on them. Storing rods during transportation needs to be done carefully to avoid damage to the guides and it’s vital to ensure the blanks don’t get banged up against hard surfaces.

Sinkers can cause irreparable damage so always remove them at the end of a fishing session.

Despite their amazing power modern high-modulus rods are very fragile. The higher the performance and cost, the easier it is to damage.

Broken guides are a curse. Removing heavy jigs before transportation helps avoid this problem.

Tips for maintenance

After every fishing trip I wash my rods and reels down with freshwater. A little soap doesn’t go astray but don’t overdo it as it can wash the lubricating oils and greases from the reel’s internal workings.

My recommended process is as follows:

  • Before starting tighten the drag to prevent water ingress
  • Apply quick soft brush over the reel and the rod, paying particular attention to the handles and guides
  • Hose off with a light spray to remove any soap or salt residue
  • Leave the rod and reel in a warm, dry place until most of the water has gone
  • Apply quick spray with a product like Inox, WD40 or CRC paying particular attention to the bail arm bearing if it’s a spinning reel

Before stowing everything away remember to back of the drag settings off and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you won’t need to wash gear that’s been out for a session if it was barely used or not used at all. The line will have picked up saltwater and sprayed it everywhere; likewise, even just a splash will set your expensive stuff up for a nice dose of corrosion.

Taking risks with your own tackle

I know of many people who take their rods and reels in the shower with them and give them a good clean up at the same time. That is one very good reason to remove the hooks from gear first and that is something that should be done for safety’s sake at the end of each trip.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of putting reels under those kind of water volumes. Too much water is every bit as bad as not cleaning them at all. One old boy I knew used to dunk his reels in a bucket of water after a day’s use, I certainly don’t recommend that. If the reel has gone in the drink then fair enough, but you will need to strip it down as soon as you can.

My trusty Penn Spinfisher stills works perfectly even though it has lost a little paint.

Unless you have some mechanical skills and the right tools I don’t recommend taking your expensive gear apart. Most local tackle shops will act as an agent for reel repairs if they can’t do it themselves.

Accessories as well

When it comes to keeping your fishing tackle in tip-top shape, an often overlooked area is the contents of the tackle box. I used to carry a big tackle box on every trip. Now I keep that big tackle box at home as a store and use a small tackle box for bait fishing with some token lure and softbaiting items.

I have another that is mostly filled with softbaiting accessories and other lures. This means that if my hooks and stuff get wet, or worse still my tackle box goes over the side or gets dropped on the rocks, I don’t lose the lot. It also means I only take what I need for the type of fishing I’m intending to do, rather than carting around much more gear than I need.

Leaving my tackle boxes open to dry properly has paid dividends.

At the end of the trip I simply give the contents a quick spray with CRC and once stored away somewhere nice and dry I leave the lid open so any water or condensation evaporates.

A little regular attention and a complete service every year will keep everything working as it should and give you one less excuse to offer on the one that got away!

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