Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

December 8th, 2003

Reel Care
By Dave Micus

As much as we Nor'eastern striped bass fishermen don't want to admit, the last bass has reached the Chesapeake by now, and we are left gazing at the water with memories of the past season and anticipation of the spring. And, though difficult, you need to accept that the relationship really is over and it's time to move on. A good way to obtain closure is to store your equipment for the winter. By servicing it and storing it properly, you'll be ready when spring comes, and an angler's fancy turns to striped bass.

There is an old fly-fishing adage that the sole purpose of a reel is to store line. While that might have been true of the old Catskill trouters, whose fish were measured in inches, today's salt-water fishers aren't spending $300 plus on a mere line-storing device. We arm ourselves with precision-machined reels in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the drag will withstand the searing run of a hundred pound tarpon or the lengthy brawl of a world record striper. To insure that it does, you need to protect your investment with proper care.

I've been called a fanatic about reel care (by an engineer, no less), and maybe I do take it to the extreme. But early on in my salt-water career I had the handle snap right off of a reel because it corroded at the base, an area I never inspected. This was in the middle of striper season and, as a young father, I didn't have money for a replacement, and the reel, a multiplier, had to be returned to the factory. Had I only periodically removed the handle knob and cleaned around the post, I wouldn't have missed two weeks of striper fishing. Since then I meticulously maintain my reels, and have not had a problem since.

If you don't have one already, you need to make a reel care kit. In your kit you should have a set of jeweler's screwdrivers, alan wrenches (if needed), small sockets and socket driver (again if needed), reel lube, q-tips, a soft toothbrush, and alcohol wipes. Determine from your reel's schematic any spare parts you're likely to need and order them in advance, things like springs, small screws, and drag washers, and keep them in your kit. This will save you a lot of time and heartache should something like the spool release spring break in the middle of fishing season. Minimize the schematic on a copying machine, laminate it, and keep it with the rest of your reel tools. Store your tools in a plastic toolbox, or you can find something a little more elaborate if you are, like me, into the rituals of the sport (a friend who is a wood worker designed a nice wooden box with a carved trout on the lid for my tools).

Be prepared when cleaning your reel. Work at a table with good lighting. Spread white paper so you can see small parts, and use a plastic bowl to hold tiny springs and screws. Don't work over a floor that's carpeted. The first thing I do when I buy a new reel, before putting on line and backing, is to strip it right down to the frame. I do this to familiarize myself with every component of the reel, but also to loosen things like the spool counter weight before exposure to the salt freezes them in place. (If you've had your reel for a bit and never stripped it before, you might not be able to remove things like the counter weight. If you can't, just clean and lube around them the best you can.) Once you're familiar with disassembling and assembling your reel, you'll have no trouble maintaining it throughout the season.

Thoroughly rinse your reel with fresh water after every outing, and once a month disassemble it including line and backing) to check for wear and to clean and lubricate. Lightly scrub the frame and spool with a soft toothbrush and soapy water. Do the same to all the parts, except any drag surfaces. Thoroughly dry everything, then take your lubricant (I prefer Superlube) and a q-tip and grease the entire reel, carefully avoiding the drag. Pay particular attention to areas of friction, like the spindle and the handle, but lightly coating all non-drag surfaces will protect your reel from the corrosive properties of salt water. When you reassemble the frame and spool, lubricate any surfaces you may have missed. Wipe off the excess lubricant, and wind on the line and backing.

At the end of the season, when storing your reel for the winter, follow the above instructions except don't wipe off the excess lubricant. Make certain you've loosened the drag, put the reel in its case and store it in a dry place. But before you do, give the spool one good roulette-like-wheel turn and admire that Swiss-watch-clicking-sound that signifies a well-maintained reel. When the striped bass return from the Chesapeake, you'll be ready! ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


Previous Dave Micus Columns

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