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Reels don’t last forever


Fishing requires knowledge, skill and patience. It also requires gear. If you don’t have a rod and a functioning reel, no amount of knowledge, skill or patience will get you the results you crave. 

Sometimes, your line can get a little hung up, and your reel gets jammed. This can be fine, as it is a problem you can solve with a quick fix. But other times, your reel may be gasping with a death rattle. If this is the case, it’s time to accept fate and replace your fishing reel.

Why you need a quality fishing reel

A quality reel is a cross between fine art and machinery. It allows you to be in control at all times, whether casting, reeling in or anything in between those two crucial actions. Your reel needs to function smoothly with no stutters or jerks and have an adjustable drag to keep you from losing that big one.

Once your reel starts to malfunction, whether it be from neglect, wear or age, you cannot perform at the top of your game. Pay attention to how your reel functions because its performance can gradually diminish without you noticing until it costs you a catch.

How to care for your fishing reel

A fishing reel has many moving parts. If all those moving parts do not continue to move, it won’t perform as expected. There are a few simple maintenance tasks you should regularly perform to extend the life of your reel.

Mist and dry

Carry a small spray bottle filled with fresh water. As soon as you are done for the day, especially if you are in salt water, lightly spray the reel and dry it with a soft microfiber cloth. You can do this while you are still on the water. Do not spray too hard or use too much pressure when wiping down, as that can push salt and grime deeper into the mechanisms. 

Remove the spool

If you are going to use reel oil when you get home, it is best to remove the spool so you don’t contaminate your line with any chemicals. Don’t forget to lightly clean away any visible dirt, grime and salt from the spool once it is apart.

Oil moving parts

A little oil goes a long way. Sparingly, oil all moving parts. This includes the shaft that holds the spool, both parts of the reel handle and the bail roller.

Assemble and wipe down

Best Cleanzoil Cleaner

Cleanzoil Cleaner

After oiling, reassemble the reel and give it a final wipe down. You can put a little Clenzoil on a soft microfiber cloth and carefully clean everything up.

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When it’s time to replace your reel

Unless you are misusing your gear, reels are less durable than rods. All the parts need to be in peak working condition so everything operates smoothly. A little sand, dirt, grime or corrosion can compromise the reel’s ability to spin freely. 

Regularly taking care of your reel can fix most performance issues with an in-depth cleaning. However, if you find areas of corrosion or damage that can’t be fixed by a simple cleaning and oiling, you should either take it to a shop to repair or replace it.

If you have an expensive reel, repairing it is much cheaper than replacing it. If you have a mid- to low-end model, your best strategy might be to save the money you would use on a repair and purchase an upgraded reel. 


Q. How long does a fishing reel last?

A. There is no set life span for a fishing reel. Its active life depends on the quality of the reel, where you fish and how well you take care of the reel. If you fish in saltwater and never clean your reel, it might not even last a single season. However, if you are diligent about cleaning, a reel can last you five to eight years.

Q. How often should I clean my fishing reel?

A. Even a quick search will let you know this is subjective. Some anglers say after every trip, while others say every 15 or so trips. The problem with generic answers is everyone fishes in different types of water with varying degrees of frequency. In short, every answer can be right, but not every answer is right for you. If you notice a deterioration in performance, you are not cleaning your reel enough. At the very least, you should be performing a gentle spray down after every trip and maybe a deeper cleaning and greasing every handful of trips. However, if you come home covered in mud or salt, you will want to consider a deeper cleaning after every trip to keep your reel from corroding.

Q. Can I use a product like WD-40 to clean and lubricate my reel?

A. No. Cleaning and lubricating are two different tasks. In fact, WD-40 is a degreaser. If you spray it on your reel, it will break down any grease and oil you have applied for lubrication and cause the reel to stop functioning as it should.

Best fishing reels

Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel

Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel

Shimano is a top name in fishing. This high-end reel has a lightweight feel and up to 48% less rotational inertia than other models. The long-stroke spool can increase casting distance while also delivering a smoother line lay.

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Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reel

Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reel

Pflueger has been around for over 140 years, so the brand knows what it is doing. This reel has an 11-bearing system with a machined aluminum spool to improve accuracy and distance over lower-quality models.

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Best Penn Fierce III Spinning Reel

Penn Fierce III Spinning Reel

Penn is another top name in the sport. This reel has a durable exterior with a carbon fiber drag washer and a stainless steel ball-bearing system that provides a smooth performance. It is ideal for inshore or nearshore fishing.

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Daiwa QR Ultralight Spinning Reel

Daiwa QR Ultralight Spinning Reel

If budget is important, Daiwa is a quality brand that offers impressive reliability and durability at an affordable price. This reel is lightweight, versatile and suitable for anything from trout fishing to ice fishing.

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