How to Fix a Fishing Reel

April 23, 2020

How to Fix a Fishing Reel

Let’s be honest. We’ve all made a mess with a fishing reel at some point in our fishing careers. If you’re going to spend the time and money in investing in a new saltwaterbaitcasting, or ice fishing reel, you’d better know how to fix it.

In this article, we’ll go over the most common issues that cause fishing reels to not work and how to fix them. Sometimes it’s as easy as slowly letting more line out, while other times you may need to take the reel apart and clean it. Don’t worry, we’ll be here every step of the way in getting your messed up fishing reel back in action! Read on to learn how to fix your fishing reel.

Identify What You Think is Wrong

The first step to fixing a fishing reel is to try and identify what you think is wrong with it. Is there a massive rat’s nest of line on top of the spool? Does the reel turn at all when you push on the crank? Did it stop working all of sudden (like after a snag) or over time (components are dirty)? Depending on your answer to these you can probably begin to narrow down what you think is wrong with your reel. Some common issues are listed below.

  • The fishing line is tangled or twisted.
  • Wrong size of fishing line on the reel.
  • Braided line is slipping.
  • Bail spring is broken.
  • The level wind is stuck/needs to be cleaned.
  • The reel components need to be tightened.
  • The gear system needs more lubricant, cleaning, or replacement.

Gather the Tools Needed to Fix the Reel

Once you got an idea of what you think is wrong with the reel, you’ll need to find the appropriate tools to fix it. Sometimes this is just your fingers and a lot of patience, but the following list of tools is also a good place to start.

  • Clean rag/cloth.
  • Lubricant.
  • Appropriately sized wrenches.
  • Screwdriver.
  • Tweezers.
  • Toothbrush.
  • Any replacement parts you need to install.

How to Fix Various Reel Problems

We’ll now go through step-by-step on how to fix a fishing reel that has the common issues we described above. Get ready to get your hands dirty.

The fishing line is tangled or twisted

One of the easier problems to fix! Usually, a healthy dose of patience and a steady hand will do the trick.

  1. Cut off any lures or hooks you have a the end of the line for safety.
  2. Begin pulling the loose end of the line through the knot it’s formed to loosen the snag.
  3. Continue doing this until the knot in the line has come completely undone.
  4. If you’re feeling lazy or have lots of extra fishing line, you can also cut through the knot with a pair of scissors to speed up the process. Depending on how much line you have left, you may need to re-spool a new line to get the appropriate amount on the reel.

The wrong size of fishing line is on the reel

Another very common reason why a reel isn’t working properly is that the wrong size of fishing line has been spooled onto the reel. Fishing reels are rated for specific sizes of fishing line and if the line on the spool is too large it will tangle and not cast correctly.

  1. Unspool the fishing line from the reel.
  2. Buy proper sized fishing line (check the manufacturer’s requirements!) and spool it onto the reel.

Braided line is slipping on the spool

Braided line can be great for more bang for your buck (higher test rating at a smaller size) but it doesn’t have the same gripping properties as monofilament does. When first tying braided line to your reel, you need to make sure it is secured properly.

  1. Unwind your braided line until the spool is empty.
  2. Check how the line is secured to the spool. If it is slipping tie a tighter knot.
  3. Respool the line back to normal.

The bail spring is broken.

A very common issue with spinning reels. The bail pops back into place because it has a small spring attached to the housing of the reel. If this reel breaks or gets stuck, you won’t be able to reel in your line.

  1. Unscrew the bail from the reel housing. Be sure to label which parts go where with blue painters tape so you don’t forget.
  2. Pull off the washers on the bail spring pinion and take out the spring.
  3. If the spring is dirty, clean it and try putting it back in.
  4. If the spring is broken, order a new one from the reel’s manufacturer or see if your local fishing supply store has them in stock.
  5. Once the spring is replaced, put the reel back together and test to make sure it works again.

The level wind is stuck

Just like how the bail spring is a common issue with spinning reels, the level wind often causes problems with baitcasting reels. The level wind is used to evenly spool line onto the reel, but is exposed to the elements. This means it often collects dirt and dust from regular use. This dirt and grime clogs the worm gear in the level wind which will eventually cause it to stick.

  1. Unscrew the level wind from the baitcasting reel. Don’t forget to label the components!
  2. Clean the worm great with warm water.
  3. Lubricate the worm gear with fishing reel lubricant.
  4. Assemble the level wind back on the reel.

The reel components need to be tightened

Does your reel feel loose or like the handle is slipping? You may be able to fix this easily by just tightening the reel’s components.

  1. Check each component in the reel (handle, crank, spool, bail, etc.) to make sure they aren’t loose.
  2. If you find a component is loose or slipping, identify the screw holding it together and tighten it until snug.
  3. Check if your reel is operating normally again.

The gear system needs more lubricant

After many years of use or under extreme circumstances (lots of saltwater spray), the internal gear system will need to be lubricated. Check to see what type of lubricant the reel manufacturer recommends before applying generic lubricant.

  1. Disassemble the reel by unscrewing the drag, handle and spool.
  2. Once the spool is off you should be able to see the gearing system.
  3. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the gears and ensure all gears are covered.
  4. Reassemble the reel and test to make sure it is working correctly.

The gear system needs to be cleaned

Sometimes when you open up your reel you’ll see that the gear system also needs to be cleaned.

  1. Disassemble the reel by unscrewing the drag, handle and spool.
  2. Once the spool is off you should be able to see the gearing system.
  3. If you can, remove the gears one by one and clean with warm water and a towel.
  4. Replace the gears in their original position.
  5. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the gears and ensure all gears are covered.
  6. Reassemble the reel and test to make sure it is working correctly.

The gear system is broken/needs to be replaced

If you open up your reel and see that a gear is fractured or missing teeth, it will need to be replaced. Check with the reels manufacturer to see where you can purchase replacement parts. If you can’t find replacement parts it might make sense to see if you can send the reel into the manufacturer to be serviced by a professional.

  1. Disassemble the reel by unscrewing the drag, handle and spool.
  2. Once the spool is off you should be able to see the gearing system.
  3. Remove the broken gears one by one and replace them with new functioning gears.
  4. Replace the remaining gears in their original position.
  5. Apply a small amount of lubricant to the gears and ensure all gears are covered.
  6. Reassemble the reel and test to make sure it is working correctly.

Final Thoughts

Whether you let your baitcasting reel unspool into a huge knot, or snagged your spinning reel while casting, it’s important to know how to fix it. Even the most experienced fishermen will have to fix their reels when mistakes happen. We hope this article taught you how to fix a fishing reel and helped you get back out on the water doing what you love.

Got a crazy fishing reel catastrophe you’d like to share with us? Shoot us a comment below.

Happy Hunting!

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