With a toothbrush for cotton swap, gently wipe away any old grease and dirt from all of the disassembled reel parts.
This includes the one-way roller bearing that should be already packed with old grease. You will want to give extra attention to this bearing ensuring that all of the dirt and lubricant is removed.
I find that using an old electric toothbrush works well for this as the vibrations help loosen dirt and old grease from between the tiny roller bearings.
A well-lubricated fly reel also just feels better to use!
But before you go slapping axle grease all over your fly reel, there are a few things to consider:
O rings and other plastic components will degrade when exposed to petroleum-based products
WD-40 is a solvent, not a lubricant. Keep it away from your fly reel
Silicone-based lubricants, lithium-based lubricants, and graphite based lubricants all work well for fly fishing reel bearings and parts. If possible, stay away from those in aerosol containers. These contain harsh propellants that can degrade your plastic and o-rings.
You want something with a grease-like consistency so it can be packed into the bearing. You don't want to use a multi-purpose or 3-in-1 oil for this. Some argue that heavy grease picks up dirt more than oil but I haven't found this to be true. Both are sticky and both attract dirt, which is why we perform regular maintenance.
There are two main parts that we want to lubricate on our fly fishing reels.
These parts include the main shaft and the one-way bearing assembly.
Apply a light coating of grease onto the main shaft of the fly reel. A little bit goes a long way here, I like to just apply it with my finger, but you can also use a small cotton swab.
Apply a liberal coating of grease onto the bearing assembly. You will notice that there are many nooks and crannies between all of the tiny roller bearings.
The goal here is to make sure a sufficient amount of grease is packed into these cracks. Just applying a little bit onto the outside of the rollers won't give you ideal lubrication.
This process is sometimes called packing a bearing and helps keep moisture and debris from getting into the bearing assembly. As you can see above, I like to squeeze as much grease into the bearing as possible, and then wipe off the excess from the exterior.
4. Putting Everything Back Together
Now that everything is squeaky clean and has a fresh coat of lube, its time to put your fly reel back together.
If you have stayed organized up to this point, re-assembly should be a breeze. You might be able to complete re-assembly of the fly reel on your own, but in case you don't quite feel comfortable, here are the steps:
Slide the bearing assembly back onto the lubricated metal shaft. You will notice that some grease will ooze out of the bearing assembly. If it didn't, you probably don't have enough grease!
Wipe off any excess grease that has come out of the bearing.
Take the plastic spindle assembly and slide it back over the main assembly. Your fly reel may not have a separate spindle, so in this case, slide the spool (arbor) back over the main shaft.
Replace the spindle retention screw that we removed earlier. Again, your fly reel may not have a separate spindle in which case you would skip this step.
Slide the spool back onto the spindle assembly, and replace the o-ring and spool retainer. It's crucial to not forget the o-ring as this will help keep out moisture and debris. Your fly reel may not have an o-ring, and that's okay.
Now is a good time to inspect your fly line and backing as well. I typically replace mine every season.
5. Ongoing Fly Reel Care and Preventative Maintenance
There are some additional habit's we can form in order to extend the life of our fly reel's even more. Even when performing regular cleaning and lubrication of your fishing reel, anglers can benefit from following these simple tips:
Always store your fly reel dry
Always rinse off your fly reel with clean, fresh water before storing
Never place your fly reel into mud or sand; a rock, grass, log, your shoulder, or even into the water all work much better
Try adding a layer of Carnauba wax between your spool and backing for an extra layer of defense against moisture and corrosion
I like to complete these fly reel maintenance steps once a season, but depending on how you treat your equipment, you may find a couple of times per year is best. If you are one of those folks who is always laying their reel into the bank, once a year will almost certainly not be enough.
You will instantly see and feel the benefits that a clean, well-maintained fly fishing reel brings. It can be difficult to spot or feel the degrade in our equipment over time, as we slowly adjust to the changes. But after returning to a freshly cleaned and lubricated fly reel, you will certainly feel the difference!
Thanks so much for reading, I hope this guide helped shed some light on cleaning and maintaining your fly fishing reel.
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