How To Fix A Fishing Reel: Repairing Spinning & Casting Reels

Picture of a man fixing a fishing reel holding the reel in his hands with some tools and parts

If you’re an avid angler that spends quite a bit of time on the water throughout the year, you’re probably well-aware that you’ll eventually run into some type of mechanical or operation error when it comes to your fishing reels. You can either have someone at your local bait shop or sporting goods store try to remedy the problem, or you can take a DIY approach and take matters into your own hands. 

Being able to accurately assess your fishing reel problem and understanding which reel components are needed to fix it does require some skill and knowledge related to how a fishing reel works and all the different moving parts. 

If you’re interested in learning how to fix a fishing reel, or just want to learn more about the reel’s components and how they work, we’ve compiled this article as an educational tool you can use to take the first step. 

Tools needed for fixing fishing reels

how to fix a fishing reel pic of the tools required

Whether you’re dealing with a spinning reel or a baitcasting reel, each type of fishing reel consists of a range of small, intricately-made internal parts that must be working properly for the reel to be used. Naturally, there are some specialized tools anglers will need to repair their gear. 

  • Flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers – You’ll likely need an assortment of different sizes of screwdrivers. Most of the major brands that make fishing reels design them so that they can be fixed using these. 
  • Paintbrush or toothbrush – This can be used to brush away dirt and other debris that might have collected inside the reel housing, or in other sections of the reel that should be kept clean. 
  • Small wrench set – Make sure to have wrenches that are the correct size for tightening or loosening the various fasteners. 
  • Pliers – It’s likely that you’ll have to use a set of pliers to secure certain parts of the reel as you work on them. Needle nose pliers like these are best.
  • Grease – It’s important to keep specific areas of the reel properly lubed and a great reel grease is a tool that’s certainly worth having in your tackle box. 
  • Compressed air – You can use canisters of compressed air to blow away and clean out different parts of the reel that you likely can’t reach using other means. 
  • Cotton swabs – Use these for applying solvent or rubbing and removing any dirt or other debris from the reel’s interior parts. 

It’s a good idea to keep a small toolkit or tool box in your boat or with your tackle box in the event that you do run into a serious problem and want to go ahead and fix it on the spot. For serious anglers who compete in tournaments or those who work as fishing guides, you’re often forced to deal with problems as they occur on the water and it’s crucial that you are equipped with the tools you need to get the job done. 

How to fix a spinning reel

When it comes to trying to fix a spinning reel, you’ll likely realize that there are a few certain parts of the reel itself that seem to break or malfunction more often than any other. Here are 5 of the most common issues that anglers often run into when using spinning reels and what you can do to repair them and have them working again in no time. 

How to fix a spinning reel that won’t reel in (jammed)

Perhaps the most common problems you’ll encounter when fishing with a spinning reel setup is one that won’t reel the line in, or is jammed. There are a few different reasons why this might occur which include:

  • Line it not properly situated under the bail
  • Handle is locked up
  • Braided line slipping off the spool

When dealing with an open-faced reel that isn’t isn’t working due to the line being over the bail, the obvious solution is to cut your lure off and reorient the line so that it is fed through the eyes and under the spool before tying the lure back on. This is an easy mistake to make if you’re not paying attention when spooling on a new line. 

If your reel’s handle is jamming up and won’t turn, or you have lots of difficulty when turning it, there’s a high likelihood that there’s too much debris inside the reel’s interior housing, or it has been seriously damaged from saltwater exposure. 

In this instance, you’ll need to completely take the reel apart and clean it thoroughly before reassembling it once more. Be sure to wipe it down with some oil that will help prevent rust on the surface or interior in the future before reassembling the reel’s parts in reverse order. 

Finally, if you find that your reel isn’t working after you’ve put braided line on the spool, you might have failed to properly install backing or might not be using a reel that’s braid-ready. In either case, if you notice line slippage, you can solve this problem by wrapping some electrical tape around the spool before you tie your braid on. 

How to fix a reel that’s hard to turn

If your spinning reel becomes hard to turn, you’ll need to check to make sure there isn’t any type of obstruction in the internal components. This can often happen if you’re using a reel in saltwater that isn’t made of corrosion-resistant material. However, if the problem arises on a freshwater-only reel, it’s likely that there’s some type of debris inside the reel that is getting in the way. 

Fixing this problem requires dismantling the reel and cleaning it of any dirt, sand, and other stuff that might have accumulated over time. Also, be sure to degrease the reel and apply new grease in order to make sure there isn’t some unseen junk in the reel’s grease. 

How to fix rusted fishing reels

If you’re using a reel that has developed rust, you’re typically going to be looking at having to replace some components before it will work properly again. There are some types of solvent you can apply to a reel that’s been rusted due to saltwater corrosion, but it’s usually better to simply order some replacement parts and install them yourself. If you can’t find the replacement parts, cleaning it thoroughly is going to be the best option. 

How to fix a spinning reel bail

Once a reel gets to this point it is beyond repair!

If you have a spinning reel with a bail arm that doesn’t work properly, it’s usually because the bail arm won’t lock when you flip it open. The solution to this problem is to replace the faulty small spring known as the bail spring. 

It’s sometimes common for the bail spring to become rusted or even break if you use a reel over a long period of time. Bail springs are relatively affordable and you can usually order them from the reel manufacturer. At times, the bail springs on either end of the arm might just come loose and need to be repositioned. 

With a reel that has a cast bail that won’t close, you might be looking at having to repair or replace the bail wire itself if it’s bent or warped. 

How to fix drag on spinning reels

Another common issue is a spinning reel that is experiencing issues with the drag system. If the drag is locked up, it could be due to debris such as sand or dirt inside the drag system itself. 

Remove the spool on your spinning reel and pop the drag washers out so you can thoroughly inspect them. Check each one for dirt and other debris that might have collected on the disc, as well as rust that might have developed around the interior. You can clean the disc and remove the rust using sandpaper or a wire brush and solvent, or simply replace the discs with new ones. 

How to fix a baitcasting reel

Baitcasting reels are much more complex than spinning reels in terms of engineering and components, so it’s natural to assume that problems that arise with your baitcaster will sometimes be a bit harder to solve than issues with spinning rod and reels. 

Here are 5 of the most common problems that usually occur with baitcasting reels and how to fix a fishing reel that is experiencing any of these issues. 

How to fix a baitcasting reel that won’t reel in

One of the most common problems with a bait casting reel is that it sometimes might lock up and not reel in the fishing line. If you’re a serious angler, this is obviously a major problem that needs to be addressed immediately. If you have this problem after making sure your spool tension knob is tightened down, there is a solution that doesn’t necessarily require you to replace any new parts or gears. 

Start by cranking the tension star for your drag all the way back as far as possible before adjusting it all the way back in the other direction. This is a quick-fix that helps to engage the reel’s tension, but may not be a sustainable solution if the problem persists. 

If this issue keeps happening, you’ll need to remove the housing cover to reveal the interior gears, spool, and other components inside the baitcaster reel. After the cover is off, you’ll need to inspect the spool carefully to check if the line is caught on anything such as the bushing inside or other parts of the spool. 

If the problem persists, try taking the components of the fishing reel apart and reassembling them back together. Remove the side plates and spool and carefully inspect and clean them before putting these parts of your fishing reel back together. 

How to fix a baitcasting reel that gets backlashes

One of the most frustrating problems that fishermen commonly deal with when it comes to using a bait casting reel is dealing with backlashes. It’s usually not a matter of ‘if’ this will happen, but ‘when’ it happens. It’s often very difficult to avoid, no matter what type of fishing tackle, rod, or specific reel you’re using. 

When you get a backlash in your fishing line, simply start pulling the loose line of the backlash through the worm guide to give yourself more slack to work with and untangle the mess. Engage the spool release to rotate it and identify loops in the line on the spool. You’ll need to pull and carefully pick apart these loops and tangles until the line is no longer backlashed. 

If the backlash is bad enough, you might have to take the reel apart and completely remove the line by cutting it off before re-spooling more fishing line back onto the reel. 

How to fix the drag on a baitcasting reel

Another common problem with baitcasting reels is a drag that doesn’t engage or can’t be adjusted. Always make sure that you keep your reel properly oiled as this can usually eliminate most of the problems you’ll run into, especially a faulty drag system. However, if the problem does arise, the first thing you’ll want to do is check the drag washers. 

Doing so will require you to disassemble your reel and remove the drag washers to inspect them. Sometimes they can develop rust or even collect debris that will render them ineffective. Be sure to clean and properly lubricate the drag washers before once again installing them and putting the reel back together. 

How to fix a broken line guide

Baitcasting reels can also develop other problems that can be more serious and require quite a bit more attention to detail on the part of anyone trying to fix a fishing reel. If your fishing reel has a broken line guide, or level wind, be sure to take the reel apart and assess whether or not the level wind’s pawl is engaged with the worm drive, which allows the level wind or line guide back and forth across the spool as it collects line. 

Remove the side plate and check the drive on the spool, which drives the metal worm gear. Sometimes the problem related to the line guides or wind level is that the teeth on the plastic gears have been ground away by the metal. If this is indeed the case, you should be able to quickly tell that you will need to replace the gear. 

The main challenge in this case is finding a gear that’s not the wrong size and type in order to repair your reel’s level wind. Sometimes finding the right spare parts for fishing reels is a challenge for many anglers, but you may be able to locate what you need at your local bait shop. 

How to fix a rusted baitcasting reel

If you mostly fish in fresh water environments with your baitcaster fishing reel, you typically won’t have to deal with rust unless it’s a particularly old fishing reel. However, this does sometimes occur and will require you to take the reel apart in order to fix a fishing reel that has developed significant amounts of rust. 

Significant amounts of rust in your fishing reel will lead to serious performance problems and is something you should address as soon as you notice it so that you don’t allow the issue to get worse. 

As you carefully remove each part of the fishing reel, be sure to inspect it and look for rust on any part. You can use a cotton swab to clean away any debris, as well as apply and solvent that might allow you to rub away the rust after you’ve sanded the area down as much as possible. You can also use a clean cloth to rub this solvent on or to clean off any unwanted dirt or grime from the fishing reel interior. 

Be sure to check every little component from the anti reverse parts to the latching gear on your fishing reel. Also, check for any parts that might be too rusted and will require you to replace them. 

How to fix a spincast reel

Spincast reels are often sought-after for beginner or novice fishermen or women, especially kids, as they don’t usually experience as many problems as other types of fishing reels. These reels usually don’t develop the same type of line twist that is common in other reels, but there are some slight mechanical errors that you can run into. 

You’ll commonly run into the line on a spincast reel being caught on some of the interior parts, which will require you to remove the housing and free up any line twist or snags that can occur. Tangled line will happen more if you’re using braided line on any type of reel, but can easily be remedied. 

It’s rare to run into many reel problems that will result in performance problems with spincast reels, which is why they are highly recommended for young anglers. 

Final thoughts on fixing broken reels

There is quite a bit of knowledge that is required to truly become a master angler who knows how to fix a fishing reel in your shop or on the water. This knowledge is developed over the course of many years and experience, so don’t be discouraged if you run into a problem that you can’t solve. Thankfully, there are a number of other online resources that can be used to assess and fix the problem and get you back to fishing in no time. 

Author

  • Donny Karr is a respected fishing writer and passionate fisherman who loves targeting largemouth bass and a range of other species.

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