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How To Clean A Baitcaster in 7 Steps

A clean baitcaster provides better performance while ensuring it also lasts longer. Dirt and silt that accumulates in the reel has a negative impact on casting distance and accuracy, as well as being abrasive on moving parts. However, cleaning a modern baitcaster is very straightforward.

The 7 steps to cleaning a baitcaster are:

  1. Preparation
  2. Cleaning the exterior
  3. Cleaning the frame interior
  4. Cleaning the handle
  5. Cleaning the spool
  6. Lubrication
  7. Final touches

A baitcaster reel should be cleaned at least three to four times a year. The process is not time consuming and helps reduce the risk of future frustrations when fishing due to inefficient or failing equipment. The following steps provide a guide to cleaning and lubricating a baitcaster reel.

What Is A Baitcaster Reel?

A baitcaster reel is one of the most popular fishing reels, particularly with more experienced anglers. The reel is designed to use heavier lines, allowing you to cast further and with more precision. A baitcaster reel requires more practice to get the best results compared to spinning reels, but the benefits more than make up for this learning curve.

A baitcaster reel sits on the top of a casting rod, with the rod guides facing upward. They have strong rotating spools and generally have a faster gear ratio. You are manually responsible for the line, which comes directly off the spool and is quick to retrieve.

With a baitcaster, the spool rotates within the reel frame as you crank the handle on retrieval. When you cast, the weight of the lure rotates the spool and pulls the line along.

Main Parts Of A Baitcaster

Although they can be used for a wide variety of fishing, the heavier line and drag systems used with baitcasters makes them popular when fishing for bass, pike and muskie. The main parts of a baitcaster reel include:

  • Handle       
  • Spool
  • Side plate
  • Drag
  • Line guide
  • Reel seat
  • Spool tensioner
  • Spool release button

The spool sits at the heart of a baitcaster reel, and along with the gear ratio the spool’s size determines the retrieval rate for each crank of the reel handle. The spool size also determines the quantity of line you can use with the reel. Thy are generally made from anti-corrosive materials as they will take the brunt of the dirt and silt from retrieved line.

A modern baitcaster also comes with a brake system to help prevent the dreaded backlash anglers could experience while using this type of reel in the past. A further innovation is the spool release button or thumb gauge. This handy addition to the baitcaster reel means you can click the button to release the spool freely, engaging and disengaging the button as you want.

Other Essential Parts

The spool tensioner allows you to set the tension of the spool to suit your casting preferences and to match the size of the fish you hope to catch. Having the correct tension reduces the chance of any backlash and makes it easier to control the cast. The line guide within the reel slides back and forth to help ensure smooth casting and further reduces the risk of backlash.

To maintain the efficiency of a baitcaster you should regularly clean these essential parts. While most reels have similar elements, you should always check the manufacturer’s manual for any information specific to cleaning your brand and model of baitcaster. You will be looking to clean all moving parts and bearings within the reel, as well as applying lubrication.

How Often Should You Clean A Baitcaster?

You should clean your baitcaster reel at least three times a year. Regularly cleaning a baitcaster reel is not a difficult task, provided you are prepared and have the right equipment. By removing all accumulated dirt and grit you will help keep your baitcaster running better and for longer.

The 7 Steps To Cleaning A Baitcaster

1. Preparation

Before diving in to cleaning your baitcaster you first want to make sure you have all the bits and pieces you are going to use to hand. Mostly you will be using standard household items, plus one or two additional items you might use specifically when cleaning your reels.

To clean your baitcaster, you need:

  • Warm, soapy water
  • Two soft cloths or towels
  • Q-tips or cotton swabs
  • Old soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Reel oil
  • Rubbing alcohol

It’s not a long list, but to make life easier you want to have these items arranged on a clean surface or a towel before you start to clean your baitcaster. It can be particularly frustrating to make a start and then realize you don’t have one of the items or an appropriate substitute.

Set up your cleaning items on a well-lit, flat surface with enough room to place another cloth or towel on which you will lay out the disassembled reel parts. With your checklist of items ticked off it’s time to begin cleaning your baitcaster.

2. Cleaning The Exterior

It’s worth taking some time to clean the baitcaster exterior before delving in to the inner workings of the reel. If there is line on the spool you may want to place a small piece of masking tape over the end of the line. This helps prevent any loose strings moving around as you clean the baitcaster reel, as well as stopping the spool coming apart when you take it out.

You can start cleaning the exterior of the reel using an old soft-bristled toothbrush. This is ideal for removing the dirt and grime that builds up on the surface of the reel frame, on the handle and around the area containing the spool. Some people may prefer using a cotton swab, but a toothbrush is useful for getting into all those hard to reach nooks and crannies on the reel.

When you have removed all the visible grime from the reel’s exterior you can wipe it down with warm, soapy water. It can be a good idea to make sure the spool and drag on the reel are tightened beforehand to prevent any water getting in.

A reel that hasn’t been cleaned for some time may have one or two stubborn stains which could require degreaser. If this is the case, make sure you don’t get any of it on the line or spool. Once you are happy the exterior is clean, take a fresh towel or cloth and dry the reel. When you have finished drying the reel you can loosen the spool and drag again.

3. Cleaning The Frame Interior

Once the outside of the reel has been cleaned you can turn to the inner parts. Although baitcasters have the same fundamental parts, how you take a baitcaster reel apart can vary between manufacturers. Therefore, always refer to the manufacturer’s manual to familiarize yourself with the workings of your reel before proceeding.

Before cleaning the inside of the reel, you need to remove the spool. On modern reels this is often done by just popping open the side plate using a latch and lifting the spool out. You can then start by cleaning the inside of the side plate using a Q-tip.

The side plate has a brake ring where the brakes rub and you want to move the Q-tip around the edges of this ring, as this is an area where dirt will likely accumulate. Once you clean the side plate you can move on to the inside of the baitcaster reel frame.

With a clean Q-tip, you want to meticulously clean around the reel interior, looking for any visible dirt, as well as areas where dirt is likely to gather. By removing any accumulated gunk from the inside of the frame you experience smoother casting.

You can dip the Q-tip in water or rubbing alcohol to remove stubborn patches of dirt and grime, using your dry towel to clean these areas afterwards. If you do use any additional cleaning solvents, they should be mild to avoid damaging any plastic parts of the reel.

Once you’re happy you have cleaned all the dirt and grime off the interior of the reel, give it one more good inspection just to be certain there is no gunk left behind.

4. Cleaning The Handle

The reel handle will see its fair share of grit and dirt from dirty hands. This exposes the handles to salt and impurities, which can affect the mechanism and reduce its efficiency.

You can wipe the handle down with warm water or, for a more thorough clean, you can remove the handle and soak it in warm water instead. You can also add a degreaser to remove any oils and grease which have accumulated on the handle.

Ensure you dry the handle thoroughly afterwards inside and out. A Q-tip or a cotton swab helps clean the hard to reach areas within the handle. Running a Q-tip dipped in reel oil around the inside of the handle will help prevent corrosion.

5. Cleaning The Spool

Once the inner reel is clean you can turn your attention to the spool and clean this in a similar fashion. Taking a fresh Q-tip, make sure you clean along all the outer surfaces of the spool, including the metal rods.

This completes the cleaning stage of your baitcaster reel maintenance. Next up is lubricating the moving parts.

6. Lubrication

Once you have cleaned and dried all the parts of your baitcaster, it’s time to apply reel oil. It’s important that you make sure you have dried out the entire reel before this next stage of maintenance.

The best lubricant to use is one designed specifically for fishing reels. Don’t be tempted to cut corners, as certain products such as WD-40 can actually break down oil and should never be considered as a lubricant substitution. Step one is preparation, and if you do not have any reel oil it is best to go out and buy some before you begin the cleaning process.

Starting with the spool, apply a single drop of reel oil to the bearing before flipping it over and applying another drop to the end of the metal rod. Place the spool back to one side again as you can now focus on the main reel.

Next up is the side plate, where you again want to apply just a drop of reel oil to the bearing. Also apply a little oil onto a Q-tip and run the tip around the brake ring within the side plate. This will ensure you enjoy quieter casting performance.

With the side plate done, you can return to the handle, applying reel oil where the handle knobs attach to the handle crank. Give the handle knobs a little spin to help make sure the oil seeps in fully.

The side cap near the handle can then be unscrewed and you can apply a further drop of oil to the exposed bearing, before replacing the cap. Rotate the handle a few times to once again help the reel oil seep in.

Attention now switches back to the reel interior and the worm gear, which is a cylindrical shaft located above the spool. This gear allows the line guide to move back and forth while you are reeling. You should apply a drop of oil to each end of the worm gear shaft, allowing it to seep in a little before turning the reel handle to help distribute the oil evenly across the gear shaft.

7. Final Touches

You can now carefully re-assemble the reel by returning the spool to its rightful place and closing the side plate. However, there are one or two final touches to ensure the reel is properly lubricated and is working as smoothly as possible.

Apply one drop of reel oil at both end points of the thumb clutch. When this is done you can disengage and engage the thumb clutch while cranking the handle. By playing around with the thumb clutch in this manner you will allow the oil to seep into the necessary moving parts.

You have now cleaned and oiled each of the most important parts and bearings of your baitcaster, and you should feel it operate more smoothly than before it was cleaned. Stick to just one drop of oil at a time as you want to avoid over lubricating your baitcaster.

All you need to do now is to remember to take the masking tape off the line on the spool and you are ready to get back out on the water!

Heavy Duty Baitcaster Maintenance

If you haven’t cleaned your baitcaster in a long time, or if it has been exposed extensively to saltwater rather than freshwater, it may require a more heavy-duty approach to cleaning and general maintenance.

First, rinse down the reel exterior with water, preferably from a spray bottle. You don’t want to apply water at high pressure as it may further embed any sand and grit. Therefore, it is best to avoid using a hose and stick to a spray bottle instead.

How much of this type of maintenance you do yourself will depend on your experience and knowledge of your baitcaster and its parts. Always refer to the manufacturer’s manual if you intend to clean the reel yourself, but if you are uncertain let someone more qualified perform the task. You can watch them and learn for future reference.

Taking Everything Apart

This caution is because you will need to completely disassemble the reel, not just remove the side plate and spool. With heavy duty maintenance, you clean and grease the washers, spacers and springs, as well as the drive gear and the inside of the pinion gear. The sand and silt from saltwater can permeate the reel and cause abrasive damage unless thoroughly cleaned.

This form of maintenance will require a screwdriver and wrench to access all areas of the reel, and you will need to carefully place all the disassembled parts in a logical order to help make the re-assembly easier. This is a far more intricate procedure than is required for a regular cleaning of a baitcaster reel, but it’s essential for the dirtiest of baitcaster reels.

Final Thoughts

These 7 simple steps to cleaning a baitcaster will help your reel operate smoothly and help you cast longer and with more accuracy. You should aim to clean your reel at least three to four times each year. These steps will become like second nature once you have cleaned your reel a couple of times.