By Todd Ceisner
Growing up, Jeremy Starks didn't have the luxury or option of getting new fishing reels every year from a sponsor that he enjoys now as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro.
Instead, his dad and he would make it an annual ritual to disassemble, clean and lube their reels to ensure they would be in good working order for the following spring and beyond.
"We had some that lasted eight or 10 years or more," the two-time Elite Series winner recalled.
While Starks' Elite Series season came to an end at Cayuga Lake, he says it's never too early to start thinking about giving some TLC to the tools that matter most on the water.
Equipment maintenance extends far beyond winterizing boats and motors now. Keeping your reels in tip-top shape can not only extend the life of your investment, it will maximize their performance for many years to come.
"The modern reels are pretty simple," he said. "The schematics are detailed and real helpful. After you grease them and add some reel oil it's amazing how they feel brand new again."
Maintaining bait casters and spinning versions is equally important, but he'll tend to the ones that get the heavier workloads first. His reel arsenal this season included up 20 bait casting reels and five spinning reels, all Okuma products.
"I don't need any more than that," he said. "Some get used more than others. There are some cranking reels I've had for 5 years that I absolutely love and they're as slick now as the day I got them."
While Starks' reel maintenance schedule may vary from that of an average weekend or recreational angler, his reel care tips that follow are certainly applicable across all levels of fishing.
During the tournament season, Starks says he'll give his most-used reels a once-over quick lube after every event.
"After a week's worth of fishing, they definitely need it," he said.
After the season, though, he'll devote more time and go over each reel in more detail, disassembling each one from side to side to give it a proper cleaning and lubrication treatment. Below is his basic step-by-step process for in-season maintenance that will add life and performance to your reels (note that it's assumed the line has already been removed from the reel):
> Step 1: Lay out a white cloth or towel on a flat surface in a well-lit area (use a head lamp, if needed). Give yourself plenty of room to work.
Gather the following supplies and tools before starting: Small crescent wrench with a handle nut, a quality set of precision screwdrivers, reel oil (there are several brands), reel grease (Starks recommends white lithium grease), reel schematic diagram (either from the reel's retail box or manufacturer website) and a camera.
> Step 2: Carefully remove the palm side plate. On some reels, the side plate will come completely off; on others a spring hinge attaches it. This allows easy access to oil the inside of the side plate where it meets the spool. Add a couple drops of oil to the bearing on the side plate where the spool shaft meets the side plate (slide 1). Also oil the center of the spool assembly (slide 2).
> Step 3: Remove the spool (slide 3). It should slide right out, but might require a slight jiggle or turn to get it to come free. Don't torque or force it. Clean off the spool shaft with a clean cloth and cleaner (Starks likes to use Simple Green). Apply a couple drops of oil to the shaft (slide 4).
> Step 4: Set the side plate and spool aside. Add oil to the pinion gear in the main reel assembly (slide 5).
"It's important to oil all of the bearings," Starks said. "It helps with casting smoothness. Cleaning the internal parts and gears has nothing to do with casting. That has to do with reeling, so if there's a grinding feeling or sound, then you need to do a good cleaning of the gears."
> Step 5: Remove the cast control cap from the handle side plate (slide 6). Apply a couple drops of oil to the cast control assembly (slide 7). Replace cast control cap.
> Step 6: Replace spool and side plate.
> Step 7: Apply small amount of reel oil to worm gear on front of reel.
> Step 8: With the reel re-assembled and lubed, Starks shared a tip for putting line back on. He likes to use braid as backing since it's lighter. Depending on the intended use of the reel (flipping or casting), he will fill the spool to a certain point with Seaguar Kanzen braided line, then wrap a couple layers of Teflon tape around the braid to create a new base. He'll then add his fluorocarbon or monofilament line depending on what technique the reel will be used for.
"Since the braid is lighter material than mono or fluorocarbon, on a casting reel, it allows the spool to spin faster and helps with casting distance," Starks said. "A buddy of mine is an engineer and we did some testing and figured it out. You just adjust the amount of backing based on how the reel will be used."
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