Servicing: Baitcaster Reels

  • James Gibbons

In this series, reel technician James Gibbons presents a basic maintenance plan for several different reel styles. This issue, James looks at some simple steps to keep readers’ baitcasters up to scratch.

Baitcasters have come a long way since being invented by Onesmus Ustonson in 1770, known then as a ‘multiplier’ reel.

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No worm drive line guide, no drag, and no anti-reverse! The angler’s thumb controlled everything. It wasn’t until William Shakespeare Jr invented the first level wind reel in 1896 that it turned into something we may recognise as sitting in our grandfather's or great grandfather’s shed.

As years have gone by and technologies have progressed, there is now a plethora of advancements with each new reel release, the latest being ‘electronic braking’ with the Shimano DC technology, that stops backlash before you can even blink. When looking at baitcasters in shops, many New Zealanders may think of American bass fishing and the outlandish Bass Master Pro series. Baitcasters have cemented a foothold into our tackle stores and angling psyche, and rightly so.

Introduced in the late 1980s to early 1990s as snapper jigging began to take off, baitcasters found many fans through a wide range of fishing styles: saltwater fishermen bouncing lead off the bottom; salmon anglers working lures in mainland rivers and river mouths; and one of their most popular uses, as trout jigging reels. No matter the angling technique, these reels are great to use but also need a bit more TLC due to the tight tolerances found in the design. This month I will show you how to maintain your baitcaster reel with the Deuthlon Starter Kit. With a few basic steps you can make your reel last longer and prevent it from seizing up.

For baitcaster reels, the Deuthlon Cast Lube, Ceramic and High-Speed Bearing Oil shines through with its quality. An ultra-light viscosity oil, it won’t inhibit the free spool of the bearings and therefore won’t affect your casting. Other oils on the market have thicker viscosity and can inhibit castability. While you may not be entering any casting competitions, using a thicker oil can equate to a much shorter cast as the bearings can’t spin as freely, creating resistance. When casting from shore, this can be the difference between nailing the sweet spot where the fish are and falling short.  

Step 1: 

The handles are susceptible to grit and salt build-up.

Handle bearings - Handle bearings are the first point of contact when turning a reel. If these bearings seize up or have a bit of grit in them, you can pick it up straight away as the vibrations or ‘raspiness’ are right at your fingertips. Place a couple of drops of oil at the base of each handle and give them a spin to seep the oil in.

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Step 2:

Removing the spool tensioning cap, the bearing is exposed and should get a drop or two of oil.

Spool Tension Cap - Unwind the spool tension cap to reveal a bearing or bushing. Some reels may have a spring behind the cap, so be careful this doesn’t go flying. A couple of drops of oil onto this bearing will help prevent it from seizing. To set your spool tension afterwards, click your reel into free spool and wiggle the spool side to side. Wind in the spool tension knob until there is barely any side-to-side movement. This is a personal preference, although some people like a lot less tension on their spool. This can lead to overruns and backlashes if you’re not careful. If you wind it in too tight, you won’t be able to cast more than a few meters!

Step 3:

Like the handles, the thumb bar is often exposed to salt and grit.

Thumb bar - If you’re a saltwater fisherman and have owned a baitcaster, you may know this problem well. As time goes on, you may notice that the thumb bar is harder and harder to press down. This is caused by salt and grit building up in the rails (or the pinion bearings seizing, but we’ll get to that soon). If you have this issue currently, your reel needs a service. But to prevent this in future, a drop of oil on either side and a click in and out of gear will help seep the oil down onto the rails, where the build-up occurs.

Step 4:

With the side plate removed, the spool can be removed, giving access to the pinion gear.

Side plate - This is where many anglers stop maintenance, but it is most critical for baitcasters. Different brands have their own locking function but usually, you just unlock the side plate and either twist or pull this off. From here, you can carefully pull the spool out of the reel. Make sure your spool doesn’t have too much line on it, as you won’t be able to pull it through. This gives you access to two of the most critical bearings: the left-hand side plate bearing and the pinion gear bearing.

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Place a couple of drops of oil on the left-hand side plate bearing. Carefully place a couple of drops of oil on the bearing next to the pinion gear. You want to try not to get too much oil inside the pinion gear, as this will cause resistance against the spool shaft when casting if loaded with oil. This bearing is usually the one that gets missed when people maintain their baitcasters. In my opinion, it is the most important bearing to keep maintained. If this bearing is not kept lubricated, it will not slide freely in and out of gear. As mentioned before, this can also give the feeling of the thumb bar being hard to press down. If this is happening to your reel, don’t force it! You will do damage to your reel, which can get expensive quickly. Send it in for a service.

Step 5:

The worm drive line guide should only be lubed with light oil or grease.

Line Guide Worm Drive - There are two main ways to look after this part of the reel, and in my opinion, it is decided on the type of line guide drive. If you have a reel that clicks the line guide out of gear when casting, using a light lubricant such as the Deuthlon Semi Fluid Grease is fine. This is an excellent, thin grease that won’t cause resistance against the worm and pawl and cause premature wearing when reeling.

If you have a line guide that doesn’t disengage in free spool, I recommend using an oil as it causes the least resistance when casting/dropping your line. Either is fine, but it’s better than no maintenance in most instances! If you use grease on a reel that the line guide follows when the line drops, use a light, thin option such as the Deuthlon Semi Fluid grease. A thicker grease will hinder your casting and dropping speed.

Following these simple instructions for maintaining your baitcaster (in between servicing) will significantly reduce the cost of part replacement and make your reel much nicer to fish. In my time as a reel technician, I’ve written off many reels due to poor upkeep, as the price to repair can outweigh the cost to fix. With baitcasters, the main problem areas have been addressed above. The three bearings holding the spool are critical to ensure your baitcaster keeps casting. Left side plate bearing, pinion bearing, and spool tension bearing – keep these bearings lubricated, and you’ll keep your reel casting for years to come.

For more on servicing overhead reels:

For more on servicing spin reels:

September 2022 - James Gibbons
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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