What's Biting: Reel Drag Maintenance

Part of the What's Biting Series

As everyone who lives near or fishes in saltwater knows, corrosion is a part of life. Anglers must deal with it on a regular basis or they risk losing a big fish. A sticking drag can put too much pressure on the fishing line and away swims the big fish.

Every time I get in the boat, I take my reels and pull off a length of line just to make sure the drag isn't sticking. If I don't plan on using a reel for a while, I'll back way off on the drag tension to help ensure that drag won't stick the next time you head out on the water.

However, there comes a time when drag maintenance is needed, and the best time to perform that work is when the weather is too cold or nasty for a decent day on the water.  

rod and reel on the beach in Gulf Shores AL

Most saltwater anglers prefer to use spinning equipment, and one of the reasons is because quality reels have quality drag systems. Those drag systems come in two flavors – dry or lubricated. Find your reel manual if possible and see exactly what type drag system your reel has. If you can’t find the hard copy, usually, you can go online and find it by typing in the reel model number. If you’re got a favorite reel that defies time, you may just have to determine whether it’s dry or lubricated when you disassemble it.

On spinning reels, unscrew the spool cap and look for a spring clip that holds in the drag washers. Remove the clip and carefully remove the drag washers. I lay the drag washers out in the order they came out of the reel and take a photo with my smartphone just in case I knock a few washers on the floor.

Brake cleaner is handy for cleaning spools and drag washers. I spray the cleaner on a rag and wipe down the washers to get them clean. If the metal washers have rust or corrosion, I’ll take fine grit sandpaper or steel wool and polish the washers to get rid of the crud. Q-tips are good to get down into the drag cavity on the spool to clean it out.

After everything is clean, I’ll reassemble in reverse order if it’s a dry system. If it’s lubricated, I’ll make sure I’ve got the equivalent of what the manufacturer recommends. And remember, a little dab will do ya. Use the lubricant very sparingly.

When the drag washers are back in the spool, pop the retaining clip back into place and place the spool back onto the reel. Use a touch of oil on the threads of the spool knob and screw it down lightly. Check the drag with light tension to ensure smooth operation. Then screw the knob down to check the drag at medium tension and finally at heavy tension.

If the drag is smooth at all tensions, you’re good to go, but remember to back off the drag until you’re ready to head out in the spring. And be sure to check your drag before you make that first cast.


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David Rainer Blogger
David Rainer (2 Posts)
David Rainer has written about the great outdoors on the Alabama Gulf Coast for more than 20 years. For 14 of those years, he covered the many fishing opportunities on the Gulf Coast as outdoors…