Reel Rescue

Reel Rescue


It doesn’t matter how good your reel is, if it is left without use or maintenance for a while its performance will suffer. Over time, it may stop working altogether.


Perhaps you’ve shopped at a yard or garage sale where you’ve come across a high-quality reel that looks like it’s been withering away in storage for years. Chances are, you can buy it for a song and restore it to its former glory.


Let’s explore how.


The Basics of Restoration 


A high-quality reel is a precision mechanism. It is assembled from a collection of smaller mechanical parts that together determine the reel’s performance. While restoring a precision instrument may seem daunting, the fact that it is purely mechanical (rather than electronic) makes the restoration process fairly basic, if not actually simple.


In truth, the process of restoring a reel can be simply summarized as: disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly. In essence, you will be taking it apart as completely as possible, carefully cleaning each part, and then putting them back together again with some light oil for lubrication and/or protection.


The challenges to following this basic process successfully are rather few: 


  • You may find that parts have become damaged or corroded, requiring replacement.


  • You may also have difficulty re-assembling parts correctly after you have removed and cleaned them. 


  • You may also find that the cost of restoration exceeds the value of the reel itself. 


But otherwise, there is very little to impede your restoration process. You can do this!


Here’s a list of items you will probably need:



  • Small screwdrivers (flathead and phillips)


  • Toothbrush


  • Cotton swabs


  • Toothpicks


  • Clean, dry microfiber cloth


  • Sponge


  • Bowl


  • Distilled white vinegar


  • Baking soda


  • Water


  • Reel oil or silicone spray


Let’s address each of the challenges mentioned above separately.


Damaged or Corroded Parts


The biggest problem for old reels is water. All reels encounter water to some degree during use, but not all reels have been properly cleaned and re-lubed afterward. Water, especially saltwater, will cause metal parts to corrode if it has not been cleaned off after exposure.


To address corrosion, you will need to disassemble your reel, and place any corroded metal parts in a bowl. Fill the bowl with distilled white vinegar and add a teaspoon of baking soda, mixing until it foams. Leave the bowl to sit overnight. Ensure that the solution covers all parts.


The mixture should loosen most of the corrosion, allowing you to wipe it away with the microfiber cloth. If any remains, you can try rubbing it with fine brass wool (which is soft enough to not damage stainless steel) or consider replacing the part with a new one.


The exception to this is the reel bearings. While steel bearings can be cleaned and re-lubed, it is recommended that they be completely replaced if corrosion is found. Bearings are inevitably the most essential part of your reel, and even minor corrosion can significantly impact the reel’s performance.


For this reason, you should consider replacing your bearings with ceramic hybrid bearings such as our Saltwater Series. Not only will these bearings better withstand the harshest of fishing conditions, but our ceramic bearings have been proven to improve casting distance by as much as 40%.


This is a great way to make sure you get the best value out of your reel restoration.


Curing Reassembly Anxiety


Perhaps the biggest barrier to prevent someone from reel restoration is the fear that they will not be able to properly reassemble their reel after it has been taken apart and cleaned.


But there is a very easy (and potentially valuable) solution to this: video recording.


Simply set up a camera (or smartphone) on a tripod and record the entire disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly process. Make certain that the camera captures everything that you are doing. Tell the camera what you are doing as you are doing it.


Not only will this ensure that you are able to reassemble your reel correctly, but you may be able to use the video as a “how-to” guide for other do-it-yourselfers. Boca Bearings will often compensate repairers or restorers for videos we can use. This may even help you to offset the cost of the restoration (see next section below)


Contact us at for more information.

Is It Worth It?


Ultimately, it will fall to you to decide whether or not restoring your reel is worthwhile. Of course, the cost of replacement parts will be a factor, but so is the value of the reel needing restoration. For example, a top-of-the-line Shimano reel is not something you probably want to give up on if you originally bought it at full price, but you may feel differently if you picked it up for $5 at a yard sale.


Restorers will often find that the restoration process helps them better understand how their reel works, and makes them feel more connected to it. After all, it’s not as if you don’t have a personal attachment to your “favorite” reel. Perhaps the reel you’re restoring carries the nostalgia of being your first “favorite” reel. Or perhaps it will be your next one.