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Home Ohio bass fishing How to Clean and Maintain Your Baitcasting Reels

How to Clean and Maintain Your Baitcasting Reels

This article was written by Ohio Bass Blog contributor Marshall Yarnell








I’m a firm believer in taking care of your bass fishing equipment.  Whether it’s something as small as the hooks on your crankbaits, or something as major as your outboard motor, regular maintenance of equipment will lead to better results on the water, and a longer useful life for your equipment.

Some of the most important weapons in any angler’s arsenal are his baitcasting reels.  We put these reels through a lot, and regularly cleaning and maintaining them is a practice that will substantially improve your casting distance, accuracy and efficiency.  In this article I will discuss how to properly clean and maintain your baitcasting reel.

Before working on any reel, get a copy of the reel schematics and study it to familiarize yourself with them.  Schematics come with the reel, but if you’ve thrown them away, you can do a search online and find them pretty easily.

Here is a list of items you will need to make your job easier:

  1. Small Phillips screw driver
  2. Small flat screw driver
  3. Pencil for spinning bearings
  4. Box of Q Tips
  5. Small reel pick (see pic)
  6. Toothbrush
  7. Small paint brush.
  8. Reel handle wrench (comes with all Shimano reels)
  9. Safety pin (you can modify this for getting bearings out that will not come out easily)
  10. A fat pen to spin larger bearings
  11. A can of compressed air
  12. Ronsonol Lighter Fluid to flush bearings
  13. Simple Green or Dawn detergent to scrub really dirty reels
  14. Your choice of reel oil and reel grease (I like Rocket Fuel)
  15. Oil applicator bottle
  16. Drag grease
  17. Plenty of paper towels
  18. Containers for cleaning bearings (ex. pill containers)


After gathering up your supplies, you are ready to get to work.  I like to keep all my reel cleaning supplies together in a box to stay organized.  Perform your reel cleaning at a table where you have plenty of room and light to see.  You can do all your work in a box, like the kind you would wrap a sweater in, or just use a towel.  Beginners may want to use the box to do their work, as all the parts should be kept in front of you to reduce the chances of misplacing something.  Starting off, I like to lay out my tools and supplies in an orderly fashion.  I prefer to do my work over a towel which keeps parts from rolling around and lessens the chance of them falling off the table.

For this tutorial, I will be cleaning a Shimano Curado 200 E7.  Many of Shimano’s reels are very similar inside – if you can service one, you can service them all.

1.  Accessing the Spool Bearing

Remove the side plate where the brakes are located.  You will find the first bearing that needs to be cleaned.  Take the spool out and set it aside for now.  To get the bearing out you will have to remove a little clip on top of the bearing.  This is where your reel pick comes in handy.  With your thumb over the bearing and clip, gently pry one side of the clip up and pull it off.  Be careful, as this clip can go flying.  Take the bearing out with the pick.  If it does not want to come out, you can modify a safety-pin or paper clip so that there is a hook on the end.  This allows you to pull the bearing out. Once the bearing is out, wipe it off and place it in the lighter fluid.  Let it soak while you clean the rest of the reel. Occasionally stir the bearing while it’s soaking.

Take a Q Tip and wipe around the break drum on the side plate. Do not use any oil, just a dry Q Tip.  There will be a screw on the same side of the reel we took the side plate off near the front of the reel.  This is a pin that runs through the line guide.  Take it out, wipe it off, and set it aside for now.  Put the side plate back on, and you are ready to take the other side apart.

2.  Removing the Handle

There will be a cap covering the nut on the handle.  Take your small screw driver and take the little screw out.  Set the cap and screw aside.  From this point, put everything in order that you take off so you know how to put it back together.  Loosen the handle nut with the tool Shimano provides, or a small socket.  After the nut is off, place it beside your nut cap.  Unscrew the drag star until it comes off.  Place it in order with the rest of your parts.  Under the drag star you will see a spring.  Take that off next.  Then you will see a square nut.  Use your drag star to loosen that nut and take it off.  There is a washer under the square nut that has two sides.  The grey side faces the bottom of the square nut.  Under that you will see the drag washers – take them off and place them on the towel in the correct order.

3.  Accessing the Spool Bearing

Unscrew the tension control knob located on the side plate.  Take the spring out by slowly spinning it while pulling and it should pop out.  Take the bearing out and soak it in lighter fluid with your other bearing.  Set the tension knob and spring aside.  There is a fiber shim inside the tension knob.  If it has a big dent from the spool shaft, simply flip it over so the side is smooth.  A small dab of grease on the back side of the shim will hold it in place.  Wipe out the area where the bearing came from with a Q Tip.

4.  Removing the Gear Side Plate

Holding the reel on its side, take out the remaining screws on the side of the reel.  The screw on top will be a little longer.  Carefully lift the side plate.  You will see two springs next to the pinion gear.  Take them out and set them aside.  On the handle side of the reel you will find the roller clutch tube that is inside the anti-reverse roller bearing.  Take that out and set it aside.  Take a dry Q Tip and gently wipe out the roller bearing – do not oil these bearings.  Shimano recommends running these bearings dry.  Oiling them can cause them to fail.  The only time these bearings should be oiled is if they were flushed in lighter fluid.  Most of the time just wiping them with a dry Q Tip is the best thing to do.  Wipe any extra grease from the underside of the side plate off and set it aside.

5.  Disassembling the Gears

Take the main gear off of the shaft and set it aside.  Under the gear you will find a drag washer (fiber).  Under the drag washer you will find the anti-reverse ratchet and pawl.  Take all of these components off and set them aside in the order you took them off.  Now take out the pinion gear and yolk.  Clean the pinion gear and yolk with a Simple Green and water solution or Dawn detergent and water.  The toothbrush works well here.  Take a Q Tip and tear off most of the cotton and run it through the pinion gear until no more dirt comes out.  This area must be free of oil and dirt for maximum performance.  Set both pinion and yolk aside to dry.  Take the metal washer off the main drag gear.  Under that you will find a drag washer.  Using the reel pick, gently pry out the drag washer.  Lay it flat on a paper towel and rub it in a circular motion to remove dirt and grease, then flip it over and clean the other side.  Clean the main gear just as you did the pinion gear.  Use a toothbrush to get all the old grease out of the teeth.  Once clean, set it aside to dry.

6.  Accessing the Drive Shaft Bearing

At the bottom of the drive shaft you will see two screws.  Take these screws out and pull out the drive shaft.  At the base you will find your drive shaft bearing (some reels such as the Shimano Citica have a bushing here that can be replaced with a bearing if you want to).  Clean all the old grease off and here you have two choices.  The easy way is to soak the bearing while still attached to the shaft to clean it, or alternatively, take the c-clip off so you can clean the bearing alone.  I usually take the c-clip off, clean the bearing and put it all back together.  This little clip can be tough to put on and has a tendency to go flying to never be seen again.  You can take the clip on and off inside a plastic bag which will help.  A small flat screwdriver is the way to take off the c-clip.  A small pair of needle-nose pliers is best to put it on with.  This is one item I would buy spares of.  Take a Q Tip and wipe out the inside of the reel, removing all the old grease.

7.  Accessing the Pinion Bearing

Underneath, where the pinion gear sat, you will see two screws.  Take one screw out and loosen the other, but leave it in.  This will allow you to remove the base that holds the pinion gear on.  After removing the pinion base, there will be a small washer under the base.  Now you can take out the pinion bearing.  Wipe it off and soak it in lighter fluid.  Clean up the pinion base and washer, then set them aside.  Be careful, do not push on the thumb bar unless you want to reassemble the spring and clutch cam.  There is a little spring that lets the thumb bar move back and forth.  If you would happen to pop this out it’s not a big deal but can be frustrating at first putting it back together.

8. Cleaning and Preparing the Bearings

If you have access to an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, these work great for cleaning bearings.  They get all the dirt out of a bearing with ease.  I don’t have one, so I just swish my bearings around in a pill bottle with some lighter fluid in it.  Take the bearings out and spin them on a pencil. Change out the lighter fluid so you have a clean solution and rinse them again until they spin easy and no dirt is left inside the container.  Next, take a can of compressed air and spin the bearings on the pencil to blow out any extra dirt.  Repeat the above process until the bearing spins freely and does not make any grinding sounds.  A clean bearing will spin a long time.  Once your bearings are cleaned, set them aside to dry. Compressed air speeds up the drying process.

9.  Cleaning Off the Grime

Now is a good time to clean the frame of the reel.  On really dirty reels, you can soak them in Simple Green or Dawn detergent and water.  Take the tooth-brush and clean all the dirt off the outside of the frame.  Use Q Tips around the clutch cam area so you don’t dislodge the spring that works the thumb bar.  Use Q Tips on hard to reach places.  Clean the plastic gears with a toothbrush and wipe off any old grease.  Let the frame dry completely.  Apply a small amount of grease to the plastic gears.  Don’t overdo it with the grease as it will fly around inside the reel when you cast it, getting on parts that you do not want grease on.  Take a small paintbrush and apply a light coating of grease around the inside of the reel around the clutch bar that moves the thumb bar back and forth.

10.  Cleaning the Worm Gear

Take a Q Tip and run it across your worm gear.  Slowly rotate the worm gear until you get all the grease out.  Clean the line guide with a Q Tip.  After the worm gear is clean, apply a small amount of oil to the worm gear.  Then apply a small film of reel grease over the worm gear with your finger or a small paintbrush.  On some occasions I will disassemble the worm gear completely.  This step involves removing another tricky c-clip.  They are tough to get back on at times.  Most of the time I just clean it the way I described above, unless it is really dirty or not working correctly.  Another step that is not too hard is to clean the paw that rides in the worm gear.  Simply unscrew the cap under the worm gear.  When you take this off you will have a tiny washer and a pawl.  Wipe the pawl off, and put it back in.  Then put the washer on and install the cap.

11.  Installing the Drive Bearing

On this bearing, I like to put it on a pencil and add a drop of oil.  After oiling the bearing it will slow the spin down.  Next I apply reel grease to my fingers and pack this bearing full of grease.  If you choose to not take off the c-clip, apply oil to the top of the bearing, spin it to work the oil in, then put grease on the top and bottom of the bearing.  Next I put a dab of grease into the slot where the bearing goes.  Insert the drive shaft into the correct spot and put the two screws in.  This is a low-speed bearing and the grease will help keep water out and prolong the life of the bearing.

12.  Cleaning and Lubing the Pinion Bearing

Get the pinion bearing and slide it on a fat pen.  This bearing is larger and will not fit on a pencil.  Put a drop of oil on this bearing and spin it until it starts to slow down.  Then put a small dab of grease on both sides of the bearing and slide it around in-between your fingers.  Take a Q Tip and wipe out the grease on the inside hole of the bearing.  Put the bearing in and install the pinion base, making sure the small washer is on the underside of the pinion base.  Put the two screws in and tighten them down.  Greasing this bearing will also keep water out and prolong the life of the bearing without impacting performance in a negative way.

13.  Greasing Drag Washers and Gears

Take a small amount of drag grease and lightly apply to the two fiber drag washers that go on the drive shaft.  Put the large metal washer on the drive gear on top of the fiber washer.  Apply a small amount of reel grease to your finger and run it around your drive gear.  Do the same for the pinion gear but only grease the teeth that touch the drive gear.  Remember to use drag grease on the drag washers and reel grease on the gears.

14.  Installing the Drag Washers and Gears

Inspect the anti reverse pawl.  The teeth should be close together.  If there is a large gap in the pawl it will make a clicking sound on your casts.  I usually just squeeze them together near the tip with my fingers.  Place a small dab of grease where the pawl sits on the post.  Install the pawl to the ratchet gear and put them in place together.  Make sure you do not get any grease on the bottom or top of the gears because it will make your drag slip.  The only exception is the very small film of drag grease in the fiber drag washers.  Place the small drag washer on the ratchet gear.

Install the pinion gear and yolk on the posts.  Make sure the yolk is put on the same way as you took it off.  Slide the drive gear on the drive shaft and pull back on the pinion gear – this will let the drive gear snap into place.  Hold your finger on the drive gear and slowly spin the drive gear to work in and remove any extra grease.  All this should be done with the reel positioned with the parts facing up.  Install the yolk springs.  Wipe off the metal roller clutch tube that slides down the drive shaft and locks into the top of the drive gear.  Install the roller clutch tube.  Now you are ready to put the side cover back on.  Remember the larger screw goes on top.

15.  Installing the Spool Bearing

After putting the side plate back on, install the tension control or spool bearing.  Place it on a pencil and add a small drop of oil to the bearing.  Do not grease this bearing!  Put the bearing in and place the spring back in, then put the cap back on.  This bearing is a high-speed bearing.  Be careful not to over lube it, which will slow it down.

16.  Assembling the Handle

Put a thin coat of grease up the drive shaft.  Install your drag washers so that they look like this  )( or ().  Install the washer with the shiny part down.  Then add the square nut and tighten it down with the drag star.  Install the spring and drag star.  Hold down on the drag star when installing the handle.  Be careful not to cross-thread the handle nut.  Tighten the nut and install the cap and screw.  You may have to tighten or loosen the handle nut a little to get the cap to fit.

17.  Installing the Spool Bearing

On the side of the reel where your side plate opens up, install the other spool bearing.  Make sure there is a small fiber disc in the bottom.  I like to wipe this out with a Q Tip to remove old grease.  You can take out the fiber disc and add a small dab of grease to the back side to hold it in place.  Also if it is pitted you can flip it over.  Now you can lube the bearing just as you did with the tension control spool bearing.  Do not grease this bearing!  Once the bearing is put in, install the clip that holds it in place.  I usually start one side and pinch it in with my finger and it snaps right in.  This clip has been known to go flying, so be careful.  Take a Q Tip and wipe the sides of the spool to remove dirt.  Take a clean rag or Q Tip and wipe off the spool shaft.  You do not want any oil or dirt on the spool shaft or it will slow the spool down.  Take your finger and wipe off the tips of your breaks to remove any dirt.  Install the pin that goes through the line guide.  Place a small drop of oil on the c-clip near the front of your reel that rotates when the worm gear is rotating.

Install the spool, and close the side plate.  Work your drag tight and loose, then adjust your tension knob so it’s not too tight.  Spin your spool and watch that bad boy roll!

18.  Finishing Tips

  • Remember, if at any point during this process you get confused about what goes where, just look at your schematics.
  • It is very important to only use oil on your spool bearings – they are the ones that need to spin fast.  The slow bearings will be just fine with oil, but I have found that those are the ones that corrode the easiest and they move slowly, so grease is good to use on them.  The spool bearings are the ones you may want to clean or add oil to during the fishing season.  Luckily they are easy to get to.  If your reel squeals during a cast, that may indicate that you need to oil your spool bearings.
  • Another tip to keep the pinion bearing from corroding is to cover the holes in your spool with Teflon tape.  This keeps water out of the bearing.
  • If you really want to have a fast spool you can upgrade to ceramic bearings.  A great performance upgrade is the Boca orange seal abec 7 bearings.  Replacing your drag washers with carbontex drag washers is another awesome upgrade you can make to your reel.  They will give you a little more drag pressure.
  • If you have cleaned your reel and the drag seems too loose, that indicates you have too much drag grease on your drag washers or your old ones are worn out.
  • A final tip is to add a bit of grease to the tip of your screwdriver.  It will hold those little screws in place while you put them back in.

Performing these steps on your baitcasting reels once a year will keep them in excellent working condition for a very long time!





12 Responses

  1. ROBERT yarnell


  2. It would have been nice to have a little more detail!

    All kidding aside, great article Marshall! The best reel cleaning article I’ve read. Now I know what I’m doing the rest of the week.

  3. BMan

    EXCELLENT article Marshall! I can personally attest to the significant improvement in casting distance if you apply Marshall’s tips.

  4. John

    These articles prove why you guys are so good on the water!

  5. Sol

    Nice article Marshall, very informative. Just a couple weeks away from getting on them. Maybe even tomorrow if i find a pond unthawed.hahaha

  6. Marshall

    Thanks all for the kind comments. Cleaning my reels is how i manage getting through the long winter. Yep Sol it won’t be long, a couple mild days and im sure you will be posting some hogs.

    • steve holsinger

      Awesome article Marshall- one question- how much do you charge? I got about 10 Quantums that could use some serious love!

  7. Marshall

    Steve email me at myarnell@columbus.rr.com. We can discuss. I’m mainly a Shimano guy but i have to say the one quantum i have is not as easy as the shimano’s.

  8. Josh Brooker

    Great Article! Most in-depth tutorial I have seen. Now I just have to quit fishing long enough to clean my reels. Good luck this season

  9. jerry

    Now on the the pinion and driveshaft bearing can you use the shimano drag star grease?

  10. Tom

    Marshall/Mike – Kudos for the excellent resource you’ve put together here. This is easily the most detailed guide I’ve come across on the subject.

  11. Tim Swartz

    Nice detailed walk through, a few of mine are intimidating but I think I could handle “Tackling” cleaning these armed with this info. Thanks so much.

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