How To Clean a Saltwater Fly Reel (Easy Guide)

Saltwater fly reels are essential for having a successful fly fishing experience. Hence, cleaning and maintaining them properly is vital to extend their useful life. But what’s the proper cleaning procedure for a saltwater fly reel?

The best way to clean a saltwater fly reel is by disassembling it first. Then, soak it in hot water to break down the built-up salt crystals. After that, wash each part using hot, soapy water. Finally, dry and reassemble your saltwater fly reel.

The rest of the article discusses this cleaning process in detail. Read on to the end to learn how to clean a saltwater fly reel.

1. Disassemble Your Saltwater Reel

Some fly anglers opt to put their fishing gear, including the reels, under a shower or spray them with fresh water to remove salt crystals. However, it’s preferable to disassemble your saltwater fly reel and clean each part properly for best results.However, for reels with a sealed drag system, spraying the reel with fresh water is sufficient.

Salt crystals usually enter your fly reel through the cracks or crevices and build up during your fishing adventure. So, this accumulation can be detrimental, as it corrodes your fly reel. It’s best to remove the salt crystals during your cleaning routine.

Therefore, after getting home from your fishing trip:

  • Remove the fly reel from the fishing rod. The fly reel attaches to the rod’s reel seat via its foot. So, all you have to do is to loosen it by unscrewing the locking nuts on the reel seat. Then, slide the foot of the reel along the hood to unlock it. And you’ll have the reel loosened from the fishing rod.
  • Separate the reel spool from the outer framework. Your reel’s spool-release mechanism will determine how to go about it. Thus, you can either use a latch, push button, screw, or pull the two parts apart to separate the spool from the frame.
  • Strip the fly line and backing off the spool. After separating the reel spool from the frame, you can choose to proceed with the cleaning process. But you can also remove the fly line and backing from the spool to expose the main body. However, this is a tedious and time-consuming procedure, so you can also skip it.

2. Soak the Reel Spool Components in Hot Water

After disassembling the fly reel components, it would help if you soaked the spool in hot water for about an hour. As I mentioned, the hot water breaks down any salt crystals accumulated in your fly reel. Moreover, it can loosen any clinging dirt on any surface of the spool.

Nonetheless, it’s advisable to confirm from the reel’s user manual if it’s okay to soak the fly reel in hot water. Some manufacturers don’t allow this, which can adversely affect the drag system. For instance, Henschel Reels had disclaimers on orange tags attached to their fly reels that cautioned fly anglers against soaking their reels in hot water.

3. Wash All the Parts Using Hot, Soapy Water

Running cold water (from your shower or tap) isn’t enough to clean your fly reel. In addition, soaking the fly reel in hot water may effectively dissolve the accumulated salt from the surfaces. But this isn’t enough to remove the stubborn dirt or old oil. 

Therefore, it’s best to clean all the parts thoroughly using soapy water.

You might be tempted to use your laundry detergent to clean your fly reel. However, the detergent might be too harsh.

So, it’s best to use a mild soap that won’t damage the reel’s components. For example, you can use car or dishwashing soap to clean your fly reel.

And here’s a straightforward process of cleaning a fly reel using hot, soapy water:

  1. Put warm or hot water in a bucket.
  2. Add car soap or mild liquid soap.
  3. Dip the reel spool into the soapy water and scrub it using a towel or toothbrush.
  4. Spray the soapy water on the other components, including the screws, handle, and counterweight. Then, scrub all the parts gently using a toothbrush.
  5. You can pull out the fly line and backing from the spool (if you hadn’t stripped them off initially) and dip them in the soapy water. Then, clean them using a washcloth.
  6. Rinse the soap using tap water or in a clean, fresh water bucket.

Here’s a YouTube video that demonstrates how to clean a saltwater fly reel using hot, soapy water:

Note: You can also use a cleaning solution to clean your fly reel. For instance, some people prefer the Star Brite Salt Off Concentrate (available at since it effectively removes salt build-up from fishing gear surfaces. It’s easy to use, and you can utilize it in three ways:

  • By spraying the concentrate on the surfaces you want to treat.
  • By soaking the reel in a container having the Star Brite.
  • Applying the concentrate on the surface and scrubbing it to remove the salt deposits.

4. Dry the Saltwater Fly Reel

Drying your fly reel properly before storage is crucial to prevent rusting or corrosion. Hence, you can use a dry towel to remove the water. Then, you can air dry the parts indoors (overnight) in a well-ventilated room after placing them on a dry towel.

Alternatively, you can take advantage of sunlight and sundry the reel’s components. It would be best if you allowed all the parts to dry separately before reassembling and storing them. 

Also, ensure that the fly line and backing are dry before storing them in their cases or reeling them back onto the fly reel.

5. Reassemble the Saltwater Fly Reel

After cleaning your fly reel, you must reassemble it in preparation for your next fishing tip. Reassembling a saltwater fly reel is straightforward, especially when you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

However, maintenance of the reel’s components is vital before reattaching all the parts. And the main thing to do is to lubricate the moving parts to ensure your reel works perfectly. So, it’s best to oil the following areas before reassembling the reel:

  • Spool’s interior 
  • Spindle
  • Screw and bolt threads
  • Springs and pawls
  • Handle

Some fly anglers use sewing oil to lubricate their reels. But you can also use alternative lubricants, including:

After reassembling the fly reel, you can reel back the fly line and the backing. Here’s a YouTube video demonstrating how to set up a fly reel:

Parting Shot

A saltwater fly reel that comes into contact with salt water will cause corrosion in the long run. Hence, cleaning the reel is a vital routine. Hot water helps break down the salt deposits, while soap removes dirt and old oil.

However, proper fly reel maintenance is also essential. Remember to take good care of your saltwater fly reel to maximize its lifetime!