How To Clean Fly Reels After Saltwater Fishing

Fly fishing is a great hobby, and many people enjoy it. It is not always easy to clean fly reels after saltwater fishing, but some tips can help. Cleaning a fly reel can be a daunting task for some people, but it doesn’t have to be! 

The best way to clean a fly reel after a day on the water is by using a toothbrush or other small brush with dish soap, warm water, and some elbow grease. After cleaning, rinse your reel with water, then dry it with a cloth or towel. 

A reel has many parts, and cleaning them after every use is important. This article will provide you with some steps to clean a fly reel after saltwater fishing. I will also explain how to maintain fishing equipment after catching a fish, fly reel maintenance routine, and common repairs. 

the best way to clean a reel is with a toothbrush

1. Remove Visible Debris With a Dry Cloth or Paper Towel

Over time, debris can build up in your spool and on your fishing reel. The debris wears away at your reel, scratching it and affecting its movements. The worst-case scenario would be if you were fighting a fish and the reel malfunctioned, such as if the reel handle was not turning or the drag system failed.

Therefore, cleaning the reel is recommended after every fishing trip to prepare you for that next refreshing catch.

Get all the saltwater off the reel before trying to clean it and dry it up as much as possible. Rinse any excess dirt, sand, or salt with fresh water from your sink or bucket, then dry your reel completely. 

debris can build up in the spool of your reel

2. Disassemble and Clean the Reel Gently

There are some basic steps you need to take to avoid damaging your reel. Remove the rod’s spool, line, leader, and other accessories. Cleaning these parts separately will help clear out any salt crystals stuck in those intricate parts. 

  1. First, soak the parts in fresh water for a few minutes.
  2. Run a cloth through the line to remove any salt residue from it before soaking it again in water for about 10 minutes. 
  3. Rinse the reel in freshwater and scrub it with an old toothbrush; wait for 20 minutes, then repeat. 

Pro Tip: Avoid the temptation to use high water pressure to clean your reel. The pressure will force debris deeper into the crevices, making them impossible to clean. 

don't use high pressure water to clean your reel

3. Use Lubricant to Coat All Moving Parts on Your Reel

The moving parts of a fly reel, such as the drag knob, spool knob, bail arm, bearing surfaces, etc., should be re-greased with a suitable lubricant to remain in the best possible condition.

  1. Apply lubricant sparingly to the shaft of your reel and a light oil coating around the reel’s exterior to protect it from rust. 
  2. Then apply the lubricant to the main shaft and the bearings located inside the reel’s body, using a Q-tip for areas that are hard to reach. 
  3. Grease up the nicks on your reel and the internal components, then clear off the excess to ensure that your reel stays spick and span.
  4. Finally, apply the lubricant to all the small parts in the housing, including the spindle, spool, screws, crank, and clutch. Again, wipe the excess to keep your reel clean, and you’re good to go. 

Pro Tip: Lubricate your fly reel before using it for the next fishing season or every three months if you fish often. 

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

For more detailed information on how to lubricate each part of the reel, watch this 5-min YouTube video : 

4. Let the Reel Rest in a Dry Location for 24 Hours

To ensure the lubricant has settled, let the reel dry completely. Do not use any hair dryer or artificial heat to dry the reels. This will damage the metal parts inside and lead to corrosion. Instead, let the reel air-dry for at least 24 hours. 

It is important to remember that when you are done cleaning your reel, you should dry it off with a towel before storing it away to avoid any rusting or corrosion from occurring while in storage.

If it’s getting too complicated to visualize the cleaning, you can watch this short video from Guide Recommended on how to deep clean and maintain a fly reel after saltwater fishing: 

Tips and Tricks for Maintaining Fly Reels

Fly Reels are very sensitive to salt water, which can cause corrosion and rust of metal components. To prevent this from happening, always keep in mind the following tips on how to maintain your fly reels for years:

  • After taking your fly reel out of the water, remove any dirt or debris, rinse it under fresh water, then dry it with a clean rag or towel. Always carry a small amount of fresh water in a bottle or other container to rinse your reel, especially if you won’t have access to fresh water while on your trip. 
  • Never use an air hose, as it can generate heat which can cause corrosion. If your fly reel has saltwater inside, you should remove it using fresh water. 
  • Never use boiled water or any abrasive cleaner on a fly reel. This can cause damage to the reel and void its warranty. 
  • Don’t submerge your fly reel in saltwater. This can cause corrosion to the internal components of the reel.
  • Wet fly reels should be stored in a dry place when not in use. Keep the reel in a pouch and your drag in the socks.
don't submerge your fly reel in saltwater

Final Thoughts

Fly reels are expensive, and we must take care of them to get the most out of them. To maintain your fly reel and keep it in good condition, you should regularly clean it with just warm, soapy water and some paper towels. 

Fly fishing is a sport that requires a lot of patience and skill, so it is essential to make sure your equipment is in good shape every time you go for that dream catch!