Fixing Drowned Reels

Reels need to be partially disassembled to dry them out after being submerged. Photo by author

Sadly, there are hundreds of thousands of people now dealing with the aftermath of the recent hurricanes. Thankfully, most families came through intact thanks to early warnings and being urged to evacuate. But evacuation isn’t simple.

I’d sure hate to have to load all that’s precious to me into a vehicle and head for high ground or safe havens. Clothes, pets, photos, computers – what else should be loaded? What has to be left to fate? It can’t be an easy choice.

These weather events posed a double threat to people in their path – wind and flooding. Wind-caused damage is perhaps more devastating, but to a degree, easier to deal with. If the windows blew out of the house or the roof damaged, just repair the damage. Flood damage is harder to assess and address. I’m sure there are experts with plenty of good advice about how to dry out homes, vehicles and most anything left behind and inundated by water.

I’ll leave that to the experts with experience in such things. I do have personal expertise in one area, however – drowned fishing tackle. I’m sure plenty of fishing tackle was left behind by hurricane evacuees.

Fortunately, my expertise is not from natural disasters as much as accidents and clumsiness. Regardless of why it happened, a sunken tackle box or submerged fishing rod and reel can be ruined if not salvaged and given proper handling and care, after being rescued.

In general, the length of time a rod, reel or other tackle is under water isn’t all that important, but a shorter length of time is better than longer. More important in hurricane ravaged areas is whether the submerged gear was in fresh or salty water. Around here it’s more about if the water is relatively clean or relatively muddy. It’s all bad.

Luckily, most fishing gear is made of water resistant materials like aluminum, brass, plastic and stainless steel. Manufacturers know they are going to be wet some of the time and a little water won’t do them much harm.

If you have a rod, reel or other tackle go under for whatever reason, step one to rehabilitating it is to give it a good rinse in clean water from a hose or tap. That should get rid of any salt or grit from the water in which it was dunked. Step two is to dry it thoroughly. Rods, tackle boxes and most other items can be dried with a towel or just air dried, they’ll be fine.

Reels need a bit more care. Chances are some of the salt or dirty water actually made its way inside the reels. Just letting them drain won’t clean them and just running a hose won’t get inside them where they need to be cleaned. They will have to be disassembled enough to expose the inner workings.

Use appropriately-sized screwdrivers to remove the side plates or covers on the reels, watching carefully for parts that may come loose with the side plates. Observe where these parts fit so they can be positioned correctly when reassembling. Rinse everything in warm, clean water, then allow to drip until the reel – both inside and out – looks dry.

Now give the interior a shot of WD-40. This spray-oil actually displaces any moisture left hidden inside and gives everything a light coating of oil. Wait 15 or 20 minutes for any moisture dislodged to evaporate and the fumes from the spray to dissipate.

The WD-40 is oily, but not a permanent lubricant. Before reassembling the reel, apply reel oil (or 3 in 1 oil) to the bearings and axles you can see. Apply reel grease (or Vaseline) to any gears inside. Reassemble the reel.

I wouldn’t trust the line on the reel anymore and line should be changed periodically, anyway. So remove all the old line and replace with fresh. There will be good line on the reel the next time it’s used and the process of removing and respooling will operate all the moving parts inside making sure any residual moisture hiding in nooks or tight spots will be worked out and allowing the fresh lubricants added to thoroughly coat the parts.

The next time a hurricane or on-coming flood causes you to head for safety, consider bringing your fishing gear to safety along with other valuables. Or, be less clumsy when you are fishing and don’t send your rods, reel or other gear into the water.

Hurricanes pass, submerged reels can be salvaged. Life goes on.

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Mike Schoonveld

Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest.

Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike’s Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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