Vintage Fly Fishing Reel Cleaning

Vintage Reel Cleaning

By Jennifer Swope

These reels have minimal “drag”. Well, truthfully, there is no drag, simply an over run check resistance. These wonderful classic Hardy’s embody a core element of traditional fly fishing and a Click and pawl require different maintenance then that of a new modern drag system. Here are a few tips I’ve learned first hand from the Reel Master Himself, Mr. Bill Archuleta from our hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon.

UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning3

Most vintage reels being used on a regular basis are set up with backing and a line in place, making the initial cleaning step obsolete as I like to give each reel a baptismal soaking in diluted Simple Green solution prior to any other detailing.

UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning1
If your reel is sans backing and a line, then you can soak them in a bowl of Simple Green with warm water- classical or Broadway show music is optional but recommend- to help loosen up caked on dirt and debris from decades gone by. Use a soft toothbrush to gently clean all the interior parts and the cogs of the teeth. With stubborn debris, apply simple green solution directly to the bristles of a toothbrush and scrub away!
UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning2
Use a soft toothbrush to gently clean all the interior parts and the cogs of the teeth.
Be sure to dry the reel after her soaking; this is a critical step to a reel that has been submerged. And yes, anthropomorphically speaking , I believe that all Vintage reels are female and over the top beautiful with every curve and well earned line of patina. I like to dry my soaked reels using a few gentle shots from the air compressor but please be careful not to crack agate or blow the reel from your hand. If you’re not comfortable with this, blow the frame dry with bursts of air from your mouth. Just get it totally dry with a chamois before you move onto the little details of cleaning.

*Here is where we would pick up for cleaning if the reels are backed and lined and not able to be soaked.

Vintage Reel Cleaning

Supplies Needed to Clean Vintage Fly Fishing Reels:

  • Simple Green
  • Soft Toothbrush
  • Qtips
  • Paper Towels
  • Micro Fiber Chamois
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Lubriplate
  • Spray Oil and Liquid Oil in Drop Form

I use my Abel System of lubes on hand to get the job done well.  I use NOTHING but Bowsheild brand for my spray oil and liquid oil in drop form.

Again, if the reels are not lined, this is where you could pick up after the Simple Green bath. Lightly spray the entire reel and spool, inside and out with the Bowsheild and allow to soak in for a few minutes. Making sure that you wiggle the handle to allow it to be lubricated and loosen up debris. Wipe it off with that paper towel and manually move the parts to work in the lube again and wipe off an additional time. Obviously, if you were able to soak the reel, it would be a lot cleaner then if you didn’t give it a bath first!

UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning4
UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning5

With a vintage reel that is backed, begin with Bowsheild oil drops to help lube up debris and remove using Qtips and paper towels where necessary. Work in several drops and Bowsheild the outside of the frame before working in the lube with a paper towel until the paper towel is no longer black with tarnish. Repeat this process several times until the finish is more of a gray color on your paper towel. This will help bring out the natural the leading that is often disguised underneath these beautiful old reels. The oil left over on the frame, will guard against corrosion. I try to oil all of my old reels twice a season. I usually have 8 reels on regular rotation.

Never be afraid to remove all of the backing on an old spool that has never received a Bowsheild spray job.  It will just protect the real more than anything. The backing is cheap and easy to add just to make sure it’s always always done by hand. Never, never put an old reel on a mechanical line winder, no matter what your local fly shop tells you! ONLY use 30 pound Dacron backing and never GelSpun.

Never, never put an old reel on a mechanical line winder, no matter what your local fly shop tells you!

Take your time and enjoy the details of this clean. Use the Q tips and rubbing alcohol to get all the ick out of every crack and crevasse before applying Lubriplate to the teeth of the spool, shaft and spring and pawl. Remember this cleaning is ONLY for spring and pawl type reels. Use a few drops of the Bowsheild oil on your old Hardy reels (worlds for modern reels, too) when the line is on them to dissolve that white film to best protect and brighten them up again.

UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning6
UWOTF Vintage Reel Cleaning7

Never never never cover the reels with a neoprene case when the line is wet as that retention of moisture can change the patina on old reels, especially when it’s hot outside. Trust me here, I learned this lesson the hard way and it’s still a shameful truth. I have some reels that I use in the summer that are from 1908 and these brittle girls get covered for protection. I only use the Simms Bounty Hunter vented case in a size large. It’s a awesome case, affordable and breathable and the case fits on the largest size brass faced Hardy’s.

Modern reels have basic needs, too. Standard Nestsfoot oil is used on cork drag systems like Abel and is a critical service. Nautilus and Bauer a sealed system and use a little grease from time to time. Bauer is carbon fiber and stainless surface drag so it’s virtually maintenance free. Bowsheild is good to use on all these frames to protect them from wear and the hazards of salt. Just apply the spray or oil drops on a paper towel and wipe the frame to keep the line from encountering the oils.

With a little time and care, these reels of old and new will continue to serve us for generations to come. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.

Meet the Author – Jennifer Swope, Grants Pass Oregon

UWOTF Jennifer Swope

Jennifer makes her home in Grants Pass, OR, but spends plenty of time on waterways across the west. An accomplished angler and fanatical Spey caster, Jennifer is a Royal Treatment Fly Shop ambassador and owns On the Swing Fly Fishing LLC.

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