Beach Tackle Maintenance
  |  First Published: February 2006

Fishing the surf can be gruelling on tackle so here are a few tips to keep your gear in good working condition for that fish of a lifetime.

Alveys are probably the most popular surf reel in Australia’s northern states and while they’re not as common down south, I’m sure there are plenty of them out there amongst regular beach anglers. Their simple design makes them a pretty easy candidate for regular maintenance, which can be as simple as replacing a few washers.

Overheads and threadlines require more expertise so I did some homework and spoke to a few mates to get the basics right.


Alveys are generally easy. The simple centre pin reel with no gearing or drag needs to have a couple of washers replaced every year or so. Put the reel back together with a dab of petroleum jelly and it’ll be like new.

The washers that need regular replacement are the spindle fibre washer, spindle D washer and the nitrile washer. These washers, the locking nut and spring are all available in a little tune up kit; so call into your local tackle shop, tell them the reel model and they should be able to order it in for you.

Geared models and the reels that have the lever drag seem are a little more complicated, but once they’ve been opened up, the reels are still very simple, requiring the same sort of care as the standard models.

Don’t forget to grease up the pins on the handles and the release mechanism for rotating the reel for casting.

Overhead and spinning reels

I have grouped these two together because what I need to say about one, I also need to mention about the other.

The first thing to do every time you’ve finished a surf fishing session is wash off the salt. The best way to do this is to take the reel off the rod and wash it in some warm soapy water. Just use a sponge and wipe the reel as you squeeze water onto it.

Sponge It

If you’re in a hurry, or if you are like me and get a little lazy from time to time, spraying the reel with a hose is fine but it isn’t as effective as the warm soapy water. If you do choose to use a hose, ensure that the setting on the nozzle is set to a fine jet so you don’t push water and sand inside the reel. It’s also a good idea to have the reel’s drag locked tight to help avoid any nasties getting into the drag washers.

Post Wash

A good wash after every trip needs to be backed up with a regular grease and oil change. I want to stress here that my entire experience with maintaining reels has been nothing more than tinkering with my own reels in my garage. If you’re comfortable removing a few screws here and there, then get to know your reel while you clean it up. If you’re pedantic, draw diagrams to help you remember how to put it back together.

Take Your Time

Most importantly, take your time. A rushed job will see you disassemble the reel too quickly, and you’re unlikely to remember what goes where. If all this sounds too scary then leave it to the experts to look after – take it to your tackle shop and part with a few bucks for some peace of mind.


If you’re adventurous and decide to give it a go, remember to refer to the design pamphlets that come with the reel in the box. They’re very detailed and might get you out of trouble if you find yourself out of your depth all of a sudden.

One tip that John Softly gave in his reel maintenance articles was to remove sprung parts, or in this case even parts that you think are sprung, into a plastic bag so that you don’t end up on your hands and knees for 25 minutes trying to find something that rolled off the table.

Find a Tray

If you feel comfortable enough to take the side plate off the reel and remove a few parts for cleaning and oiling, you will require a tray. This can hold everything you need and means you can just lift the whole procedure from one spot to another if you need to. Containers of fluid are also best stored in a tray so that spills are contained.

I like to give my reel parts a good soak and wash in a tub of kero. Use a toothbrush if you need to, but a soak in kero and a wipe with a rag gets most of the rubbish off.

Reel Oil

Always use proper reel oil to lube the bearings with. You can play around with viscosities if doing long distance casting with overhead reels but, generally speaking, all reel manufacturers have oils that are prefect for both threadlines and overhead reels. My preferred reel oil is one made by Daiwa that comes in a syringe type applicator. It’s simple, quick and clean.

Getting the oil right in the bearing of an overhead is a must for distance casting as will help keep the dreaded birds nests away. Most casting problems are from poor technique or bad balance between the rod, line class and reel so don’t blame all your overhead casting difficulties on the oil; there might be other issues that, when addressed, will make far more of a difference to your fishing.

The trick with getting overhead reel bearing oil right is in the viscosity of the oil. If the drum of the reel is spinning too fast, the oil may be too light. It should be replaced with the slightly thicker oil.

You can experiment with this at home or get onto the Fishing Monthly website and talk to John Softly about it. Getting the oil right means you can start taking the preload off the reel’s bearings all together, forgetting all about those little adjustments on the side of the reel.

For lubing the gears of my reels I turn to Penn’s blue grease, but I have seen plenty of similar greases on the market. Just a light covering over the gears is all that is needed every few months to keep everything in top shape. Always clean the old grease out of the reel before lubing with the fresh stuff otherwise you wind up with grease in all corners of the reel.

Drag Washers

Drag washers need a lubricant of their own and it’s vital that the right drag grease be purchased for the reel. Most reels will take standard quality drag grease but there are also some that need their own special lube as well as other drag systems that are meant to run dry. Just a drop or two smeared over the surface of the washer or between the layers of the multi-washer systems is all you need. When you buy a reel, check and see if it requires drag oil. If it does, ask the salesmen if it is available then and there.

Rods and line

Most rod runners are made of rustable metal that needs to be washed down at the end of the day. It also pays to have the reel removed from the reel seat, especially if the reel isn’t being used very often.

Pantyhose Test

A good tip for checking the runners on any rod is to pinch some old pantyhose and run them through the guides. The fine nylon will quickly catch on anything that is sticking out from the runners that could damage your fishing line.

UV Damage

Fishing line needs to be kept out of the sun when not in use. Keeping rods stored on bull bars or in hot cars can heat up the nylon and damage the line, reducing its breaking strain.

Wrapping Up

Maintaining rods, line and reels makes your day on the water a lot more enjoyable. The gear is nicer to use and you’ll encounter fewer problems and fewer lost fish. It’s all about prevention!

There are those big fish that we all lose because they’re just too strong. There’s not much we can do about those. But other fish, lost because of poor gear maintenance, are within our reach if we spend some time, or splash a bit if cash about, to make sure everything’s in good working order.

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