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Tuning a baitcaster
  |  First Published: May 2003



When people ask me for advice on tuning reels, I first direct them to my ‘Tinkering with Tackle’ section on the Fishing Monthly website (www.fishingmonthly.com.au). However, because there are some readers who don’t have access to the internet, I’ve decided to re-publish one of my web articles in QFM.

REEL tuning is not rocket science. It’s well within the capabilities of most people, but if you feel that removing bearings from a baitcaster is beyond you, stick to simple threadlines and side casts.

The instruction manual which came with your new baitcast reel will probably tell you to tighten up the lefthand knob so that the weight of the lure/sinker will drop slowly to the ground. These were Abu’s recommendations when the first 5000 Ambassadeur came out in 1952, and they continue to plug the line even though the practice can damage bearings of an Ultracast.

Tune your baitcaster and you’ll eventually be able to cast it, without overruns, with your eyes closed. When night fishing, the sound of the spool will tell you the exact moment that the lure/sinker has hit the water and for you to stop the spool revolving.

GETTING STARTED

It is a sad fact of life that no reel in production today will give ultimate performance straight out of the box. All reels benefit from being tuned regardless of type, but the reel which benefits most from tuning is the baitcaster.

Tuning a baitcaster means controlling the spool so that overruns are eliminated and maximum distance is achieved. A smooth casting style is essential and nothing will stop overruns if the casting style is jerky and erratic. Once the thumb is taken off the spool and the lure or bait starts its journey towards the target there is no need to touch the spool until the lure hits the water. That’s what tuning is all about. Feathering or controlling the spool with the thumb during the cast is unnecessary, and only leads to reduced distance and, eventually, an overrun.

The difference between an Abu Ultracast model and a conventional baitcaster is that the bearings in an Ultracast are in the spool, while in a classic or conventional they are at either end of the spool spindle. Almost all baitcasters are the same, with some variations. For instance, the Daiwa Millionaire 6HM and 7HT have two ball bearings at either end of the spool spindle, but the bearing over the pinion gear is larger than the one on the lefthand side. Depending on the make and model of reel you can expect some variation, but all you really have to do is find the ball bearings and extract them. An exploded diagram of your reel was supplied in the box with your reel when you purchased it. Lost it? No worries. Post a message on my Fishing Monthly bulletin board, or write to me via the magazine and I’ll endeavour to find one for you. Abus and Penns are easy, but obscure reels may take some time (and some are impossible).

Forewarned is forearmed, and here is a tip that will save you a great deal of heartache. Whenever stripping down a reel where there are cir clips and springs, always do it inside a clear plastic bag. Springs which hold ball bearings in have to be compressed to get them out, and a compressed spring will uncompress and fly away. I have been known to crawl around the living room with a magnet looking for a cir clip which sprung off. I didn’t need to get a plastic bag for the small job of changing the drag washers, did I?

For demonstration purposes I’ll be tuning the Abu Ambassadeur 6500 C3 CT Mag Elite (pic 1). This is the non level wind version of the magnetic controlled 6500 which has both magnetic and centrifugal braking mechanisms.

The first and most important job of tuning a reel is to remove the bearings, clean them, oil them, and replace them, but first let’s look at the tools and materials we need (pic 2). A screwdriver and a pair of tweezers are the only tools required – the screwdriver for removing and replacing screws (these are instrument screws and only need to be nipped tight – never over-tightened) and the tweezers for removing bearings and retaining clips. Also, a container of Zippo lighter fuel for cleaning the bearings and a small glass jar with a lid to contain the petrol and bearings.

Oil for the bearings can be almost anything, from Singer sewing machine oil to 20/50 motor oil. The important thing is to get the oil with the correct viscosity for the reel. Too low a viscosity and the spool will revolve too fast; too high and distance will be sacrificed.

The small containers in the left of the photograph are Rocket Fuel, an oil specifically formulated for baitcasters and available in three different grades – Red, Yellow and Tournament. The Tournament grade is so low a viscosity that it is only recommended for casting over grass. Use it in the fishing context and an overrun is inevitable. Yellow Rocket Fuel is for 6000 size reels and smaller, and Red Rocket Fuel is for 6000 size reels and larger.

Why use Rocket Fuel? This oil is formulated to thin when the spool revolves fast and thicken at slow revs (the technical term for this is thrixotropic). It is used sparingly – never more than two drops in a bearing – and will not throw. Ordinary oil, when the spool is rotating at maximum speed will, with the centrifugal force, throw from the bearing and contaminate the brake blocks and, in certain reels, the drag washers – two areas which need to be free from lubrication. Casting with tightened end caps on reels such as ABU 5500s, 6500s or Daiwa 7HTs is like driving your car with the handbrake on, and it can also damage the bearings. By using the liquid control of Rocket Fuel in conjunction with either magnetic controls or fibre brake blocks you can achieve trouble-free maximum range all the time with no tension on the spool whatsoever.

The other item is paper kitchen towels. These are indispensable for placing the bearings on to dry after soaking them in Zippo fuel, and when oiling the bearings the absorbency of the paper towel will help pull the oil into the bearing.

To remove the spool we have to remove the righthand side plate. Undo the three screws and lift the side plate off, bringing with it the spindle (pic 3). The fibre brake blocks can be taken off and placed in the jar of Zippo fuel to remove any oil or grease which may have contaminated them. Dry them and put them to one side.

Carefully remove the retaining spring (pic 4) which holds the bearing in place, and remove the bearing and the copper washer beneath it (pic 5). In this model the brake block carrier comes off at the same time (pic 6). Go to the opposite end of the spool and after removing the retaining clip remove the bearing (pic 7). Place the two bearings in the glass bottle and cover them with the lighter fuel. Shake the bottle a couple of times to assist the cleaning process. After 10 minutes remove them and place on a sheet of kitchen towel to dry. The drying/evaporation process will take about 30 minutes. Lay the two bearings on another sheet of kitchen paper and place two drops of oil in each bearing (pic 8). Once the oil has penetrated the bearings they can be reinserted in the spool. The bearing retaining clips can be replaced by finger pressure (pic 9) – inside a plastic bag – not forgetting to place the copper spacer washer in the righthand bearing housing prior to placing the bearing. Place the largest brake blocks you have (the reel should have come with three pairs of brake blocks – small, medium, and large) on the carrier, lightly grease the spindle, and replace the spool and side plate. The two (or one on palming models) caps in the middle of the side plates need to be adjusted so that there is slight end play on the spool. Move the spool from side to side and you should feel a slight knock.

Rig the reel on a rod with a weight on the end similar to the average lure weight you use. Cast and stop the spool when the weight lure hits the ground. Now, assuming that your cast was smooth there should have been no indication of a back lash. In fact, with the large brake blocks in the reel it should have felt sluggish. If after half a dozen casts the reel still overruns, either put higher viscosity oil in the bearings or remove line from the spool – drop the line level by 3mm.

Now repeat the exercise with the medium and small brake blocks until the reel feels lively, yields maximum distance, and doesn’t overrun. By placing one brake block only in a reel will not put it out of balance. The particular 6500 Mag Elite demonstration reel works best with Yellow Rocket Fuel, one medium brake block and the magnetic control on number 2 – for average conditions.

There are several ways to make a reel go faster: add more line, use smaller brake blocks, put lower viscosity oil in the bearings, or use a combination of the three. Do the opposite to make the spool go slower. As we are tuning our reel to behave perfectly in normal conditions, there will come a time when the conditions are abnormal. Either we go to a lighter lure or we have to cast into a head wind and the reel becomes uncontrollable. Now we can adjust the end cap on the lefthand side plate (or the one on the righthand side plate). This is done as a temporary measure only as the correct procedure is to change to heavier brake blocks. Distance casters have no option – they must not tighten the end plate.

Magnetic controls can be changed in an instant, and to anyone purchasing a new baitcaster I strongly recommend the Abu 5500 or 6500 C3 Mag Elite. The reel comes in both CT (no level wind) and CS (with level wind) models and also has traditional centrifugal brakes as well as a variable magnetic control. Many people, myself included, consider this to be the best reel Abu has ever produced. For those who like to throw heavy sinkers long distances, the Penn 525 Mag is the current state-of-the-art reel and a joy to use. This reel has bearings in the spool and on the spindle, but is basically the same as the 6500 Mag Elite to tune.

The above procedure is, first and foremost for surfcasters using 6000 size reels, but there are many who have tuned reels as small as the 1500 size and have found that there is no fishing time lost by unravelling mono due to an overrun. ‘No hands casting’ is the objective and this is easily achieved – even when using big, bulky, non-aerodynamic lures or minute micro lures. Surf casting puts extra strain on baitcasters. Spools revolving at 40,000rpm and 150g sinkers flying 150m – without the bait exploding from the hooks – is easy to achieve when the reel is tuned to perfection and the spool is balanced.

1) PIC 1 – the Abu Ambassadeur 6500 C3 CT Mag Elite.

2) PIC 2 – tools and materials for tuning.

3) PIC 3 – taking off the righthand side plate to remove the spool.

4) PIC 4 – removing retaining spring.

5) PIC 5 – removing the copper washer that sits underneath the bearing.

6) PIC 6 – the brake block carrier taken off.

7) PIC 7 – the bearing removed.

8) PIC 8 – oiling the bearings.

9) PIC 9 – replacing bearing retaining clips.

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