Reely Clean

Admit it or not, everyone deserves a good "Spa Day" once in a while. The maintenance and care of Hardy and Dingley reels is a meaningful conversation to me and essential to ensuring the longevity of such fly fishing gems. Vintage reels have minimal "drag," and truthfully, there is no drag at all, rather an overrun check resistance. These wonderful, classic treasures embody a core element of traditional fly fishing. Their music-to-my-ears "Click and Pawl" require different maintenance than the new modern drag system found on other reels. Here are a few tips I've learned firsthand from the recently retired and respected Reel Master Himself, Mr. Bill Archuleta, from my hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon, combined with a few tricks of my own.

Most vintage reels used regularly are set up with backing and a line in place, making the initial cleaning step obsolete. Ideally, I like to give each reel a "baptismal" soaking in diluted Simple Green solution before any other customized detailing. However, that soaking step is not critical for all reels and is not suggested if there is backing in place. How aggressive we are in the first step is determined by how greasy and/or dirty the reel is when it arrives at your day spa.

If your reel is sans backing and a line, then separate the spool from the frame and place it in a bowl of Simple Green with hot water will to help loosen up caked-on dirt and debris from decades gone by~ the ambiance of classical music or a Broadway show is recommended for this formal process, although not necessary. Use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub clean all the interior parts as well as the cogs of the teeth. With stubborn debris, apply undiluted Simple Green solution directly to the bristles of a toothbrush and scrub away! I've also defaulted to Dawn dish soap on numerous occasions.

Be sure to rinse well and dry the reel thoroughly after her soaking; this is a critical step for a reel that has been submerged. And yes, anthropomorphically speaking, all Vintage reels are feminine, exuding over-the-top beauty with every seductive curve and well-earned patina line. Like Archuleta, 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 uncomfortable with this step, blow the frame dry with air from your mouth and blot using a microfiber towel. Whatever you do, get the reel completely dry before you move on to the little details of cleaning and lubrication. *Here is where we would pick up for cleaning if your reels are backed and lined and cannot be soaked.

What you will need;
Q-tips, paper towels, microfiber chamois, rubbing alcohol, Bowshield T-9 in the oil and spray format (we sell both of these lubes at Royal Treatment)
Lubriplate grease, Simple Green non-toxic cleaner, and an old toothbrush

Again, if the reels are not lined and backed, this is where you would begin cleaning after the Simple Green bath. First, lightly spray the entire reel and spool, inside and out, with the Bowsheild, and allow to soak in for a few minutes. Next, turn the reel handle and tension setting to ensure you work in the lubrication and help loosen any dirt or debris. If the tension setting or handle feels sticky or has seized, you may need to let the oil soak overnight. Once completed, wipe the reel off with a paper towel, manually move the parts, and remove residual oil using paper towels and Qtips if necessary.

You can always do a light spritz of Simple Green to the frame/check mechanism, scrub with a toothbrush, and rinse/dry thoroughly before adding oil. This easy "spitz bath" is exactly how I do a quick clean-up on reels that are "in service", or lined up. Once everything is dry, drop oil above the pawls, including the spare parts on a MKII check, and press grease into the ball race. Ensure the teeth on the cog are coated with enough grease to lightly fill in the "v" on each tooth separation. Don't go crazy with the amount of oil on the tension regulator wheel shaft. Work in several drops of Bowsheild T-9 oil on the outside of the frame before working in the lube with a paper towel until the 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, and buff it with a clean microfiber cloth. Although tedious, this process will enhance the natural leading often disguised underneath these beautiful old reels. In addition, the thin layer of oil left over on the frame will guard against corrosion. I oil and lube all my old reels twice a season and have 5-8 reels on regular rotation.

It should be noted that I often see the ball race bone dry on new OR currently used reels and the teeth on the cog without lubrication; such a sight makes me sad. So, while the spool is still separated from the frame, please apply Lubriplate White lithium grease or an all-purpose grease to these essential moving parts to avoid unnecessary wear and tear. Just as you would pack your wheel bearings, press the grease into the tiny space between each ball in the race. If applicable, a small drop of grease should be added to the bushing where the spindle enters. I also add a drop of Bowsheild T9 oil to the shaft. No matter how young or old your reel, each requires routine care. And for heaven's sake, if you submerge your reel when fishing, please disassemble and dry out with a microfibre cloth and allow the housing to dry out overnight before covering or putting away until the next fishing excursion.

Never be afraid to remove all the backing on an old reel that has never had an initial Simple Green bath. A full spray inside and out of Bowsheild will protect and brighten a hidden gem. New backing is cheap and easy to replace; I caution you to refrain from placing your old reel into the grip of a mechanical line winder with inexperienced hands. A "whoops" or a slip could mean irreplaceable damage to your vintage jewel. Like most items in the "vintage" category, we are stewards of these classic reels. Our responsibility to care for them for the next generation depends on how we preserve their needs today! When replacing your backing, always use 20 or 30-pound Dacron and never GelSpun.

Resist covering a pre-WWII reel with a neoprene case when the line is wet, as moisture retention can change the patina on an old reel overnight, especially when it's hot outside. Trust me on this one, folks, as I learned a powerful lesson the hard way, and it's still a shameful truth. However, several reels in my quiver are from as early as 1903 and deserve a bit of extra coverage when not in use and attached to a fly rod. I love the Simms Bounty Hunter vented case in a size large- affordable and breathable, this reel cover can accommodate the most significant size brass-faced vintage Hardy's with ease. Lamson and Sage offer after-market extra large neoprene cases; you will find them in my quiver. Padded Abel reel covers are super and extra deep, and the wide Nautilus neoprene cases are always within reach. Looking for something more classy than neoprene? I completely understand and often order a leather custom case. I have a few fantastic craftsmen friends who specialize in such brilliant offerings; let me know if you need a referral.

Modern reels have basic needs, too. Standard Neatsfoot oil is used on cork drag systems like Abel and is a critical service often overlooked. Nautilus and Hatch, for example, share a sealed drag system, and while nearly maintenance-free, most could benefit from a bit of grease from time to time. On the other hand, the Bauer offers a carbon-fiber and stainless surface drag, so it's virtually maintenance-free. Fussy Tibor reels are solid but might be crowned the pinnacle of Diva reels. Bowsheild is good to use on all these frames to protect 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 any contamination.

With a bit of 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. I keep a detailed list of names and numbers from people worldwide wishing for or hunting out that unique vintage treasure. All of us at Royal Treatment Fly Fishing are happy to check out whatever reel you own and will do what we can to keep them updated on their basic service while teaching you along the way.

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Please let me know if I can help you begin your Vintage Hardy Collection or if you have an older piece you've always wondered about or would like a reference book referral. Even if you have questions and are not looking to spend a dime, reach out. You may have your Great-grandfather's fly reel, and you don't fish; I'd love to share with you what I know about the historical significance surrounding the time period and the reel makers. I regularly present live or on Zoom "An Introduction to Collecting Vintage Hardy Reels." Life is all about community; a special thanks to the teaching and skills of Bill Archuleta, Brian Tayor, and John Drewett for sharing so much of their passion to detail alongside me. It is a great honor to be a steward of vintage fly reels, and "no one has ever become poor in giving," Anne Frank.

Jennifer La Follette
Royal Treatment Fly Fishing

the #Reelhussy, Jennifer La Follette
09 Mar 2023
Duncan kerst
This post is a gem!
I have a few reels that will need a day at the spa! Thanks!
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