If you’ve ever neglected to lubricate a fishing reel until you could literally feel the internal gears grinding – then you’ll know how important proper reel maintenance is. Forgetting to perform proper maintenance can lead to seized reels, corrosion, and a shorter lifespan for your precious reels.
Regularly applying fishing reel grease and oil will go a long way to extend the life of your fishing gear.
Just like with other gear involving complex moving parts – fishing reels will start to wear down without enough lubrication. Gears, drag washers, bearings, and sliding mechanisms all need regular lubrication to keep them working optimally.
The best fishing reel grease and oil is a bit of controversial topic among fishermen. Ask ten fishermen what the best lubrication is and you’ll probably get 10 different answers!
This post will break down the various reel oils, grease, lubrications, how to use them properly, and review some of the best options on the market.
Quick Answer: 6 Best Fishing Reel Oil and Grease
Why do you need fishing reel grease or oil?
Simply put, good grease and oil will extend the life of your reels.
Anytime you’re using your reels around water – especially saltwater – the odds of corrosion and water damage increase. When saltwater dries, tiny minerals are left behind, which can accumulate and gradually wear out your gear.
Dirt and other small particles can also work their way into gears and bearings – causing wear and tear over time. A proper coating of lubricant will mitigate much of this damage. If you’re serious about extending the life of your reels, cleaning them regularly is also important.
You wouldn’t drive a car for years without taking it in for oil changes and maintenance, so don’t do the same with your fishing reels!
Top 6 – Fishing Reel Grease and Oil
How to pick the right fishing reel grease or oil?
As mentioned previously, the best fishing real lubrication is a bit of a controversial topic among anglers.
Everyone’s got their favorite grease/oil.
Some people even swear by Vaseline or WD40 (although these are fairly poor options compared to a dedicated fishing reel lubricant).
I’ll break down the differences between reel grease and reel oil, where and when to use each, and talk about some alternatives.
Fishing Reel Grease vs. Fishing Reel Oil
As a rule of thumb, reel grease is used for gears and parts that mesh together. Oil is used for parts that rub together in tight spaces, like crank handles, knobs, bearings, and sliding mechanisms.
The major difference between grease and oil is viscosity, which simply refers to the thickness of the fluid.
Reel grease is more viscous, which allows it to stay in place on moving parts like gears, which have a tendency to sling off lighter oil. This “stickiness” makes it cling to almost anything – including your hands and clothes!
Reel oil is light and has a similar viscosity to machine oil. Because it lacks “stickiness”, it has a tendency to migrate away from where it’s applied. This makes regular application of oil important. It’s not ideal for use on gears, as it can bind with metal-containing particles causing the teeth to gum up and wear down over time.
What to look for in fishing reel grease?
Viscosity: Reel grease comes in a variety of different viscosities. Lighter grease is better for getting into hard to reach spots and will work its way into all components. Heavier grease is best for gears and needs to be replaced less often.
Corrosion Resistance: A key component to look for in reel grease is its corrosion resistance. This is especially important if you fish in saltwater environments. Saltwater is highly corrosive to reel components, and can easily destroy an unprotected reel. Generally, synthetics are best for preventing rust from developing.
Water Resistance: All grease will be fairly water resistant, but some will stay in place better than others.
Thermal Resistance: If you fish in cold environments, you’ll want to make sure your grease will stay liquefied even in sub-zero temperatures.
Color: This comes down to personal preference, but many anglers like to use brightly colored grease. This allows you to see where grease has already been applied. Common colors are bright blue, red and yellow. Some folks prefer to use clear grease because colored grease can get on your clothes/hands and stain.
What to look for in fishing reel oil?
Applicator: A good applicator makes it easy to get oil into hard to reach places. You also don’t want one leaking all over your tackle box, so a good seal is a must.
TFE: Oils containing TFE are not ideal for use in fishing reels. They contain microscopic solids that can cause components to gunk up and jam.
Thermal Performance: Just like with grease, if you fish in cold temperatures, you’ll want to make sure your reel oil is compatible with subzero temperatures.
Alternative Reel Lubrication
While there are plenty of dedicated fishing reel lubricants, many anglers still swear by trusty old standbys like 3-in1 oil and other machine oils.
3-in-1 oil will work fairly well in a pinch, but it has several characteristics that make less than ideal for use in fishing reels. Firstly, it’s not completely synthetic, which means your reel can corrode or rust if exposed to saltwater. Secondly, it has a tendency to get “gummy” over time, which can jam up your reel.
If your reel really needs lubrication, don’t hesitate to use 3-in-1 or even motor oil – but whenever possible use something specifically formulated for fishing gear.
Some folks wonder if they can use WD40 in place of fishing reel lubricant – DON’T DO IT! WD-40 is a solvent rather than a lubricant, its intended usage is for rust prevention and degreasing. In fact, the WD actually stands for water displacement.
How to lubricate your reel?
Lubricating your reel is a pretty straightforward process.
Simply remove the line spool by turning the drag knob counterclockwise until the spool comes loose. Then use a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol (or specialized reel cleaning product) to wipe down all surfaces thoroughly until they’re cleaned of grime and old grease.
Once all surfaces are thoroughly cleaned, apply one or two drops of oil to the line roller assembly, bearings, bail arm assembly, and handle. Try not to overdo it – a little goes a long way when it comes to reel oil.
To properly grease the gear, you may need to remove it from the reel housing. Take care when doing this – you want to make sure you replace it in the exact same position as before.
Clean the gears thoroughly with an alcohol swab, making sure to remove any old grease still on the gears. Apply a small amount of reel grease to the gears and then spread it evenly over the gear surface.
Keep in mind that replacing the reel grease doesn’t need to be done very often. Due to its higher viscosity, it will stay put for much longer than oil. Also, just as with reel oil, a little will go a long way – too much grease will actually slow down your reel speed.
Lastly, make sure not to combine different types of grease. This can lead to adverse reactions such as corrosion or grease hardening.
How often to apply fishing reel grease /oil?
Regularly applying grease and oil will go a long way to extend the life of your fishing gear. The question is – how often?
Reel maintenance should be an ongoing process, not just an end-of-season thing. You’ll generally know it’s time to add lubrication when you can feel your reel acting a bit more sluggish than usual.
One way to check is by flicking the reel with your finger to test how smoothly it spins. It should rotate at least 8 to 10 times for a spinning reel, more for a baitcasting reel.
If you fish in saltwater, you’ll want to clean and oil your reels fairly often – particularly if they get soaked in water or spray. Give them a quick look inside every few sessions to make sure everything’s well lubricated.
If you only fish in freshwater, you don’t need to be quite as vigilant, but checking and cleaning your reels fairly often won’t hurt.
Oil will need to be applied more often than grease. Due to its lower viscosity, it has a tendency to migrate away from where it’s been applied. Grease will typically last for a long time, so unless you’re constantly soaking your reels in saltwater, you shouldn’t need to apply grease more than once per season.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.