The thought of disassembling a fishing reel to thoroughly clean it brings on something close to a panic attack.

I live with haunting memories of prior DIY reel cleaning attempts. While taking a reel apart, I’ve had the tiniest pieces fly off with such velocity that they apparently broke some sort of interdimensional barrier, never to be seen again. Or, I carefully take the reel apart, clean it and then put it back together and end up with two or three extra pieces and a reel that simply doesn’t work anymore. The last time I tried, I was sure the baitcaster was completely back together with all the pieces in their proper places. But the double-paddle handle turned both ways, forward like it’s supposed to—but also backward like it’s not supposed to. It had no anti-reverse at all.

To say I’m not mechanically inclined is an understatement.

When I visited my local fishing store asking about someone who might be able to fix my reel after I’d rendered it useless, they looked at me like I’d asked about where I might be able to find a unicorn. Oh, some guy in Allegan used to repair reels, but he quit 10 years ago, one said. My best bet was to send it back to the manufacturer. So I did, and it cost a pretty penny for shipping, parts and repair.

Taking a fishing reel completely apart, cleaning it, lubricating it and putting it back together is not that hard, according to school psychologist and avid angler Jason Glerum, who runs a side business called Reel Service by Jason. Author photo

Thank goodness for Jason Glerum of Grand Rapids. He’s a psychologist for the Grandville school system and an avid bass fisherman. About 2 1/2 years ago, he took up cleaning and repairing reels after buying one on eBay that needed repair.

“I got a partial refund from the guy who sold it to me and decided to try and fix it myself,” Jason said. “I watched some YouTube videos and gave it a try and found out I liked doing it.”

He soon had requests from friends and acquaintances and it became a side business. Along with cleaning reels, he also buys reels in need of repair, fixes them and resells them. I learned about his services through his mom, Jeanne, a co-worker at a seasonal greenhouse job I do every spring to help pay for my fishing habit. Through Jeanne, I sent Jason a well-used baitcaster and one of the original Shimano Curados that hadn’t seen action for about 20 years. Both came back performing like they had just come out of their original boxes. They worked great! And Jason charged just $25 apiece. That’s not bad when you consider those reels would have cost around $200 apiece to replace.

“The funny thing is, I’m really not all that mechanically inclined,” claimed Jason when he took me down to his basement work area one December day. “I’m not someone who works on his own car or anything like that. But once I started doing this, taking these reels apart, cleaning them and then putting them back together, I found that I really enjoyed it. I just put some music on and it becomes a relaxing, almost meditative thing to do.”

I’d brought six baitcasters and two higher-end spinning reels that needed some attention. Most had been heavily used for a few years in pursuit of bass without any maintenance; one was found at the bottom of a storage tub where it had lain for at least 20 years. They were beginning to sound cranky when I cast with them and crankier when I turned the handle to retrieve.

I’ll be honest. I had no idea that Jason was as thorough as he is. I figured he took them partially apart, scooped out the old grease and wiped out the old oil and then re-lubricated them.


He started with one of the Shimano Curado 70 baitcasters I’d brought and took it completely apart in about five minutes. All the little springs, screws, bearings, tiny posts and “e-clamps” that held everything together were soon laid out in the tray he uses to keep all the parts together and in order. It looked like those schematic drawings that come in the box with new reels, no two pieces were still attached to each other.

Then he showed me how he takes the small metal parts and puts them in tea-strainer type containers that let water flow through. He put all the teensy plastic parts into a separate tea strainer. Then he lowered everything into an ultrasonic cleaner, a stainless steel tub that jewelers use to clean rings and things. It reminded me of a small electric deep fryer. The machine sent ultrasonic waves through warmed Simple Green cleaner, which is non-toxic and good at lifting grease. Bearings go in a glass container filled with brake cleaner and then into the ultrasonic cleaner to get the gook out without mixing with the Simple Green. He lets the sonic waves do their thing for 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how dirty the reel parts are, then rinses everything in water and dries all the parts with a small space heater. Then he applies fresh grease and oil—very sparingly—and reassembles the reel.

It is way worth $25! Plus, if you ship him five or more reels at a time, he only charges $20 per reel.

He said he is largely self-taught on the process.

“I watched lots of YouTube videos with guys telling me what not to do,” he chuckled. Although it looked like a difficult procedure to me, he said, with practice, it’s really not that hard.

He suggested a few important steps and procedures for folks who might want to try their hand at deep cleaning their own reels.

First, be slow and methodical and take pictures of every step as you disassemble the reel. That helps you ascertain where the little parts go.

Second, keep everything logically organized as you take the reel apart and lay out the pieces. That makes it easier to reverse the process when putting the reel back together.

Third, have a schematic of the reel handy. If you’re like this writer, and all the paperwork that came with the reels is long gone, you can often find these technical drawings online.

Four, check out YouTube videos on reel repair and maintenance. Individual videos showing how to take apart and clean some of the more popular reel models are available.

Finally, when adding new lubrication, go lightly. Too much grease and oil can gum up the works and won’t let the reel perform as well as it should.

After watching the process and then exploring what YouTube had available, I’ve decided to try and clean one of my least expensive spinning reels, knowing that if I fail, I can take the pieces up to Jason to put it back together. Spinning reels have fewer small parts and look more manageable for the mechanically challenged. Gotta be honest: Just watching a YouTube video of a guy taking a baitcaster apart gave me a boatload of anxiety!

If you’re interested in Jason’s services, check out “Reel Service by Jason” on Facebook or contact him through his website,