How To Fix A Fishing Reel That Won’t Lock

How To Fix A Fishing Reel That Won’t Lock

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This article is focusing on spinning reels specifically, If your reel isn’t locking then it’s very likely related to a broken spool / bail, or the drag system or the anti-reverse system.

Let’s dive into how to fix a fishing reel that won’t lock with the above common 3 issues, first we want to talk a bit more about the reel bail as it’s very often the main reason for a reel not locking;

About The Reel Bail

A spinning reel has a bail on it, which is that U-shaped piece of metal that you can move from one side to the other. When the bail is open, it allows you to cast your line, or in other words, it allows the spool to move in the direction which allows the line to come off the reel. It is an essential function for casting your line.

When the bail wire is closed, it means that the spool should not be able to move in the direction which allows the line to come off the spool. When the bail is closed, the spool should only move in the direction which allows you to retrieve the line. Now, this is a bit more complicated than we are making it out to be, but it is a bit hard to explain in words.

This also has to do with an anti-reverse mechanism, as well as the drag system on the spool, or at least, a fishing reel that will not lock may have something to do with the drag or anti-reverse. Spinning reels do usually have an anti-reverse system.
This keeps the handle and the spool from moving in the opposite direction during your line retrieval.

It’s Probably A Broken Spool Or Bail Wire

The first and biggest reason as to why your fishing reel will not lock most likely has to do with the bail wire and the spool. The spool, the gears, or the bail wire might be broken, which can also be true for inner components, such as vital springs. If one of these items is broken, it may very well be causing your spinning reel to stop locking.

How To Fix A Broken Spool Or Bail

Let’s go over a step by step instructional on how to fix this issue. Keep in mind that here you will need;

  • A small screwdriver.
  • A pair of pliers.
  • Possibly replacement parts too.

What you will notice here is that these parts usually cannot be fixed. Simply put, if something breaks, it is going to need replacement.

Step 1

First off, use the screwdriver to loosen and remove the little screw which holds the bail wire in place. Remove the one on the side of the pivoting arm. Depending on the model of spinning reel you have, you might also have to remove the screw on the opposite side.

If the screws are still intact and in good condition, put them aside, as you will need them to reassemble the spinning reel. If the screws are broken or stripped beyond usability, you will need to replace them.

Step 2

Now it is time to remove the actual bail wire. Here, you need to look for signs of damage. A rusty, corroded, snapped, bent, or misshapen bail wire can all cause it to stop locking in place.

If the bail wire is damaged in any way, shape, or form, it is best if you replace it, and most likely necessary.

Step 3

If the bail wire itself does not seem to be the problem, you need to check the line roller for any signs of damage or corrosion. A broken line roller could also be causing your fishing reel to not lock.

Here, remove the screw which holds the line roller in place and inspect it. If it is not in good condition anymore, you will need to replace it.

Step 4

If it is not the bail arm, the line roller, or the screws which are damaged or broken, the problem may lie with the springs. You now need to remove the spring from the side of the pivoting bail arm.

In fact, the spring is the most common issue here, so it may very well be the case for you. The spring should not be broken, bent, kinked, rusted, or damaged in any other way. If it is damaged, the springs will need to be replaced with identical springs.

Step 5

Now that all of these various parts have been inspected and replaced as necessary, you can reassemble the spinning reel in the order which you took it apart in. Keep in mind, that in some cased, the spinning reel might still not lock. If this is the case, move on to the next steps.

Folks, do keep in mind that in a worst case scenario, there might be components of the spinning reel that are damaged beyond repair. In some cases, you might have to replace the entire spinning reel. However, for now, just move on to the next section in our article.

The Drag System

As we mentioned before, a spinning reel that will not lock might also be suffering from problems with the drag system. Simply put, the drag system is supposed to stop a fish from being able to pull out the line when a certain amount of reverse pressure is applied. In other words, when a fish wants to hightail it with the lure, the drag should stop the spool from spinning and letting out line.

How To Fix The Drag System

Here, if the spool does not lock and lets out line very easily, the problem may be as simple as setting your drag right. This is easily done with a scale and a helping hand from someone else. You need to test the drag to see that it is set right. If the drag is set to the lowest setting, this is what will cause the line to unwind far too easily. In other words, increase the drag level on your fishing reel using the drag knob. This might solve the problem.

If this does not solve the problem, there might be an issue with the drag itself, specifically the knob, the spring, or any of the other internal components. This is a bit harder to fix on your own, as the inner components of the drag system are not too easy to deal with.

At any rate, open up the drag system with the screwdriver, remove the drag knob, inspect the knob, and inspect the fiber, the washers, the spring, the spring clip, and any other internal components. If any of these components are broken, they will need replacing. Once you have replaced the broken components, and reassembled everything, your drag system should once again work.

The Anti-Reverse System

Ok, so if it is not the spool or bail wire that is damaged, and if the problem does not lie with the drag system your fishing reel might not be locking due to the anti-reverse system being broken.

Quite honestly, the anti-reverse system involves a lot of springs, gears, and other components which could break. If this is the problem, the issue is a bit more serious, as this can be very hard to fix.

Take It For Professional Repairs

It’s a bit of a complex process, something that is probably best left to professionals who know what they are doing. We aren’t going to go deep into detail here, as there are about half a dozen issues which could be causing the anti-reverse to mess around. However, if you feel confident in your handyman and DIY skills, you can attempt to fix it yourself.

The important thing to do here is to take the anti-reverse system apart slowly, piece by piece, and look for any broken or damaged components. Replace whatever is broken and needs replacing, then reassemble the anti-reverse, and see if it works.

If this still does not do the trick, you will want to take your spinning reel to a fishing service shop. Like we said, the anti-reverse system is a bit complex.


If it is just the bail wire or inner components on that end which are broken, you should be able to fix the reel and get it to lock again. The drag system can also be replaced or repaired fairly easily. If both of those things are not the issue, it might lie with the anti-reverse, which is a bit harder to deal with. At any rate, we hope that we have been of help in terms of getting your fishing reel to lock again.