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When a fishing reel won't reel in, there are two common problems to look for: The line is tangled, or the cast-bail is askew. Fixing either of these problems is quickly done, in the field or at home, using a minimum of hand tools. It is a good idea to keep a small multi-tool that has a set of screwdrivers and knife in the tackle box or fishing vest when you head out for angling adventures.
In cases of extreme tangles, it is often easier and more efficient to cut the entire spool of line off the reel and replace with new, untangled line.
Turn the reel housing cover (if your reel is a bait-casting reel as they have housings that cover the spool and internal parts of the reel. These are also known as spincasting reels.) counterclockwise and pull it off the reel to expose the spool. Because the line is still out, the housing will be attached to the line through the thread-hole. There is no need to remove any cover with spin reels as they have open faces. The following steps are relevant for all reel types.
Examine the ends of the spool, especially where the bushings (the gears that allow the line to go out or in) meet the ends of the spool. Check for any line caught in the bushing. If there is line in the bushing, use a flat screwdriver tip to gently get under the line and pry it out.
Check the cast bail mechanism. The cast bail is either a semi-circle of hard wire that attaches onto the ends of the spool, or a lever that is attached to a thumb button. Check for any tangled line in the cast bail. A majority of reel problems stem from tangles; even a single strand of line off the bail causes reeling problems. If a tangle is present, gently pry it out and reel in the line.
Pinch the cast bail on spinning reels (open-faced reels where the spool is exposed) and release the two ends out of the cast bail housing. Look for any bends in the bail. If no bends are present, pinch the bail again and place it back into the housing to ensure it is not askew. Test the reel in function.