Proper Fishing Reel Drag Settings

 

By Live to Fish Team Member: Josh Stewart

Fishing reels have come a long way in the past 10 to 15 years but the basic engineering concepts remain the same. Progressive changes are seen in terms of the materials used and the construction methods employed with advanced materials. Engineering, design, and material improvements keep your reels working longer, harder, and more smoothly.  With advancements regarding a fishing reel’s drag, bigger fish are capable of being safely landed with smaller reels. By, “safely landed,” I’m referring to fishing with equipment properly suited to the species you’re after. If you choose to chase down a large Tarpon with an unreasonably underweight light tackle spinning outfit, chances are you’ll lose that silver king.  However, if you were to pursue that Tarpon on such light tackle while your buddy drives the boat chasing after it on an open flat, you’re creating conditions that will lead to a battle that could easily last for hours.  An unnecessarily prolonged battle is what becomes unsafe. Fish mortality rates dramatically increase when the battle to bring them boat side is prolonged.  If you know you’re going to be practicing catch and release, make sure you don’t cancel out the main purpose of releasing the fish by engaging in conduct that renders its likelihood of survival remote.

Setting Your Reel Drag Properly

Now we’ll move on with discussing your fishing reel drag setting. Whether you’re fishing with a spinning or baitcasting reel, the reel has what is called a drag. When you hook a fish, they’re going to make a run for it.  When they do, your drag works to provide resistance. You can compare a fishing reel’s drag to the brakes in your car. Both work with friction to either decrease the speed of your car or slow the run of a hooked fish. The study of friction is a complex science called tribology. Without a drag to provide the proper degree of resistance, you’d hook that fish, they’d make a run for it, and you’d likely lose it.  If you set your drag too tight, you’re likely to lose the fish due to your line snapping or a knot failing.  Set your drag too lose and, depending on the species, you could either get, “spooled,” meaning, the fish swims off with all your new and expensive fishing line; or the fish swims for cover.  If the fish makes it to cover, which consists of things like mangroves, dock pilings, weeds, tree trunks, etc., then your line is likely to snap as it’s pulled hard against one of these objects.  There’s an exception to the above general rules for bass fisherman.  Bass fisherman have the option of hooking their bass, cranking down the drag on 20lb test line, and pulling the bass out of whatever cover they hooked him in. That technique doesn’t work for people after cobia, snook, redfish, sharks, and other pelagic species. What’s the correct amount of drag pressure to have? Technically, you’re supposed to set your drag to 25% of the breaking strength of your line. If you’re using 20 lb. test line, 20 divided by 4 = 5 lbs.  The only way to accurately determine if you’ve set your drag to 5 lbs. is to use a scale.  Though a scale will give you accurate feedback, I’ve never seen anyone actually go through the process of measuring their drag setting with a scale; nor do I even know anyone with such a scale.  The most direct and simple way to determine if you’ve set your drag properly is to gauge how difficult it is to pull the line off your reel with your hand against the drag.  By, “against the drag,” I mean with your bail closed.  You want it to be hard to pull the line, but not too hard to where pulling it causes the line to cut into your fingers, or is otherwise uncomfortable.  If you can pull the line off with complete ease, it’s way too loose.  Remember, you can always adjust your drag settings during the fight with the fish.

How Reel Drag Systems Work

Some of you may wonder how a fishing reel’s drag tension is created?  Most fishing reel drag systems work in the same manner as far as the fact that friction is used as the method to produce resistance.  A fishing reel’s drag usually consists of two or more discs, also called drag washers, working face to face.  These discs are made of material that will provide resistance when they’re moving against each other.  One of the oldest materials used for a fishing reel’s drag is cork.  Some companies still use cork today.  In principle, the tighter the two discs are pushed together (through the drag adjustment), the more resistance you create, thereby requiring more pull to cause the line to slip from the spool.  Reels vary in the different washer systems used and in the material the drag washers are made from. When you tighten your drag down, you’re increasing the pressure between the drag washers. Loosen your drag, and you’ll loosen the pressure between the drag washers.

Questions on Setting Your Reel Drag?

If you’re unsure of what type of reel and drag to use, please don’t hesitate to contact us, or comment below with questions. We’re happy to help make any recommendations you need.

 

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