Fishing Reel Drag Significance

 

By Live to Fish Team Member: Josh Stewart

Every fisherman can relate to that moment when a fish makes that first strike.  It’s completely and utterly exhilarating and easily one of the most intensely exciting moments.  The strike is one of the best experiences anyone can have in life, period.  For the fishing enthusiast, simply reading those few sentences likely caused memories of strikes in the past.  Perhaps your pulse rate quickened a bit.  Memories of large snook, trout, or redfish, exploding to the surface to smash your topwater!  Perhaps thinking of the first strike invoked memories of occasions when a live bait was out and your rod suddenly doubled over; the drag screaming.  The level of excitement is one element that brings us back to the water with rod in hand, time and time again. It’s what keeps us throwing cast after cast.  Sometimes late into the night, hoping for that strike.  It’s what gets you out of bed at ungodly hours like 3:30 or 4:00 AM in preparation to be on the water before sunrise.  The passion is what can result in having more fishing gear than some of the tackle shops you go to.  Personally, I just bought a new tackle bag to fit my gear in.  I went from a normal, respectably sized soft tackle box, to a duffel bag large enough to pack a year’s worth of clothes in.  What’s worse?  I think nothing of it.   The desire is what can actually cause thoughts such as, “if I just eat just spaghetti for a week, I’ll be able to afford that reel…,” and not have the least bit of concern over whether you’re thinking is rational.

Once the fish takes your bait, the tug of war begins.  Fighting your fish gives rise to the moment of truth.  You’ll find out whether you tied your knots correctly.  Whether you used heavy enough line and leader.  Whether you chose the right rod.  You’ll also discover quite a lot about a very important component of your fishing reel –  the drag.   The drag is simply a pair of friction plates inside of fishing reels. Drag systems are a mechanical means of applying pressure to to act as a friction brake. Drags supply resistance to your line after hook-up to aid in landing the fish without the line breaking. When you take your rod’s ability to flex, the technique applied, and your drag, and combine them together, it’s possible to land a fish that weighs more than the pound test line you’re using.

If your fish pulls hard enough, your fishing reel’s drag will be engaged.  If the drag is overpowered, your spool will begin to rotate backwards.  By rotating backwards, your spool is turning in the opposite direction it would be if you were reeling in.  Essentially, your reel’s drag system is letting line out.  On a baitcaster, your spool is spinning in the same direction it would be if you were casting.  On a spinning reel, the only time your spool will rotate is when line is pulled off by a fish overpowering your drag.  A degree of resistance to use against a large and strong fish  is a benefit.  If your reel did not have a drag system, or if you cranked your drag down so tightly that you effectively cancelled out your drag system, the most likely result would be a broken line.  The exception would be if you were fishing with a pound test fishing line far above the weight of the fish you caught.  A common practice among bass fisherman is to tighter their reel’s drag down all the way, then yank the bass out of the weeds and other vegetation as quickly as possible.  One way to think of your drag is like a bungee cord.  When you see people jump from great heights strapped to a bungee cord, they don’t suddenly stop when the length of the bungee cord is reached.  There’s a stretch that occurs; resulting in the person bouncing up and down for a while.  Your fishing reel drag is not a bungee cord, but it will let line out when a fish is making a run for it.

What are those, “friction plates,” mentioned above made of?  Today, discs used in a reel’s drag system can be made from a number of different materials.  Fishing reel manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to mix varied materials together in a proprietary blend.  There are also aftermarket drag washers.  Carbon fiber is a popular material.  It’s not uncommon for people to change out their drag washers.  I recently purchased a Shimano Stradic 5000FJ.  The reel was used and did not look like it had received the best treatment.  I unscrewed the drag tension knob on the front of the spinning reel.  I removed the odd shaped retaining pin that holds the drag washers in place.  Turning the spool upside down, I shook the drag washers out.  What didn’t fall out was later removed with a small screw driver.  The reel’s drag system was pretty much shot.  The felt washers that were installed were essentially rotted to nothing.  I purchased carbon fiber drag washers for that model reel.  Replacing drag washers is probably one of the easiest repairs or maintenance duties you can do yourself.  It’s also relatively inexpensive.  Most carbon fiber drag washers can be purchased for less than $10.00.  Pay attention to the sequence in which the metal plates separate each drag washer if you’re going to replace what’s in your reel now.  You’ll also want to determine whether you need to apply drag grease to the washers to ensure it functions properly.  If you have a rather popular spinning reel, there’s likely to be a video on YouTube showing you how to do it.

Drag Washers
Carbon Fishing Reel Drag Washers

Drags used to be made of one of two materials; either felt or cork.  Felt is a fibrous, seemingly resilient material.  Hence, it became a material used in fishing reel drags.  You will still find some reels today using felt or cork, but it’s rare.  Felt is not a particularly good choice as a drag material; especially with what other options exist.  How it used to work as a drag disc material was that it was kept oiled.  The oil prevented the felt washers from burning up inside the drag stack and allowed the system to ‘slip’ under pressure. The problem was, after a period of time, the oil would burn off.  That’s where the problems started.  When a fish runs, a great deal of heat is generated – that’s what a drag system does – develop friction and therefore heat; just like your car’s brakes. When the heat is prolonged with felt washers, it will actually melt the felt; turning it in a plastic dust and leaving you with a drag system that is metal on metal friction.  Not what you want to have happen.  The result would be seized up drag, followed by a lost fish, broken line, possibly a reel that is so badly damaged it’s time for a new one, and most certainly one upset angler.  If you have a reel with felt drag washers, the felt washers should be checked regularly.  They can become compromised because of all the pressure and heat. When compressed, felt drag washers can’t hold the oil they need to keep doing what they do.  If you’ve ever heard the tip, “don’t store your reels with the drag tight,” this is why.  In order to know where to look to determine if you have felt drag washers, unscrew the drag tightening knob at the top of the spool on your spinning reel.   Felt drag washers will appear as shown in the photos below.

dragpieces
Felt Drag System Removed from Reel

Spinning Reel Felt Drag Washers

Fishing reel drags have come a long way over the years.  Thinking back to what fishing must have been like before today’s engineering efforts have paid off in terms of fishing reel drag systems, Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea comes to mind.  Written in 1951 and published in 1952, it was Hemingway’s last full – length work published during his lifetime.  Though the tale is an extreme example of what fishing without a drag would be like, it does provide a basis upon which one can learn to appreciate the systems available now.


If you have questions about what fishing rod, fishing reel, line, leader, or any other gear is right for you, please contact us.  You can contact us through our website or email fishing questions directly to Josh Stewart at josh@buydmi.com.  Perhaps you’re trying to buy fishing gear as a gift.  Someone in your family loves fishing, but you don’t know what to get them because it seems that they either have everything, or you don’t know enough about fishing tackle to make a selection.  No problem!  We’ll walk you through ideas and provide you with some options to consider.  Visit: livetofish.com

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