Updated on May 9, 2022
Catching bigger fish usually means using heavier and stronger tackle, but using the drag allows anglers to fine tune their approach to battling fish. With the drag set properly, the reel will exhaust the fish quickly and efficiently. The flex of a rod and gears in a reel help anglers pull fish in, but the drag is a crucial tool that helps in a different way. Here’s everything you need to know about the drag on a fishing reel and how to use it efficiently.
The drag setting on any fishing reel has the same purpose: regulate the tension or force required to take line off the spool. Tightening the drag makes it harder for the fish to run and take line, while having a loose drag makes it easier.
If the drag is set to loose, line will easily spool off the reel, and fighting the fish is inefficient. When the drag is set too tight, the line can’t go out fast enough, resulting in breaking off.
Finding the right amount of drag is important to successfully landing fish, and there are times when changing the drag in the moment makes sense.
The drag system on most reels uses friction between two plates to regulate how much force is required to spool off line. On a spinning reel, the drag is usually set by twisting the knob on top of the spool. On conventional reels, the drag can be adjusted in one of two ways depending on the reel.
The first type of drag is called star drag because it uses a star shaped wheel next to the crank to tighten and loosen drag. The second type is lever drag, which uses a sliding lever to adjust the tension in the drag system.
While all of these reels and drag systems are used effectively every day by anglers around the world, there are pros and cons to each. For spinning reels and star drag, there’s no way to see how much you’ve adjusted the drag. This makes setting and adjusting the drag something that is done by slowly working it until it’s just right. On conventional reels with lever drag, the drag setting can be seen on top of the reel. This also makes it possible to know how much it’s been adjusted or set it at a predetermined setting.
Adjusting the drag is a key part of setting up any rod and reel combination. The drag should be set long before the first cast to prevent any potential mishaps. Find the sweet spot where you want your drag set initially before hitting the water. Depending on the type of fishing you’re doing, it might require drag adjustment on the fly.
When targeting giant fish or using lighter tackle, it’s pushing the limits of your gear, which means the drag may need to be adjusted depending on the situation. When you hook up with a small fish that won’t risk breaking off, tightening the drag will help haul the fish in quickly. If you’re lucky enough to hook up with a truly massive fish, loosening the drag a little is safe because it prevents the fish from making a quick run and outpacing the reel, eventually breaking off.
Having your rods and reel properly dialed in before heading out on your next trip is crucial to your success. Being prepared also helps to minimize preventable issues that may cost you a fish later. Set the drag to the sweet spot that won’t break the line, but wont spool line out too easily and make fighting fish inefficient.
If you want to learn from an experienced angler or would rather jump straight into the action, booking a guided fishing trip is a great option.