How To Set the Drag On A Fishing Reel

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Hey there my fellow fishers and welcome to my post discussing how to set the drag on a fishing reel. Before we get started however, I feel I must address the big white bait fish in the room that is my own drag setting behaviours. You see I have always been a ‘set as you go and set as you feel’ sort of guy meaning if it doesn’t feel too tight when I pull on the line then it is good to go.

My theory is that I can then adjust it as the fish bites. Of course there are times when I know to have it as tight as possible when I need to pull something out of the mangroves or quite loose when fighting fast moving surface fish however for general use, there are some settings you can stick to to give yourself the best chance of landing your catch.

Let’s check it all out

What is drag

So, in short, the drag is what controls how much line is let out when you are fighting a fish. It is designed to stop the line from snapping if the pull of the fish is too great for the size of the line you have spooled on your reel. If the fish is fighting hard, the drag will trigger and release a little line out to release the pressure protecting the line and the reel.

If the drag is set too loose, the fish will be able to take out a lot of line and either break it off or the reel will run out of line (known as ‘spooling’ the line). If the drag is set too tight, the line can simply snap as soon as extra strain is put on it (think how easy it can snap if you are pulling against a snag for example).

how to set the drag - man catching fish

What do we need to consider?

Ok, so as mentioned above, I have always just set by feel and freely adjusted the drag as I attempt to land whatever it was that I managed to catch – as do a lot of people I fish with. However I have read in a few places that this process can not only cause you to lose fish, but also place extra pressure on the reel drag components as well.

So in order to ensure that you have your drag set properly on a reel, the first thing we need to consider is the breaking strength of the line that is spooled onto it. This is easy to tell as when you buy line for your reel, you will notice that it has a breaking strength measurement assigned to it – such as 6lb, 10lb, 40lb etc.

You need to keep this measurement in mind later on when we set the drag. Now for the line type:

Monofilament line

More generally called ‘Mono’ rather than the full name, this is the traditional fishing line that everybody used before braid was even a thing. It can be made of a number of materials but usually consists of varying types of nylon and is a single line rather than a number of strand ones linked together (hence the name monofilament).

As technology has improved, the old nylon makeup has been blended with other polymers and carbon materials to allow for improved qualities such as stretch, abrasion resistance and strength (an example of this is Fluorocarbon).

From my research here, it appears that for mono – your drag should be set at around 20 – 30% of the line breaking strength.

Braided Line

As the name may suggest, braided line consists of a number of strands of a polyethylene compound that are braided together to form a single line. Braid has been developed over time to produce a line that is generally thinner, stronger and more sensitive than mono with greater abrasion resistance.

It is longer lasting than mono line (one of the reasons that fluorocarbon has been developed) however not as easy to handle and rig.

Braid is not as ‘stretchy’ as mono hence in general, you should be setting your drag at around 15 – 25% of breaking strength.

Setting the drag

Now let’s look at setting the drag for both a spinning and baitcaster type reel. I have written these instructions based on the fact that we are trying to work to the percentages listed above so you will need either:

  • A set of scales to pull the line against
  • A weight of around 15% – 30% of line break strength depending on whether you want it harder or lighter (i.e how quickly do you want to stop your fish).

So say you have a 6lb line and you want to set the drag at 20%, then you will need a 1.2lb weight (sinker, soft drink bottle filled with water, bag of sand etc. etc.).

Spinning reels

how to set the drag - Spinning reel

To set your drag for a spinning reel:

  1. Release the drag almost completely then pull in the line to make sure it moves (this will also test that your drag actually works too).
  2. Tighten the drag by turning the front drag adjustment button until it is almost impossible to pull the line by hand.
  3. Add your weight to the end of the line
  4. Hold your rod at a 45-degree angle and release the drag button until the weight starts to slowly drop towards the floor.
  5. Your drag should now be set according to line weight.

Baitcaster reels

how to set the drag - Baitcaster reel

Setting the drag on a baitcaster works in the same manner as a spinning reel except for the fact that it is usually set via the star wheel on the side. In my experience, the drag on a baitcaster is usually a little stronger so you may need pliers to pull on the line as part of your initial tests.

Apart from that, repeat the 5 steps as per the spinning reel above.

Note: Baitcaster reels also work with brakes and a spool tension setting for casting as well. These should not affect the setting of your drag.

Conclusion

And there it is – how to set the drag on a fishing reel. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with the drag on your reels. I would love to hear how you go about setting your drag systems below – do you go by feel or to a set weight?

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time

Have fun

Paul

How To Set the Drag On A Fishing Reel - Pinterest
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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Paul