Drag Settings for Fishing Reels

How do you set the drags on your fishing reels? Do you use a hand scale held at a fish-fighting angle? Or, do you grab the line in front of the reel, give it a yank, and say “that’s about right.” Nine out of 10 of us do it the easy way – with a yank – and if you’re among those nine, we don’t want to hear any whining when you break off that fish of a lifetime.

If you want to land monster fish on light tackle, proper drag setting is a must.

First off, the biggest mistake people make is thinking they’ve set the drag, and there it stays. What they aren’t considering is the fact that as line runs off a reel, the spool becomes smaller. As the diameter is reduced it takes more force to turn, thanks to basic mechanics. So the “effective” drag setting constantly increases as the line runs off a spool and a drag you yanked on with a full spool will be much harder to yank after a fish has stripped half the line off of it. This is one reason why scale-setting to the mark of one third the line’s breaking strength is so important. Set at a third, if the line’s in good shape and the drag is functioning properly you shouldn’t break off even as spool size is reduced.

Another mistake people make is thinking that when they grab the line above the reel and pull, that’s the amount of tension it will take for a fish to strip line. But that’s not even close because you’re not accounting for things like the friction created as the line runs through the guides, and the pressure of a bending rod. That’s why you need to rig the line through the rod and then hold the scale at a realistic fish-fighting angle from the rod tip, as you set the drag.

One final mistake: people believe everything they read, including the breaking strength of the line that’s printed on the packaging. Sure, they may call it 20 pound test, but in reality there’s a good chance it’s 25 or even 30 pound test. Why? Blame the marketing gurus. They under-rate the line’s stated breaking strength so that when you and I use it, the line seems super-strong and we’ll buy it again. If you want to make sure you have the drag where it really belongs, test the breaking strength of the line with your scale, prior to setting the drag.

Lenny Rudow: