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Guide to Setting the Drag on a Fishing Reel




What is the drag on a fishing reel ?

The drag on a reel acts like a clutch and is a safeguard against the fishing line snapping when you are playing a fish.

The drag is a safety mechanism that allows the spool to turn when a certain tension is reached as line is pulled from the reel.


Depending on the model of fishing reel, the drag will be a screw device and will either be at the back of the reel or the actual screw that holds the spool in place. The tighter you set the drag the more resistance there is to pulling the line from the spool.


The drag is set so that when you hook a fish you can play it and tire it out ready for netting. By setting the drag to the correct tension - measured in pounds or kilo's - if the fish does make a break for it your line will come off the reel and not snap. (hopefully)

To set the drag on a reel accurately you will need a set of hand held scales.


You might read of some anglers saying the reel drag should be set to slip at 20% or 25% of the breaking strength of the line when the rod is bent at a 90% angle (as if playing a big fish).

I disagree with this. Why?  Because if you are set up with 6lb breaking strain line and the drag is set to work at 25% when playing a fish, this will mean the line will be pulled off the reel when the tension reaches 1.5lb.

What is the correct drag setting for a reel ?
The correct drag setting for a reel is such that, when playing a fish, the drag slips and line can be pulled from the reel just before breaking !

When the rod is bent at a 90% angle (see image) the drag should be set so that the line pulls off the reel at around 75% to 80% of the breaking strain of the line. With 6lb line this will be 4.5 to 5lb. This still leaves 1 to 1.5lb margin for errors.


Setting the drag on a reel.
how to set the drag on a fishing reelgreen square  1. With your rod set up and the line threaded through the rod rings, tie the loose end of the line to a set of hand held scales - these can be spring balance or digital.

green square  2. With the rod held horizontal (having a friend hold it will help) pull down the scales until the line starts to pull off the reel. The rod may bend to a 90% angle before this happens.


green square  3. The second the drag begins to slip and line comes off the reel, take a reading from the scales.


green square  4. Adjust the drag mechanism on the reel according to the reading from the scales until it starts to slip at around 75% to 80% of the breaking strain of the line you are using.


Article and images by Jim Boswell





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