HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
There is no mystery to setting the drag on a spinning reel, but it can be confusing to first-time fishers, and it probably wouldn’t be too far out to say half of Washington anglers haven’t got a clue how good their reel’s drag is until some fish with speed and sustainability decides to test it.
The purpose of the drag is not to prevent a fish from breaking your line, but to wear the fish down until it loses the strength to do so. A spinning reel’s drag is nothing more than a set of washers and a spring, plus a knob to adjust the pressure on them. How it is set determines the force a fish needs to strip line off the reel.
There are three important qualities of a drag that should be tested: Smoothness, sensitivity and range. Author Robert Roth said in his book, “The KISS Guide to Fishing,” that smoothness in a drag means that once set, the amount of force needed to pull line from a reel remains constant over short distances. The more sensitive a drag is, the more precisely the drag tension can be adjusted, and the larger a drag’s range, the larger the range of line strengths that can be used effectively on the reel.
There are a couple of ways to test the smoothness of a reel’s drag, but the following is probably the simplest and easiest method and is recommended by Roth:
1. With the reel filled with line and attached to the rod, thread the line through the line guides, and place the rod and reel in a rod rack or other device to hold the rod in a vertical position..
2. Pull on the line. To prevent the line from cutting your hand, tie a pencil or pen to the end of it.
3. Adjust the drag by turning the drag knob that is either at the front or rear of the reel. Set the tightness so that the line comes off with little effort, but the rod tip bends at least a foot from vertical.
4. Pull on the line. This must be done at the most uniform speed and pressure you can manage. If the pull is even, the bend of the rod tip should remain uniform. In other words, it should not bend and straighten, bend and straighten. An unstable rod tip indicates the reel is giving up line in irregular spurts, and therefore the drag lacks smoothness.
If the drag can’t pass the smoothness test, it will not put even pressure on a fish, giving it a better chance of throwing the hook or breaking the line. When a rod’s bend suddenly increases more than it should, the drag is described as sticking. This condition could result in line breakage because the drag will not let out line while the fish is applying more than the set pressure.
When the rod straightens more than it should, the drag is slipping, allowing the fish to take off without fighting the drag and ultimately break the line. The more line a fish can strip from the reel, the better its chances of getting away.
To check sensitivity, tighten the drag gradually until there is difficulty pulling the line from the spool. Slowly, in increments, loosen the drag by turning the knob counter clockwise, keeping track of knob turns. Is the drag becoming lighter with each turn of the knob? If so, keep loosening the drag until there is no tension. Try again, this time retightening the drag. Adjust the drag to what you think would be the correct setting for the line test on the reel. Pull enough line off the reel to get a real feel for this setting, and then turn the drag knob a turn in either direction. Now see if you can find your preferred setting again. If you can easily, the reel has a sensitive drag.
Roth said just because the line capacities for 8, 12 and 16-pound test are printed on a reel’s spool housing or in its manual, it is no guarantee the reel will perform satisfactorily using those range of line strengths. The ideal way would be to fill the reel with both the lightest and heaviest test strengths listed, and then check the drag for sensitivity at the necessary settings. In other words, see if the drag offers, for each test strength, a range of settings between the one that will release line with almost no tension and the setting that will break line before releasing it. Remember once you have brought the reel and it is yours. Checking the reel drag’s range would be most beneficial before some fish does it for you.
A reel can last forever, but eventually some parts will need replacing. When deciding upon a reel, knowing parts and service are available locally is a big plus. When available at a neighborhood tackle shop, that’s better yet.
Bob Brown is a freelance outdoors writer. He can be contacted at “email@example.com.