Understanding the Reel Drag System
How Tight Is Too Tight?
Possibly the most talked about and least understood element of the physics of fishing is the reel drag. Set it properly before the first cast, so you won't be tempted to change it while fighting a fish. When the drag is under strain, it's nearly impossible to regulate with any degree of accuracy, just how much change is being made and more than one fish has broken off when someone has decided to tighten the drag "just a tad" and it seized. The same can happen when trying to decrease the drag. Try to back it off just a little bit while it's under the strain of a big fish and you end up with no drag at all. Then you try to add some back and...bye bye fish.
RG reminded us that each reel has a system of washers that's putting pressure on the spool and they're under a lot of tension, but tinkering with it at the same time you're trying to halt a fish from making a mad dash for cover could cause you to misjudge your adjustment and lose the fish or do damage to the drag mechanism itself.
On the surface it would seem that if a line is rated to break at 20 lbs of tensile pull (straight line pull), setting the drag to allow the spool to turn at anything less than 20 lbs of pull would prevent the line from breaking. Why not? With 20 lb test and the drag set so that it starts slipping at 15 lbs of pull, you have a margin of 5 lbs. Not so. In fact for line of 20 lb class, the drag should be set at between 4 and 7 lbs. Use a scale to set the drag at least until you gain experience.
The drag system should be measured with the reel mounted and the line running through the guides. Do not simply attach the scale to the line coming off the reel. Measure it as though you were fighting a fish.
There are many factors that must be met when arriving at the figures for both the initial striking drag and fighting drag. RG reviewed a few of them...
If we start out with a drag setting of 20 lbs, it will take 20 lbs of pull to cause the drag to slip with the reel full of line. But if you combine the length of the cast and the amount of additional line a fish runs with and the spool of line ends up being reduced to half its diameter (this does not mean half of your line is out....it refers to the amount of room left empty on the spool), it will now take 40 lbs of pull to slip the drag.
X = new line tension
A = original fill spool diameter
B = new diameter (the amount of line left on spool after cast and fish run)
W = original drag setting in pounds
Example: If your reel is holding a full spool of 12 lb test line and your drag system is set to slip at 6 lbs of pull, your line will break when your spool is half empty. The focus is on the amount of line left on the spool...NOT the amount of line that's in the water.
Another suggestion RG made was to start out with quality line to begin with and a reel with a good reliable drag. He taught us how to test the smoothness of the drag:
1...Take the reel off of the rod.
2...Pull about a foot of line out of the spool and then close the bail.
3...Hold the tag end of the line up high, with the bail closed, and let gravity pull the weight of the reel slowly to the ground.
4...If the reel does not move, then turn the knob slightly in order to loosen the drag until it begins to drop slowly to the ground.
5...If the drag system is working properly, the reel should fall in one slow continuous motion to the floor.
6...If it drops in jerks - then you have a problem.
Using a weight scale similar to the ones in the website linked below, we spent the next 15-20 minutes doing some hands-on activities testing the drag system of some of the reels he brought with him. Here is a link to a great web-site for new anglers that will explain in a more elementary way.
A couple of tips he gave us before he switched topics:
1...If your fishing with a spinning reel....Don't Reel Against the Drag !! This means if your fish is running with your line and you can hear the constant clicking noise that the reel is making....DO NOT try to reel in the fish. WAIT until the clicking noise stops before you start turning the reel handle. If you get all excited and start reeling while you hear that noise, then your line will get all twisted on the spool and will tangle on your next few casts. Hard habit to break so work on it!
2...When you get home from fishing, remember to loosen the drag all the way and rinse the rod and reel under fresh water. Get all of the salt residue off of the equipment so that any mechanisms inside the reel won't get corroded prematurely.
Next on the list of topics: Part 3 - Landing Nets