Beginners Luck – Setting your Drag

I have seen way too often beginners into fishing setting their drags to their reels to tightly which will either end up in line bust off’s or broken rods during the fight of the fish.

Drag is the mechanism on your reel, which sets the resistance a fish feels when it pulls on the line. You can measure the drag set by a digital or spring set of scales.  Make sue you put a 45 degree bend in the rod when testing the pressure of resistance.  Perhaps when you get use to setting it you will be able to tell approximately that it is right by feeling the resistance when pulling the line off the spool.  You can set your drag by just turning the dial at either the top or side of your spool.


The tighter you set the drag the more resistance the fish feels. You want to set it tight enough so that it tires a fish out when fighting but not too tight that the line or rod breaks under stress.

So what should you set it at?

This can be a little controversial. Personally I like to set it at approximately a third of the line class I am using or perhaps if using stronger line, set it to the rod class so that rod is not handling more pressure than it was designed for.

So an example of this would be if I was using 10kg line class on a rod that was suitable to say 2-4kg or more than I would set the drag setting at approx 3kg or 3.33 repeater to be precise.


Another example would be if you were using 2-4kg rod but you had say heavier line class say 20kg then you set it to fall within the line class of the rod which is 4kg. A third of your line class in this case would have been6.66kg which is heavier than what the rod can handle.

It is a good idea when washing your rod and reels to tighten up your drag so as not to let water or dirt enter the drag mechanism. Once the reel has dried you should loosen the drag right off so that is doesn’t get sticky, so to speak.

Once you have set your drag for the days fishing, if set correctly you shouldn’t have to touch it at all. It frustrates me to see people tightening their drag throughout the fight. One exception would be that if the fish has a lot of line out then the water pressure on this line causes additional friction and if anything, you want to loosen the drag pressure off so as not to cause stress on your line.

If the drag is set right than you can use your rod and angling skills to do the rest of the work. Don’t rush it. Test your drag today.

3 responses to “Beginners Luck – Setting your Drag

  1. Hi Vicki, great article.

    Over the many years I’ve been fishing I have also built numerous rods and tricked up many reels always looking for the best fit to give me an advantage.

    Rods also have an impact on the drag so one must always consider their: action, power curve, length, mechanical advantage, runner quality etc.

    With reels one must consider: drag strength, start up inertia, drag smoothness at all settings, spool retrieval rate, spool width, volume and balance.

    Personally I believe start up inertia is the most overlooked factor in getting it right

    Following is an extract from an article on the testing of the current top 8wt fly reels

    What is start-up inertia? All drags work in essentially the same way – multiple plates create friction which slows the spinning of the spool. There are two types of friction: static – when the drag isn’t moving – and kinetic – when a fish is pulling on the drag. Start-up inertia is the initial force required to get the drag started. So, it’s actually a bit of a misnomer. It should actually be called “static friction”. So… who cares?

    Because static friction is greater than kinetic friction, it causes a drop in drag force immediately after the fish starts pulling on your line.

    If the reel requires over 1kg of start-up force and if we’re using 4kg tippet, we now need to set our drag to a maximum of 2.5kg so that it doesn’t break the tippet.

    I hope this helps the beginners and motivates them to go that one step further when they are choosing, using and maintaining their gear.

    Here is the link if you want to read the full article.

    Cheers, Bruce M

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