How To Set Reel Drag?

For light to medium fishing I believe you can set your Reel Drag on the spot before your 1st cast by just relying on your feel. Increase or decrease drag knob by quarter turn each time to have a finer feel on line tension until you get it right. But for heavier jigging or popping dealing with bigger fish you need to know How To Set Reel Drag the proper way. I would normally do it at home with a scale before the trip.

I emphasize all information shared in this blog is just my personal opinion & experience which some may beg to differ 🙂 If you have any thoughts or questions please leave them at the end of this post.

What is Drag?

  • A drag system in a spinning reel usually starts with a turning knob at the top for clockwise tightening or anti-clockwise loosening of drag. Down below housed inside the reel arbor is an array of carbon fibre, Teflon, cork, cloth or felt washers interlaid with several metallic washers.
  • By tightening the knob, pressure is applied on a coil spring inside the knob which in turn act on the array of fibre/metallic washers. This pressure is transmitted downwards creating resistance in spool rotation against another washer housed on the reel spindle below the spool. This resistance in spool rotation is what we called drag used in controlling the length of line released over time against the pulling force of the fish.
Saltiga 4500 drag system
Saltiga 4500 drag system

Initial vs Continual Drag

  • Overcoming the initial drag when spool is at rest is slightly higher than the force required to maintain continual drag that follows. This is the same concept in manual gear in car why you need to shift to the lowest & strongest gear 1 to move your car from stationery position.
  • Thus in measuring your reel drag you should pay more attention to continual drag which is the drag used in fighting the fish while the intial drag should be just slightly higher.
  • Please refer to post on Spinning Reel Basics on details in why you should upgrade your drag washers to Carbontex & the correct drag grease you should be using.

Tool used in Setting Drag

  • The tool I use to set drag is a normal battery operated digital tension scale ( Amazon / eBay / Tackle Direct ) which has readings in unit metric kg & imperial lb/oz.
  • As mentioned before a force can be a pull or a push in opposite direction. In our case it is a pull as the fish is pulling against your drag so a tension scale to measure pulling force is needed.
  • This same digital tension scale ( Amazon / eBay / Tackle Direct ) is also used by many to weigh how heavy their catch is which is the fish mass pulling down on the scale due to effect of gravity.
Units in kg, lb or oz
Units in kg, lb or oz
Hook to connect to swivel during drag setting
Hook to connect to swivel during drag setting

Steps in Setting Drag

  • Set up rod with reel; thread leader/line from reel through all the guides. Tie a barrel swivel to the end of the leader. Have someone help you hold onto the rod adopting a fish fighting stance standing or sitting down.
  • Attach tension scale to barrel swivel using hook of the scale. Turn on scale & select unit preferred…I usually measure drag in kg unit.
  • Treat scale as a runaway fish & slowly pull out downwards loading the rod fully…until the line starts to run ie. starts coming out of the reel…this will be the initial drag read on the scale. Continuing pulling & you will see reading of the continual drag.
  • Turn drag knob quarter turn each time to increase or decrease drag & repeat measurement again. Clockwise to increase drag; anti-clockwise to reduce.
  • Once you hit around the continual drag number repeat a few times until you are satisfied with the readings. You can only hit around the target you want as reading will fluctuate during your pulling.

Hint: It’s important to set up rod with reel & measure drag setting with line running through all guides of the loaded rod. And not directly measuring off the reel. Reason being a loaded rod will add to the drag set on the reel. Eg. drag off the rod reads 10kg; drag off the reel will be lower like 9kg.

Record Drag Settings

  • Once you’re satisfied with drag setting on your reel now remove reel from rod & attach tension scale to measure drag directly off the reel which should be lower than earlier reading off the rod.
  • Record reading for each set of rod/reel/line pairing as if any of the 3 is replaced drag setting will have to be reset. Rods have different max drag & different loading patterns affecting drag differently. And different braided lines have different max or ave breaking strains which you can increase or decrease drag set.
  • For future drag setting before your trip you can just measure drag directly off your reel without the trouble of doing the full set up again with a rod. You can mark the drag knob indicating roughly where the target drag should be pointing…up, down, left or right…for you to get to the target point faster.
  • Once setting is done & before keeping reel release drag by turning knob anti-clockwise 5 half-turns till about free spool. Before your 1st cast you can just simply turn knob back clockwise the same number of turns to reach your set drag very quickly. Fix this number 5 half-turns & use it every time in the future.
  • It’s advisable to release drag on every reel to about free spool at the end of the fishing day & especially before a storage. But free spool ONLY after rinsing under running freshwater to prevent water sipping into drag washer train…which is a NO NO…as water can cause jerky drag.
Measuring drag off loaded rod
Measuring drag off loaded rod
Measure off reel for future settings
Measure off reel for future settings
T indicates Top where knob is pointing for drag set
T indicates Top where knob is pointing for drag set

Happy Drag Setting!

All the best,

PS: Please leave a comment if any information in this site is inaccurate or incorrect…I’m learning too 🙂

As I’m an Affiliate Marketer, if you make any purchase thru the text or image links provided in the posts, I may be compensated by the merchants with a small token for time & effort spent in maintaining this blog. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *