How to Set the Drag on a Fishing Reel

​Setting the level of drag on a fishing reel is an essential skill for any angler.

Many beginners find that if they struggle to set the drag properly, the line tends to snap as they try to land the fish on the hook.

This is because the weight of the fish and the force of the pull works against the drag setting and places too much stress on the fishing line. Consequently, the line itself can’t take the weight and it snaps, leaving the fish to swim free.

How to Set the Drag on a Fishing Reel

In this context, it’s essential for all anglers of any level to learn how to properly set the drag on their reels so that this doesn’t happen. The last thing that keen anglers want is to see the fish they’ve struggled to catch swim away because they didn’t set the drag right!

Why Is the Drag Setting Important?

Apart from the fact that you really don’t want broken fishing lines, the right drag setting will actually make your fishing easier. In fact, experienced anglers don’t rely too much on their brute strength to land a fish. They also rely on the force of the drag on the reel to help tire out the fish and land it more easily. In this context, any way you look at it, setting the drag correctly is going to be essential learning.

Things to Consider When Setting Drag

It’s important to set the drag properly because applying too much force will likely snap the line and you’ll have to start all over again. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • What kind of reel do you have and how much drag can it handle?
  • How strong in the line?
  • How much experience do you have as an angler

Ideally, if you’re new to all of this, you should set your drag to a medium setting. This will avoid snapping the line in most cases but will apply enough force to make landing small to medium-sized fish easier. The one thing you should never do is adjust your drag setting while you’ve got a fish on the hook and you’re trying to land it.

The right drag setting will also allow an angler to land fish that are rated above the grade of the line so it really is important to get it right.

​Drag Adjustment Knob on a Fishing Reel

If you’re just starting out in the world of fishing, it’s good to have some understanding of how the drag mechanism works so that you can work out how to set it and use it to your advantage.

In the most basic terms, the drag reel mechanism is a pin that can apply varied pressure to the spooled fishing line. This force can be varied and this is where it’s important to understand how much pressure is necessary via the pin.

When a fish has been caught on a line, it’s important to tire it out so that it can be landed more easily. A drag setting will use the strength of the fish against itself as it struggles on the hook and becomes exhausted.

The pressure applied by the pin on the spooled line forces the fish to use its own energy more quickly and decreases the reliance of the angler on his or her own brute strength. When you hear the reel clicking as the fish struggles, this is the force of the drag setting at work.

The drag mechanism varies across different reel types but the principle is exactly the same: a variable force is applied by a pin to the spooled line.

Setting the drag on a baitcaster reel or a trolling reel is very different to that on a spinning reel.

Some Advice on Setting Drag

Experienced anglers understand that it’s important to set the drag right when they go out for a trip. If you’re not very experienced, here are some tips:

  • Not Too Tight: It’s vital to not set the drag too tight; otherwise, this will break the line. Obviously, there’s a need to control the fish and a tighter drag will allow this to happen more easily. If it’s too loose, the fish will be able to swim more freely and it could be a long while before you can land it because it’s not being exhausted quickly. In this sense, setting the drag is a fine line between being too tight and too loose.
  • Test it Out: The best and easiest way to test the drag on your reel is to pull the line away from the reel once you’ve set the drag. If the line snaps, you’ve applied too much pressure and it will need to be loosened. If it comes away too easily and without much resistance, it’s too loose and you’ll need to tighten it.
  • Feel the Tension: The other way to test out how much drag you’ve set is to attach a weight to the end of the line and then lift it up carefully. This will give you some indication of how much tension there is in the line and you can then gauge whether or not to change the drag setting.

Getting the Drag Setting Right

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve already had a few fishing trips, the best way to learn how to set the drag is just to experiment and learn. Playing around with the pin mechanism will allow you to experiment with different tension settings.

Setting the drag properly is something that you’re going to have to learn pretty quickly because the last thing you want is to burn through a ton of lines because they snap! You also don’t want to work harder than you have to when you’re landing a catch because the drag is too loose.

As with most things in life, the best guide when setting drag is experience. There will be some trial and error but by following the advice above, it can be done more easily. Eventually, setting the drag will just become something that you do automatically and your judgment will inform how much pressure you set.

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