I always wondered how many anglers actually know what the drag is on their fishing reels. Then again, I wonder how many actually use their drag when landing a fish.
This very important function on a reel is commonly overlooked or neglected until at some time while fishing, a big one is hooked and the drag was either too tight or too loose.
In most of my early days of fishing I used a long bamboo cane pole I purchased at Chase Lumber Company in Payson, Utah for about $1.50. I would tie a three or four-foot braded line on it with an Eagle Claw snelled leader, and went to catching fish. I would fish around the surrounding ponds and sloughs dipping worms into holes breaks in the shoreline moss.
Sometimes I would hook some hefty bluegills or bass. When a big fish took my offering, it became a loosing tug of war and an eventual loss of the fish because I had no reel or drag to facilitate “playing” and tiring out a fish.
We have come a long way since the telescoping metal rods and long cane poles. One great simple improvement was a decent, simple reel with some type of drag system. Out of curiosity, I looked up the word “drag” and found there were 29 different definitions of the word. The nearest definition I could find was “something" that retards progress”. The drag on a reel causes a resistance enough to tire a fish when it is taking line. This affords the angler and the fish a sporting chance to slow a fish down and bring it to the net. A drag is on a reel for that purpose and not for “horsing” the fish, a method that hardly gave any high percentage of success to an angler with a large fish on the line.
Therefore, in the case of reels, the drag is a method to slow down the line going out causing a running fish to labor more in its flight to get away.
By using the drag on the reel, fish can be subdued gradually, causing less harm and injury should the angler choose to release the fish.
If adjusted properly, the drag is a means to avoid a big fish snapping the line or leader off.
There are many varieties of drag systems. On fly reels, simple traditional English reels are still used with just a click drag. These reels have enough drag along with line and handle breaking to bring fish to net.
Not so long ago, new age fly reels have become designed with disc drags similar to disc brakes, which are very efficient in slowing down fish. Fly reels have become real works of art with this technology.
Level-wind reels have very efficient drag systems. Usually they have a convenient adjustment on either side but usually next to the handle where drag control is rather easy. Most spinning reels have a spool pad type drag usually on the spool. Alternatively, some are mounted on the rear of the reel such as the earlier Shimano reels. These drags adjust like a water faucet, clockwise to tighten, counter-clockwise to loosen the drag. They are very effective.
Closed face reels such as those made by Johnson and Zebco, usually have a star drag near the handle on heavy-duty reels, and the smaller light duty reels have a simple adjustment wheel. These reels are durable but sometimes but have limitations if fish run out the line more than thirty or forty yards as line capacities on these reels is limited. In addition, the drag is sensitive and must be checked often.
In any event, all reels on the market now will have some type of drag system, which has wonderful simple features. The drag is the tool to allow the angler the opportunity to enjoy the excitement of landing that trophy fish.
I decided to write about the importance of the drag. I cannot recall all of the people I have taken fishing who have neglected the drag on their reel or did not even know of its function. Most were so tight the line could not be pulled out freely. Locked tight, the first big fish the angler would get on would either break the line, or pull the hook out for example.
If you don’t understand the function of the drag on your reel, read up on the literature that came with the reel or ask around in a tackle shop or with anglers out at the fishing hole. A good rule is to loosen up the drag (counter clockwise) until you can pull line out without any strain. You can also estimate the size of fish you are after and adjust accordingly. It does not take much drag to slow a fish down.
The system- drag, line, and rod work in harmony to create the real sport of landing fish. A too tight drag will surely break the line on the strike, and as I said before, would likely pull the hook out.
One more thing about drags and I will move on. Avoid reeling when a fish is running out line. When it stops, pump the rod and reel ever so gently.
With a little practice, the drag will be one of your most effective tools in your fishing adventures.