How to adjust the drag on your fishing reel

Written by stephen byrne
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How to adjust the drag on your fishing reel
Lever Drag Reel (Photos by Shimano North America, with permission)

How do you catch a 100-pound fish without breaking the 20-pound-test line on your reel? Your reel is equipped with a drag system that acts like the brakes on your car. In the same way stepping on your car's brake doesn't bring your vehicle to a screeching halt, your reel's drag is adjustable so you can tire a fish out without breaking your line. Your drag should be set to pull about one-third of the line's breaking strength before releasing line.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Rod and reel (loaded with line)
  • Handheld scale

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    How to Adjust the Drag on Your Fishing Reel

  1. 1

    If it's not already installed, tighten your reel to your fishing rod and thread the line through the guides. Once the line is through the guides, tie a loop at the end of the line.

    How to adjust the drag on your fishing reel
    Spinning reels have a drag knob on top of the spool.
  2. 2

    The drag adjustment for conventional reels is on the right side of the reel, and is either a star-shaped washer at the handle base or a lever built into the top edge of the side plate. Spinning reels have their drag adjustment on top of the line spool.

    How to adjust the drag on your fishing reel
    Star drag reel.
  3. 3

    Locate the drag control for your reel and loosen it by turning counter-clockwise until you can pull line off, with the reel in gear.

  4. 4

    Have a friend hold the scale while you place the loop tied in the end of your line, over the scale hook.

  5. 5

    Tighten the drag control, occasionally testing it by pulling against the scale. Your friend can observe the scale to see how many pounds of pull are exerted on it.

  6. 6

    Increase the drag setting until you can pull about one-third of the line's breaking strength. If your line is rated as 20-pound-test, set the drag to pull 3.18 Kilogram before giving way, and allowing line to come off the reel.

Tips and warnings

  • You can set your drag without being so precise. If you are alone, simply loop your line around a stationary object such as a fence or car bumper, and pull. Adjust your drag so that you can put pressure on a fish, but your reel releases line before the line reaches its breaking point.
  • Never tighten your drag while fighting a fish. It's OK for a fish to pull line off your reel during battle. In fact, that's what we all hope will happen when we go fishing. Tightening your drag during a fight is the quickest way to break your line. There is plenty of line on your reel, so relax. The fish will tire before swimming away with all of it.

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