How to Set the Drag

So you just got a new reel and you want to know the proper way of setting your drag? We’ve got you covered. Here are the basics of what a drag is, and the correct way to set your drag so you don’t break your line or lose the fish because he shakes your hook.

What is a Drag and Why is it Important?

The drag is a pair of friction plates in your reel that controls the amount of line that gets let out when you’re fighting a fish. When a fish pulls on your line hard enough, the friction is overcome and the reel rotates backward to let line out.

It’s important to set your drag properly depending on your fishing situation. If you don’t set it to match your fish, your line will come out either too fast or too slow, which in turn might cause the fish to shake the hook or your line to break.

The rod you’re using, along with the type of line (monofilament, braided line, etc.) will also play a role in how you set your drag.

Understanding Your Reel and Drag

Determine what kind of reel you use

There are three basic types of reels that contain your line. This article won’t get into the pros and cons of each; instead, it’s important that you know what kind you have and where the drag adjustment is located. Spincasting reels are closed face. Your line will be encased by a cone-like cover and the line feeds out of a small hole in it.

Spinning reels are open-faced. Your line spool will be exposed and you’ll be able to watch it spin out. This one looks the most exposed. Baitcasting reels look like a mix between an open- and closed-face reel. The most noticeable feature is that the whole line spool will turn when you cast the line.

Locate your drag adjustment

Now that you know what kind of reel you’re using, learn where the drag adjustment is located on your reel. The spincast’s drag adjustment is usually next to the reel handle. It looks somewhat like a star-shaped knob and may click as you play with the drag. This allows you to hear just how much you’re adjusting.

The spinning reel’s drag adjustment is a circular knob facing out at the front of your line spool. The baitcaster’s drag adjustment looks like a star and is located next to the reel handle. Turning it clockwise will tighten it and counter-clockwise loosens the drag.

Learn the breaking strength for your line

Look on the package your line came in. It should clearly state in pounds how much resistance your line can handle without breaking. This will tell you what your optimum drag should be. Drag should always be no more than 25 percent of your your breaking strength’s resistance. To figure drag, simply divide your breaking strength by 4. The result is what your drag should be set at.

Get a scale

Now that you know what your drag should be, you’ll need to see where your drag is currently set. You can use a digital scale or a spring scale (such as the sort used to weigh fish). Both have a hook at the end to which you attach your line.


The easiest way to set the drag on a spinning reel or spincast reel is to first test it by using your hand* to pull on your line directly above the reel.

Tighten the drag on your spinning wheel by turning the front drag adjustment button a few clicks to the right if the line pulls out too easily. If it’s too tight, loosen the drag by turning the crank a few clicks to the left. Closed face spincast models usually have a top set roller drag adjustment mechanism.

If you don’t feel you can judge the force accurately, a small spring scale can help, such as the ones used in Boca Grips or other fish handling devices used in catch and release. Hold your rod at a 45-degree angle and hook the weight. For best results, the drag setting should be able at the point where the line holds a third to half of its weight before moving (e.g., a 20-pound line should not move until the hook holds seven to ten pounds).

It’s better to have your drag too loose and fight a fish a little longer than to have it too tight and break off a big one.

Setting the Drag on Spinning Reels

Setting the Drag on Spinning Reels

The drag on spinning reels is on the top of the reel. It’s set by turning the click wheel to the right to tighten, and to the left to loosen your drag.

Pull on your line directly (your line should be through all your guides on the rod, set up like you’re going fishing, make sure all knots are out of your guides). If the line pulls out too easily, tighten the drag. If it’s too hard, loosen your drag.

You can use a small spring scale to judge the force if you don’t think you can do it accurately yourself. It’s better to be too loose and have to fight your fish a little longer, than to break off when you’ve got a big fish on the line.

Now Go Out There and Catch Fish

The importance of learning how to properly set the drag cannot be downplayed. It is what makes the difference between reeling in all the fish that bite and losing a catch just because your line snapped at that critical moment! And because there’s arguably nothing worse than losing a catch because of a simple setup that you have full control over, you should know how to properly set the reel’s drag. Remember, the reel’s drag becomes one of the most important things once the fish is hooked.

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