June 19th, 2006

A Word about Drag on Reels
By James Castwell


Quite often what I write about is more intended for those somewhat new to fly fishing. Well, I apologize for that, but they are the ones who need it. The drag system on reels seems to be an area where there seems to be a lack of good information. Not that there aren't plenty of opinions. They abound. One problem is that no one wants to admit they made a silly decision when they bought a fly reel. Did I ever make a poor choice buying a fly reel? Of course not. Could I have made a wiser choice? Certainly.

First of all, this is not a life and death situation. A reel is a reel. There is just so much it can do. Hold line. Go around. Make noise or not. Have a rim drag or not. Have a real drag or just a clicker. Be colored or not. Have holes or not have holes. Hey, wait a minute. This was supposed to be simple. They can weigh too much? Not fit on the rod? Not 'balance' with the rod (what ever that means)? Right or left handed, but some do not reverse? Large arbor really means what? Direct drive is? Do I need anti-reverse? A multiplier? Die cast or machined? Bar stock? What actually is 'Aircraft Grade Aluminum? Is a reel that cranks on the left side 'ported'? Ok, I'll quit. Let's just talk about drag for today.

Most of what you have heard, read, seen, been told or think you know, is hype. Not all, but most of it. More fish have been caught over the years by fly reels that did not have much more than a poor drag screw that was intended to put enough spring pressure on the spool so it didn't keep spinning when you pulled out line. Like when a big fish did it really fast. From that point, all of the rest developed.

A great share of us will be fishing for and catching small fish, trout and panfish. Little guys under twelve inches. So far no one has convinced me that I need a disc-drag to stop a foot-long freight-train trout. The drag on reels that are sized to hold fly lines weight five down can be simple. A click-pawl will actually do fine. For years that was about all there was anyway. There wasn't even an exposed rim, you palmed the spinning handles of the reel. Knickname for them was 'knuckle-buster.'

Above that weight you might start to consider what you are actually going after and whether it will be in fresh or salt or both. Here price and type do start to play a part. Since most new flyfishers start out after small fish these questions do not usually arise. In the larger sizes there are nearly as many types of drags as there are brands. Each manufacturer seems to have his own idea of how a drag should be constructed. Here you have to use your own judgement. The bigger and faster the fish, the better and smoother the drag should be.

If you are using a leader that will hold ten pounds you might consider a drag system that can withstand continuous running without glazing over or jamming. Price will be an issue here. So will brand identification and other features including color and shape and name of the maker.

Indeed disc brakes and all of the other types will become involved now. Whether you go for one or the other, it will probably hold true that the more expensive the reel, the more tolerant of harsh elements it will be, the more dependable the drag. One way clutches are popular and contribute to the smoothness of the drag. Without that feature a series of teeth are engaged and the reel will spin a given amount before a dog catches in one of them. This can cause the reel to pause ever so slightly. Some claim this may tend to break tippet's. I happen to agree with them more often than not.

What do I use? All kinds and types. But then again, I have a wide assortment of rods and fish many different conditions. My reels are all the way from just a clicker to a few that will stop a barracuda or a salmon; and have. Well, at least slowed them down some. For you just getting started, be careful you don't drop your reel, it can get bent and cause troubles. Keep them cleaned and oiled. Take care of them and they will last many years. Chances of you actually ever wearing one out are slim. But, if you do, I am happy for you. You have certainly spent more time on the water than I have. ~ JC

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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