Ask the Experts: How Do You Set Your Drag Before Fishing?

Patrick Fulkrod, The South Holston River Company (Bristol, Virginia):A super loaded question considering circumstances and variables. On an initial evaluation of my drag setting, I will always fish with it set a little on the lighter side: loose enough, but not so it will backlash. If or when I hook a good fish, I will tighten as needed. I feel it is always easier (or more forgiving) in a situation to add more drag, rather than to lessen the drag.

Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co. (Troy, Montana):The analogy I’ve always used when discussing how to set the drag on your reel is that it’s based on the same principle as the brakes on your car. The more you need the brakes, the more you apply. Simple as that. If you’re fishing a small trout stream with little or no chance of needing any brakes to slow down fish in order to better manage them, you don’t even need a reel with drag.  But as you move up the species list in size and weight, drag becomes very important and absolutely necessary. Generally you can also base the need for drag on rod weight. If you’re fishing rod weights of 1-4, you’re likely not really fishing for monster fish that will require the use of drag.  As you start heading upwards of 5-weights, drag will come into play.
So, how best to set the drag? Regardless of what species you may be targeting, you want to set the drag to accommodate the particular behavior, size, and weight of that species. Taking that into account, the standard way to check and properly set the drag is to assess approximately how much resistance you believe is necessary to let the fish run, so as to apply the brakes and also to prevent the spool from over running and creating a mess. This is a dance, and it’s often learned from trial and error. Too much drag and the fish will break off; too little and, well, you’ll lose the fish for other reasons.
When you’re ready to actually set the drag, simply judge how much resistance you want to start with by pulling line off the reel with the drag set to your liking. And keep in mind, there is always time to tighten the drag during the fight with bigger fish, especially salt water species. In the end, if you break a fish off because the drag was too tight, loosen it. If you break a fish off because the spool over ran, tighten it. NEXT

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