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How to Set the Drag on Big-Game Reels

Shorten the fight by dialing in the proper pre-set drag setting.

June 20, 2018
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How to Set the Drag on Big-Game Reels
A quality spring scale, the primary tool for accurately pre-setting the drag on a big-game reel. Capt. Dave Lear

When fighting fish that can weigh several hundred pounds, reliable and accurate drag is key to getting the most out of your tackle and winning the battle. Monofilament stretches; braid doesn’t, but the proper pre-set drag setting fully utilizes the tackle and shortens the fight. Here’s how the professional mates do it:

1. With the rod in a rod holder and the leader through the rod tip, set the lever drag in just above freespool and wind the reel handle several times so the spool spins freely, then stop the spool and keep winding, to make sure the drag washers are not sticking.

2. You’ll need some help with the next step: Have a buddy walk up the dock with a spring scale like Western Supply or Chatillion Drag (25- or 50-pound rating) and the end of the line in hand. Loop the snap swivel at the end of the line over the scale hook.

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How to Set the Drag on Big-Game Reels
Pull slowly and steadily on the line until the drag slips. Capt. Dave Lear

3. The rod man then moves the drag lever to Strike position, and the scale man takes a long steady pull on the line.

4. Once the drag slips, note the pounds of pull. The strike drag should be about one-third the rated strength of the line. For example, 80-pound line should have about 24 to 26 pounds of drag, 50 test about 15 to 16 pounds.

How to Set the Drag on Big-Game Reels
Note the results of each pull, then adjust the drag, and retest. Capt. Dave Lear

5. To adjust the drag to proper setting, release tension on the line, back the drag lever off to freespool, turn the drag adjustment knob in the desired direction; then advance the lever to Strike and make another test pull. Use long steady line pulls on the line for an accurate reading.

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6. Repeated the process until you have the drag set where you want it, then check it for consistency with three or four pulls, confirming an average that matches your target drag setting.

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