Fly Fishing Reels: Setting the Drag

The results of a properly set drag.
The results of a properly set drag.

While fly fishing on our streams here in Central Pennsylvania, we have large trout that require anglers to fish with a reel that has adequate drag. Having the drag on your reel adjusted properly is vital for ensuring that a large fish makes it to the net successfully.

One of the first things I do while setting up a rod for a day on the water is check to see that the drag is set correctly on the reel. It is best to have the drag set prior to fishing, because it is painful to loose what could be the “fish of the day” due to a dysfunctional drag.

Where to have the drag set on your reel is not always a clear-cut answer, because different fish require different amounts of drag. Meaning, a larger fish requires a stronger drag, and a smaller fish requires less drag. In a stream with fish consisting of a wide range of sizes, it’s not always possible to have the drag set perfectly for every fish.

Therefore, I choose to set my drag to meet the needs of larger fish that will put up a hefty fight before being subdued to the net. Having the drag set and prepped for the larger trout within a stream works well because most times smaller trout are not demanding on a reel.

When setting your drag, it’s important to find the right balance between giving too much or not enough line. You want the fish to be able to take line while he’s fighting you, but if the fish can take line too easily, he will not tire or be able to be controlled. A properly set drag will give line when the fish exerts more energy and pulls away, but it will hold him back enough that you are able to move him when needed.

If you are a little unsure of exactly how heavy to set your drag, error on the side of caution with less tension than you think will be necessary. Making very slight adjustments while hooked up with a fish is necessary at times, but I try to avoid it by having the drag set prior.

The next time you step into the water, make sure to set the drag before you hook what could be the fish of a lifetime. If it’s time to upgrade your reel to have a better functioning drag, talk to Joel in the fly shop and he can help you out.

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