Tech Tips 2 "Itís a Drag"

The morning had just started to unfold, and unfold it did. The golden sunrise was picking through the early morning clouds that made description of it nearly imposable. All I can say is that the artist that painted this picture was not of this world.

As I poled my client down the sun drenched shoreline, a pod of red fish showed their tails in the early morning light. We approached with stealth as he prepared to make his cast. Perfect, it landed just past the pod and he retrieved his Nortonís Bull Minnow right into the middle of the group. Ba-whosh, one of the reds inhaled the offering and he set the hook. Hard as he tried he could not get the line tight enough to get the hook started into the mouth of the redfish. He had not set the drag before he started fishing today and consequently the fish shook the hook out.

A good angler will back the drag off when he stores his equipment. This helps a lot in keeping the drag washer from being compressed to a pancake and working smoother and extends the life of the drag system for future use. However it does need to be reset before fishing again. So how do you know how tight to set the drag? The best rule of thumb is to set the drag to 1/3 the breaking strength of the line. So for 10# test it should be set to about 3#.

Why so little when you have 10# test line? Three pounds of drag is really a lot when you factor in the knot, which is usually not a 100% knot, the drag of the line through the water, and sudden bolts of power that fish seem to come up with. Drag of the line through the water is one of the biggest factors. If you have ever let your line out behind a moving boat say about 50 yards youíll notice a tremendous bend in the rod, this is drag of the line in the water, and itís out straight! Now think about it running sideways through the water with a fish on the other end, more drag. So the drag at the fish and for a short way up the line is almost at breaking strength of the line if the fish is moving even at a moderate speed.

How do you know what three pounds of drag is? The best way is to use your scale you normally have on hand for weighing your fish. Tie, or hook your lure to the scale and pull against the scale until the drag slips and at the same time watch the scale to see where or how many pounds it takes before the drag slips. To do this correctly the rod should be bent into the fish-fighting bend as well. The bend in the rod also adds drag to the line and should be included in the measurement. Donít assume that because you have supper slick guides on your rod that there is no drag in the guides, there is. This friction can become tour worst nightmare if your fighting really big fish on light line, even if the drag is set perfectly. In fact, the best way to avoid that friction is to point your rod directly down the line if the fish pulls hard and starts a run against the drag. Thatís one reason for bowing to tarpon when they jump or make a hard run. The friction of the line on the guides and the line going in and out through them over time will eventually ware or burn the line and it will become weaker as the fight continues. But the instant the fish gives up a little, then you need to pull back and get the bend into the rod again. Thus keeping the line tight and allowing for head shakes and runs toward the boat.

Drags should be maintained in good working order at all times, because you never know when you will really need the best drag you can come up with. Drags are made of different substances. Teflon, being the most often used substance on the smaller reels, it works great and is forgiving for the most part. On Teflon it does not hurt to lube them. But on any of the others, oil will make them sticky and hard to set correctly. Cork for instance needs to be kept free from oil and water. Water can cause these drags to hydroplane and thus actually free spool causing a backlash and knots, which could cost you a fish. On cork drags you should clean them with alcohol and run them over a light 200 grit sandpaper to restore them to optimum working condition. In other words DRY.

After you have worked with your drags on scales for a while it will become almost instinct as to the proper setting. However once in a while you should check your instincts against a scale to make sure you are still on tract with the scale.

Skipper Ray is a freelance writer and fishing guide in South Padre Island, Texas
where he owns and operate Island Outfitters. Call: 956-943-2798 or Email

Fishing Articles by Skipper Ray

Blind Casting the Flats
Catching and Handling Numbers of Trout
Fishing Guides Perspective
Effective Blind Casting on the Fly
Line Management Techniques
Lures of Choice for the Fall Season
More Tec Tips - King Mackerel
New Trout Techniques
Ready at the Rod
Spring is in the Air
Tarpon Techniques
Tech Tips - "Donít Give Up"
Tech Tips - Itís a Drag
The Ladies Have More Fun
The Chosen One
The "Ibis" Built by Newwater Boatworks
The Old Gold Spoon
Time to Fish Free
It's Red Fishing Time in South Padre
Trout Fishing the Lower Laguna Madre
Trout on Topwater Flies
Wading the Lower Laguna Madre

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