Tips for Setting the Drag on a Spinning Reel

Setting the drag correctly on a spinning reel isn’t a one-time thing, but something that should be constantly adjusted for different lures, presentations and line variations.

Tips for Setting the Drag on a Spinning Reel

Setting the drag on your reel and forgetting about it is a simple yet costly mistake. If I recounted every time I lost a fish from wrongly set drag on my spinning reels, this article would get very long.

It’s easy to only think about drag when fighting a fish when that tell-tale clicking sound of line peeling off a spool signals the start of battle. Too loose and the angler can’t keep enough tension allowing the fish to throw the hook, too tight and the there isn’t enough give when the fish surges below the boat for one last escape attempt breaking the angler’s line. Either way, the fish is gone and now a “the one that got away,” story.

You can simply and quickly check your drag by grabbing your line just above the reel and pulling. The spool should turn and release line with some resistance. But, it’s not always quite that simple. 

When setting the drag on my spinning reel the first thing I think about is my line setup, the lure presentation I’m using and what kind of hookset will be involved. I usually worry about what will happen when fighting the fish after I hook it. 

Fishing Line 

The difference in fishing lines play a big part in how the drag should be set. When using straight braided line or braid with a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader in techniques like drop-shotting or jigging light lures, plan for little to no stretch or give when you set the hook.

Many years ago, when I first started using braided line with fluorocarbon leaders, I remember getting very discouraged after repeatedly breaking the line at the knot during hooksets. I tried different knots and, at first, blamed my skills, then finally loosened my drag significantly and found immediate success.

When your setup provides little to no stretch, the sudden movement of a hookset can be too much for the line to handle and it will snap. Of course, how you set the hook plays a big role in this as well, but that’s a topic for another article. When using braided line, you should loosen the drag a little more than you normally would to provide some give when setting the hook. Instead of the line stretching like it would with monofilament or even fluorocarbon, the give comes from line leaving the spool. 

Generally, when fishing finesse techniques like drop shotting or light-weight jigging, the hook used is going to be thin in diameter and extremely sharp. These light-wire hooks will pierce easily with a lighter hookset, a light-set drag and braided line.

Before your first cast, make sure the line can be pulled from the spool fairly easily. With these setups, I prefer to err on the side of slightly too loose over too tight.

Lure Presentation

Various lure presentation and different fishing lines go hand-in-hand. When dragging lures like tubes or small finesse jigs across the bottom, it is common to see anglers’ spool with straight fluorocarbon and often use slightly longer rods make longer casts and sweeping hooksets to accommodate for more line out between them and the lure.

The more line between you and your lure means more stretch if using fluorocarbon or monofilament. In these situations, it is wise to tighten the drag. With the amount of stretch in the line and bend in the longer rod, any more slipping from the reel may be too much give to drive the hook into the fish’s mouth. However, if using braided line for these techniques, you’ll want the drag to slip on hooksets. 

Throwing moving baits is similar to dragging techniques. If using small swimbaits, crankbaits or jerkbaits with fluorocarbon and making long casts, tighten that drag up to account for the bend of the rod and stretch of the line and get a solid hookset.

Adjust on the Fly

Fine-tuning after a hookset when fighting a fish is very often forgotten by anglers in the heat of the moment, but possibly the most important time to be conscious of your drag setting. Feeling how the fish is pulling and how your reel is distributing line should be at the front of your thoughts. If the fish is easily pulling line out and you are struggling to maintain tension, stop reeling and quickly tighten the drag. If the fish is tugging hard with little line coming of the spool, swiftly loosen the drag to take pressure off your line.

Make a habit of checking your drag frequently. After a few casts, give your line a quick tug about the spool to make sure nothing was bumped on accident and the tension is where you set it. Do the same after you catching a fish, especially if you adjusted the tension during the fight.

Like everything in the sport of fishing, the more time you spend on the water and the more mistakes you make, the more you will learn. Adjusting your drag setting is one of those things that will become second nature after time on the water.


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