Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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A reel drag: Getting the most out of it

A spinning reel drag system is shown in order of removal. The washer on the right is on the bottom. Factory grease is in the cap on the left, to lubricate where the drag adjustment knob makes contact. Otherwise drag washers tend to come dry from the factory. The hexagon shaped wire is a spring clip pressed in at the top, to hold washers in place. (Photo by John Tertuliani)

By John Tertuliani
Contributing Writer

A giant spool of 4-pound-test monofilament changed my thinking about the drag on my spinning reel. Before that purchase, I paid little attention. The heavy line I had been using left no need to worry. Other than when hooking a large carp, the drag never moved, nor did I adjust it. Why should I? The fish I was catching were incapable of breaking line.

As I started catching fish with 4-pound test, the importance of a functioning drag came to light. The drag seemed to have two consistent settings – too heavy to protect 4-pound-test line or too light to set the hook without slipping. Disassembling the drag to look for some answers, I found a stack of metal washers – stamped washers. I knew what that meant.

I had a summer job stamping sheet metal to pay for tuition – Mack Truck cabin supports and housing for Hobart meat saws to be exact. I ran stamping presses eight hours every day.

Sure enough, the drag washers had a raised edge on one side. As the die pushed through the metal, a raised edge formed around the cut on the bottom of the finished product. It was a subtle edge at most, hardly noticeable unless you looked for it.

My idea was simple: overcome static friction acting on my dry washers. The force resisting movement between two solid surfaces at rest. A raised edge on one side increases the friction, counterproductive if you needed a smooth drag.

I sanded both sides of the washers with emery paper. When finished, I greased them as if packing wheel bearings. Polishing and then adding grease made a difference. From then on, I felt obligated to mess with any reel I got, new or used, polishing the drag washers and smearing grease on both sides.

Times have changed, and quality continues to improve. The metal washers of today are made without edges; no need to polish. But old habits die hard, if I think there is room for improvement. I still buff metal washers a bit to see if it helps.

Carbon-fiber washers are standard today, sandwiched between the metal washers. I grease all of the washers, including the carbons; it makes a difference (to me). I run 6-pound-test line on 3000 size spinning reels to take advantage of a broader spool (wrapping monofilament around a larger diameter). I believe clean and lubed drag washers improve an oversized reel spooled with light line.

My newest spinning reels arrived from the factory loaded with dry washers. Run dry washers or lubricate them? Others must feel the same way, wanting to lube the washers, because you can buy grease designed for carbon washers. Another company specializes in carbon-fiber replacement washers.

My version of tuning a reel includes my baitcasters. I polish the metal washers in those, too. Some prefer a supertune kit that includes drag washers and bearings.

If you’re satisfied with the performance of your reel, you have no need to change a thing. If your drag is less than smooth, you may want to grease the washers to see if it makes a difference, or buy a new set.

Setting the drag is up for debate as well. Do you set the drag and leave it until you change the line? Do you back it off when not using the reel for extended periods? Backing the drag off removes the compression on the carbon washers – the things to think about when trying to improve. Solomon said it best, “… to consider wisdom and madness and folly.”

I set a drag light to protect the 6- and 8-pound lines I use. If the drag pulls out when I set a hook, I tighten it. No problem. If it’s unwinding a bit much for a moderate fish, again, I tighten it up as I fight the fish. One thing to remember about a spinning reel drag: Reeling against it can twist the line to ruin. When I’m finished for the day, I back it off. I set the drag fresh during my next trip. The drags on my reels have not been a problem since, even if I go back to fishing with 4-pound-test line.

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