What is Reel Drag?

While most fisherman are well aware of reel drag, I’m sure some don’t know exactly how it works, or what the benefits are. We thought it worth briefly explain the types of drag system used for each reel type, as it may help your decision making process when deciding what reel to purchase.

First of all, what is reel drag?

Drag definition: A means of applying variable pressure (manually or assisted) to the line, spool or drive mechanism in order to act as a friction brake against it, thus providing resistance to control casting the line as well as aiding in line retrieval without breakage, once a fish has been hooked.

Types of Reel Drag

Fly Reel Drag

Most modern fly reels have disc-type drag system, often resembling the drum or disc brake design used in modern vehicles. The exact design and components vary (e.g. Sealed Drag, Draw Bar Disc, Instant Anti-Reverse, etc.) but they all allow for some form of adjustable drag. For large fighting fish, often associated with flyfishing in saltwater, look out for reels with a sealed disc drag.

Older or more traditional fly reel designs may use the ‘click and pawl’ drag system (see image below). This is effective enough to stop a reel over-running in non-extreme conditions, but is not recommended when fishing for larger, harder-fighting species. Click and pawl drags don’t exert much pressure on the fish, which means it’s often necessary to apply additional pressure manually. As anyone who’s fought a bonefish or GT on fly will tell you, this is not only inconvenient, but also it can be downright dangerous! You can see a Click and Pawl reel in action here, where we try out a retro-designed hand-made Farlex reel.

Click and pawl reel drag

Hint: some drag systems are silent while others make noise. Although this may be intended as a sort of alert that line is being pulled, hopefully due to a hooked fish, the reality is that the sound a reel makes is more about aesthetics and personal preference than it is a real feature. The sound a reel makes doesn’t typically affect performance, but it could become a nuisance and should not be overlooked when purchasing. The same goes with sealed or unsealed reels. While sealed reels offer protection to your drag mechanism, they do make it very hard to ‘tinker’. If you like to get the tools out and take your reels apart from time-to-time, a sealed drag may not be for you. It’s advisable to do your research and find the reel and drag system that fits your style of fishing (and non-fishing!).

Read more about Fly Reels here >>

Centrepin Reel Drag

Opting for a centrepin reel is like taking a step back in time. Although some manufacturers have modernized the design to offer some sort of mechanically assisted drag, traditional centrepins offer only one way of controlling drag – manual pressure applied by the thumb or palm of the hand. It may take patience and practice to land fish successfully, but the cool factor is evident.

Read more about centrepin reels >>

Baitcasting Reel Drag

Baitcasting reels have a variety of ways to adjust tension. Most have a ‘clicker’, which is a simple mechanism designed to keep the spool from overrunning and causing a backlash. Although not a true drag system, many anglers use it as an alarm system of sorts to alert them to a hooked fish, thus allowing them to leave the rod in a holder until a fish is on the line. Additionally, most models offer fully adjustable drag tension by way of a centrifugal, or magnetic braking system controlled by a star wheel on the side. As far as drag is concerned, baitcasting rigs probably offer the largest range of control of all.

Read more about baitcasting reels >>

Spinning Reel Drag

All spinning reels use a series of multiple washers and gears to control spin rate. The only difference being the access location: front and rear (or, top / bottom of the reel). Rear-mounted drags offer easier access to the control knob, which can be useful when fighting a fish, but generally don’t perform as well as front-mounted systems. Thus many specialist anglers, who target stronger, harder-fighting fish, often go for front-drag reels. The front system also tends to be more durable.

Read more about spinning reels >>

Spincast Reel Drag

Spincast reels often offer both anti-reverse mechanisms and friction drags, very similar to spinning reels. What is nice about the drag system on spincasting reels is how easy they are to operate either by a star wheel on the side, or a small wheel that is easily adjustable by the anglers’ thumb. This makes drag adjustment quick and easy, even once a fish is hooked.

Read more about spincast reels >>