Drag? Drag from the Reel?
Today’s big game reels are amazing, what with cork disc drags, Teflon, Rulon and sealed, multi-ball bearing models that are smooooth and designed to stop small trains. Yet it’s surprising how many don’t use their drag enough.
Once a fish is ripping off line I find it’s hard to get a proper drag setting applied, and for some, especially easy to over-do it. In most fast running fish circles, anglers learn that drag increases as the arbor of the reel decreases in diameter, so as a fish gets way out on you, one should actually back off heavy drag to keep it consistent. Add to this the fact that fat bellied lines and river currents also work against the fish and fisher, and one must develop an understanding of the whole idea of ‘drag’.
Tarpon anglers use some sophisticated techniques involving spring scales to set drags to the maximum possible range to suit tippet/leader strength. Others simply use a bucket full of water and pull the leader up over a chair – both ways allow maximum pressure without parting ways with the quarry.
Anadromous fishers don’t really need to go to such lengths, especially with two handed rods, but they should understand the range available to them with their reels and what is enough, not enough, and too much.
My rule of thumb works with any rod/leader/hook size. I simply set the drag so it turns when the rod reaches a maximum of about 20 degrees over the water for heavy leaders, 25-40 degrees for lighter gear. Never do I have my drag set to let go between 45-90 degrees. Why? Two handed rods apply an impressive amount of leverage on fish and leaders, but lifting the rod skyward past 45 degrees minimizes that leverage in a hurry.
Setting up your rig and getting a buddy to play fish teaches you a lot about what range is available to you. What you might think is ‘too heavy’ a big Chinook will rip off like it’s on free-spool; too light can mean a see-saw battle with a fish of a lifetime that ends in a pulled hook, because it simply wore out its hold. Be aggressive once you confirm a good hook placement.
Years ago, a friend and I coined the phrase ‘medieval’ drag settings, ironically while fishing Chinooks, and the term has stuck. It was deemed almost ‘nasty and unfair’ to set drag like that, but when your $100 fly line and 100s of yards of backing is going around the river bend because you were worried about being ‘fair’…you will start to re-think your drag settings.