Fly reel drag systems may seem like a trivial matter, particularly if you’re a trout angler. After all, trout barely take the line off the reel, so why bother with a drag system? The answer is simple: when that whopper of a trout, maybe a 16lb monster, takes your fly or you venture into saltwater fly fishing for hefty species like GTs or salmon in rivers, you’d better know your way around your reel’s drag system. It could be the difference between landing that trophy fish or watching it swim off with your fly. So, buckle up, and let’s dive deep into the world of fly reel drag systems.
What is a Drag on a Fly Reel?
The word ‘drag’ in fly fishing parlance refers to brakes. The drag on a reel creates resistance against the rotation of the spool of the fly fishing reel. This resistance makes it harder to pull the fly line off the reel. When a fish is pulling line, the drag system is your main line of defense, slowing down the fish and allowing you to control it during a fight.
The drag also sets the tension of the spool so it isn’t free, preventing backlashes and tangles when you pull the line off your fly fishing reel.
Types of Drag Systems
When exploring fly reels, you’ll mainly encounter two types of drag systems: disc drag and click and pawl drag (also known as spring and pawl). Each is designed for different fishing situations.
Click and Pawl System: How Does It Work?
A click and pawl, or spring and pawl, drag system works with a toothed gear that sits on the spool of the fly reel. A triangular piece of metal (the pawl), spring-loaded, interacts with the gear’s teeth. When the fly line is pulled off the reel, the spool and gear spin, and the pawl slows the spool down, creating some drag and a distinctive sound.
You can adjust the drag on most click and pawl fly reels, but the range isn’t extensive. However, it does provide enough pressure to prevent free spool, allowing you to pull line off the reel to cast without getting tangled and let a fish run.
In the heat of battle with a big fish, you can use your hand to palm the reel, adding more pressure as needed. It may not be as smooth as a dedicated drag system, and a slip could potentially break your leader or tippet.
Disc Drag System: How Does It Work?
Disc drags consist of a series of washers that sit between the drag knob and the spool. When you tighten the drag setting, the washers press against the spool, slowing it down when spinning, making it harder for your fly line to leave your reel.
Disc drag fly reels are hugely popular worldwide, thanks to their adjustable drag settings. You can go from zero drag to full lock on some high-quality fly reels, like Makos. All you have to do is gently turn the knob to adjust the drag, making it tighter and thus harder for a fish to pull line off the reel.
Choosing the Right Drag for the Right Fish
The choice of drag system often depends on the fish species you’re targeting. Click and pawl fly reels are ideal for smaller freshwater species like trout and panfish. On the other hand, a disc drag fly reel is perfect for larger saltwater and freshwater species like bass, steelhead, or salmon. In saltwater fly fishing, a good disc drag is practically a necessity to land anything from a bonefish to a sailfish.
Sealed vs. Unsealed Drags
When it comes to disc drags, you can opt for a sealed or unsealed drag. A sealed drag is encased in a watertight enclosure that keeps dirt, grime, or salt from getting into the drag and causing it to fail. It’s a great choice for saltwater fishing. An unsealed drag, on the other hand, is exposed to the elements, making it susceptible to dirt, sand, and salt.
Both are excellent choices, depending on the situation. For example, sealed drags seem to fail when put under high pressure on a 12-weight or higher. If you’re on a remote island, an open drag reel like a Shilton allows you to replace parts and fix it with ease. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to clean and service it after submersion.
Setting the Right Drag on a Fly Reel
When fishing for larger fish, pre-setting your drag is crucial. The reel should stop too much line from running through the rod when you hook a fish, but the drag should still be light enough not to break your leader or tippet.
Measuring drag settings on a reel is a breeze. All you need is a standard hook scale. First, set your drag on the reel, then put the rod at the angle it would be in a fight. Now, hook the scale through the line and pull until some line comes off the reel. The weight it got to on the scale is your drag weight in pounds.
Understanding the drag system on your fly reel is more than just a technicality; it’s a critical part of successful fly fishing. Whether you’re battling a feisty trout or a monster GT, the right drag system can be your best ally. So, take the time to know your gear, and you’ll be well on your way to memorable angling adventures.
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