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May 30, 2014

Tips for Drag Control

How an expert stays on top of reel drag settings to win big fish battles.

5. Consider Large Ambient-Temp Swings: If you’re fishing a place and time with large swings in ambient temperature (e.g., chilly at night but downright hot during the day), bear in mind that many drags will need readjusting (tightening) as the air warms up (and the more so for reels sitting in the sun). Grease gets thicker and less slippery as it cools. The aluminum, stainless steel and plastic inside reels all expand differently as they warm, changing the pressure on drag surfaces pressed against one another.

Jarvis, like most pros, checks drags not only on the morning of a fishing trip, but during the day as well. But if he expects a particularly cold early morning before a long run to the offshore grounds, he’ll “set drags the afternoon before, when the reels are warm.”
6. Hand Check: For Jarvis, a critical difference between hooking fish and catching them comes down in part to “drag awareness.” He says: “We check drags throughout the day. Not with a scale, but just by pulling on the line. You know what feels right.” A failing drag might feel loose or tight or sticky, but all such glitches are easily noticed if anglers and crew check periodically.

7. TLC for Spinners: Spinning-reel drag systems are similar to those on star-drag reels, but pressure is applied directly to spool, not through a reel’s gears. This reduces the torque on drags, but it also puts drag systems nearer to the elements. “Any crud or corrosion that gets under that spool will cause big problems,” Jarvis says. “Spinning reels need more tender-loving care. You really need to pull spinners apart and clean drag washers every fifth or sixth day of fishing.”

“Not everyone can have a boatful of gold reels,” Jarvis says. “When I’m fishing a big-money tournament, I want the best equipment I can get, but when we’re just fun fishing, we get by with a lot less. There’s no reason you can’t get the job done if you understand the limitations of your tackle.”

Crunching the Numbers
We subjected five reels to identical ambient-temperature changes and later to fast, 100-yard drag runs. Results were uniform for each reel, but varied markedly from one drag system to the next. See them online at

About the expert
Capt. Gary Jarvis has worked in Destin’s charter fleet since 1978. While he still enjoys trolling for blue marlin, he prefers the fast pace of nearshore fishing or the long haul offshore for big yellowfin tuna.