We've all seen it happen. A big fish makes a fast run, and in a misguided attempt to slow it down, the fisherman tightens the drag with predictable results: a broken line and a lost fish.
Lever-drag reels provide control over drag during a fight, but they are not always practical. Star-drag reels remain many anglers' choice in several situations; they offer advantages in castability, size and control but are not known for precise drag control. With a little planning, the drag adjustment on a star-drag reel can become a useful tool in fighting fish.
This begins with an understanding of drag dynamics.
The first thing to understand is that drag increases as the diameter of the line on the spool decreases. Likewise, a full spool puts less stress on the drag. The larger the spooled-line diameter, the fewer times the spool has to turn to relinquish a given length of line. For example, if your reel spool revolves twice to release a foot of line at half that starting diameter, the spool would have to turn something like four times. It's easy to see that the drag works much harder when there is less line on the reel. This reduced spool diameter increases the "felt drag" on the line. This happens even though the star hasn't been touched; the shorter "lever arm" of the smaller-spool diameter (actually the distance between the spool shaft and the point where line comes off the spool) comes into play here. The shorter this distance, the greater the force required to turn the spool and the higher the felt drag. All of these considerations illustrate why the line usually breaks when an angler tightens the drag on a running fish. The correct procedure is to reduce the drag as the fish gains line in order to accommodate these drag-increasing factors. As the line is regained, the drag can be returned to the starting point.
With practice and some preparation, you can set up your star-drag for accurate control and adjustment of the drag even during a fight.
Set It Right
To begin, string up the outfit, and back the drag off completely until the star stops turning. Then mark one of the star's "points" with a dab of paint. Strip off about 10 feet of line, and tie it to an anchored spring scale. Tighten the star to a starting "guess" point, and pull about 20 feet of line off the reel in 3foot bursts to warm the drag.
Rewind; then load the rod against the scale as if pulling on a fish until the drag slips. Adjust the star until the scale indicates the desired drag setting.
You'll want to set the drag between 25 and 35 percent of the line rating. For instance, the drag setting with 30pound line should be 7 to 10 pounds. Once you have adjusted the star-drag to the desired setting, place a paint spot on the reel side plate opposite the paint spot on the drag wheel spoke.
Next, determine the minimum drag by pointing the rod tip directly at the scale and pulling until the drag slips. This gives you the minimum drag setting, one that could prevent a break-off. Pointing the rod at a running fish is a reaction that has to be planned; make it part of your fish-fighting strategy. With the drag now set, back the star off completely, counting the turns by using the painted star point as a reference. If, for instance, you set the drag at 10 pounds and back the star off four turns, then the next time you go to fish this particular rod-and-reel combination, tighten the drag four turns from the backed-off position, and you should be close to the 10pound drag setting.