Spinning rod with the drag knob on top.

How To Set The Drag On A Spinning Reel

Especially true with lighter fishing lines, knowing how to set the drag on a spinning reel properly will often prevent you from breaking it and losing fish. It does not matter whether it is braid, monofilament, fluorocarbon, or copolymer fishing line. You can always benefit from setting it properly on all of your reels. Interestingly, you can use almost any line successfully as long as this important mechanism is set correctly. Before you fish, you should always have your drag set.

This will make sure that you will not break your fishing line when you hook into a big fish. The mechanism is sometimes overlooked and it should never be on any reel. Refusing to have it set properly can result in damaged tackle, lost lures, and a ton of extra stress. Always be sure that it is taken care of. This is a tutorial about properly setting the drag system for spinning reels. It is not in any way intended to cover the methods or procedures used in setting the star drag and braking system of the baitcaster. The way is entirely different. For that tutorial, visit here.

Why Is The Drag System So Important In All Fishing?

Why is it so important? It prevents the line from breaking under stress. First of all, have you ever wondered why your line breaks when you yank or pull on it? Did you ever pull on your line or set the hook only to discover that it is prone to breaking? You may wonder why this happens. Don’t worry. It is a much more common occurrence than you think. It isn’t because you do not know how to use a spinning rod properly either. Your fishing line probably isn’t old or sun damaged.

It is supposed to do that. The strands are designed to break under certain stress loads. No piece of fiber or material is unbreakable. We can all pretty much agree on this too. Likewise, the thinner it is, the less pressure it will take to break it. It is much easier to rip human hair than a thick rope. It is much easier to break an aluminum bike chain than a length of thick, steel, chain links that are coated in titanium and welded together. The reason your fishing line keeps breaking is not that it is old. It isn’t because it is a bad brand or manufacturer that makes the line either. It isn’t even likely that the fishing line itself is the problem. Its probably the drag.

Understanding The Strength Of Common Fishing Lines

Fishing line spools.

Before you set it, you need to first be familiar with how strong the fishing line is. In other words, how much abuse can it take before it snaps? The exact specifications for understanding this is almost always on the front of the box on a new spool of line and often the spool itself. This is stated in numbers called the pound test. For a fishing line that is ten pound test, the line will break once it hits ten pounds of pressure. For a line that is two pound test like many panfish lines, the line will break when a pressure of two pounds is applied to it. That is barely anything.

The reason this is important is that it will need to be adjusted differently based on this factor. If you have a little crappie rod with thin two pound monofilament line on it, you will need a much looser level than if you are throwing frogs on sixty five pound braided line for aggressive largemouth bass. That requires very little tension if any. Always remember that less line strength means less needed drag. More line strength equals more. Knowing the pound test of the line is the very first step of knowing how to set it properly. The line in the image is ten pound test monofilament. That means that this line will break once ten pounds of pressure is put on it.

If you do it right, it is possible to catch fish that well exceed ten pounds in terms of weight. If it is optimal, it is possible to catch thirty and forty pound fish on it. It might be a considerably slower process, but it certainly can be done with much success without your line breaking. It ultimately boils down to one factor. That is the pound test rating. The line couldn’t take the force applied to it so it ripped in the process. In saying that, you need to adjust your knob in a way that fits your fishing line scenario. You need to set the drag so it doesn’t break reeling in fish.




What exactly does this mean and why is it so important to understand? Simply put, it is your reel’s ability to let out line to prevent it from breaking under stress. After you spool up your reel, you should realize that the line breaks because of the pound test number. Look at your spool of line. Do you see a number on it that is followed by pounds (lbs.)? That is the problem. The problem exists right there. This describes the line’s strength. If some pressure is applied to the line, it can only resist so much stress before it breaks or snaps in your face. It is just science.

This number describes exactly what that amount of stress happens to be. It will snap once it reaches this point. For example, a ten pound line will break once the force exerted on it hits ten pounds. The drag on a reel is there to prevent that from happening. Basically, it works like this. The line will come out of the reel once it nears the point of breaking even when it is not in free spool. That is good. You want that to happen. This stops the force being exerted on the fishing line and spreads it out more evenly across a greater length of the line. This stops the line from breaking because ten pounds of pressure is not all being concentrated in one particular area.

Instead, the ten pounds is being spread across the line and the line itself is not ever hitting ten pounds of pressure at any one point. This is how it is possible to reel in huge fish on fishing line that was made for little ones. This is a feature you never want to overlook in fishing. It is a very important factor that will land you a lot more fish and save you a lot more money. Understanding how it works is essential to making the most out of its use and nobody regrets it.

Locating The Reel’s Drag Knob And How To Use It Right

Now that we know how strong the line is, we need to locate the drag knob on the reel. The knob is the one on top of the spool. You turn this knob left or right and it tightens or loosens the mechanism inside the reel. To remember which ​​side loosens it and tightens it, think of it like a screw, bolt, or nut. You never want to turn a screw or any other item to the right to loosen it. You will always want to turn it left or counterclockwise. Right or clockwise makes it tighter. Always.

Apply that to your fishing rod and you should never have a problem remembering. Check your spool by deliberately pulling line out from the spool while the bail is closed. If you feel any resistance, stop pulling. Turn the knob to the left as many times as it takes for you to not feel resistance. Be careful as it gets very loose. You could very well unscrew the knob itself. If it happens to pop off, just screw it back on by turning it clockwise again but not too much.

How To Set The Drag On A Spinning Reel The Easy Way

You should set the drag right after spooling the spinning reel. For an extremely accurate and reliable calculation, it is recommended to use a fish weighing scale or some other device that lets you be very precise with your exerted pressure. A scale used for weighing fish is often optimal for this. This is generally how it is done. This is generally a process that most anglers can perform easily or learn in a single weekend. A scale is generally already available to most anglers as well. There is actually a very easy way to do it. Just make sure to practice it enough.

Using A Fish Weighing Scale For An Accurate Reading

Electronic fish weighing scale isolated on a white background.

The very first thing you want to do is purchase a fishing scale. A fishing scale is a device that you would usually use to weigh your catch. They come in digital as well as manual versions and they both generally have their pros and cons for each type. Electronic scales are almost always more accurate because they can calculate things much more consistently without the possibility of human error. Still, a manual one will work too. Digital scales are generally more expensive while manuals cost less money. Digital scales often require batteries and is very easy to malfunction or get ruined if exposed to excess moisture. What you do obtain is a very accurate weight reading.

Sometimes down to the very last gram! Manual scales do not need batteries to use, are much more durable, and are especially good in conditions that would trash a digital one. What you do lose is the accurate measurement. There is always going to be some sort of discrepancy regarding the weight since they are not electronic in nature. Still, it can work if you pay close attention to the reading and adjust accordingly. Just make it sure its at zero first.

Use A Good Knot To Attach Your Line To The Fish Scale

After your fish weighing scale is ready to use, the very next thing that you will want to do is attach the fishing line to the scale. This can very easily be achieved if you tie one of the strongest fishing knots. Ask for what knot to use, it doesn’t really matter too much. Any good strong knot that you would use to attach a lure to your line can be used as long as it tightens all the way down. No loop knots, please. Although it may seem obvious, trying to get a good constant reading on your scale just won’t happen if the line is connected via a loop. It should be tight.

Recommended knots are the Palomar, the clinch or improved clinch knot, or the uni knot. At the end of the day though, none of these are absolutely needed. A simple overhand knot can work just as well. You do not need to reel in any fish. These knots are just recommended because most anglers already know how to tie them and use them reliably already. Just secure the line to the fishing scale. That’s it. Do not get to caught up in the small details that don’t matter.

Secure The Scale Or Have Someone Else Help You Out

The next thing you want to do is secure the scale itself. You want to be able to pull on it without moving it. There are quite a few ways you can do this. You can always just hold it in your hand but some people may decide to bend the rod with both hands. If that is the case, you can have a friend or buddy hold the scale for you. You can also secure the scale to a tree with some rope, or even make an entire system that revolves around securing the scale. It is really up to you.

You can make a system out of wood, metal, or other material if you are naturally artistic. Absolutely any way you can prevent the scale from moving is a great option to consider. Try out many concepts and see what works best for you as a person. It will not be the same either so don’t expect it to be. You are unique and as a person, you should try unique methods that work.

Put A Very Aggressive Bend In Your Fishing Rod Blank

After the scale is secured to a point where it is stationary and the fishing line is tied on, turn the knob to the left until you no longer feel any resistance. After that, take note of the pound test rating of your line and calculate how much resistance you need. After you have taken note, bend the rod like you are fighting fish. Put a decent load on the rod blank itself. This will simulate how your rod will perform in addition to the fishing line when a fish takes the bait or fishing lure.

The bend does a few things. First, it lets you feel what it is like to have a fish on. Second, it will let you feel how that same fish will pull the line out. This allows you to better understand how the system was designed to work. The bend is important because it gives a fairly accurate picture of how much your rod should bend when its under the right load. It can help you remember about where you should be. If you can repeat the same bend again under the right drag settings, you already know that the rod should should bend about that much. It can help you the next time.

Adjust It To Twenty Percent Of The Lines Test Strength

Now for the fun part. This is where we actually start to fine tune everything. Ideally, you want it set at exactly twenty percent of your line’s pound test. If you have a ten pound line, you want it set at two pounds. If you have a twenty pound line, you want your reel to be set at four pounds of pressure. This is where you will have to play with it a little bit. Very few people can get it right on the first attempt. The higher you go up in pounds, the more drag you will need for it to be optimal. If it is to loose, it can actually cause you to not be able to reel the fish in.

You want it tight enough that you can reel in fish and absolutely no more. Then, you will have to play around with the knob and go up and down a little bit at a time until the scale reaches the right amount for your fishing line. Remember, it will vary depending on your pound test. It needs to be twenty percent of the pounds on the label. This part is super important. No more than twenty. If the line breaks during this process, it is a very clear indication that it is to tight.

Tie it back on and turn the knob left until you get it right.​ It will take some fidgeting, a bit of frustration, and loads of perseverance to get it down to a science. Once you do though, you are golden going forward. Remember to always write down the number on the scale once the line starts peeling off. It will make it much easier to do the process over again, should you ever need to. Take note of that number, read it off, write it down, and remember it. All you will have to do next time is copy the record you kept of it. Having it recorded will make your life so much easier.




Setting The Drag By Feel Is Something You Can Learn

Once you have adequately learned the process and set it properly a few times already using a scale, you can then proceed to start adjusting it based on feel alone. Believe it or not, yes. You can successfully set the system by yourself if you know how. Once you get good enough, have said it accurately a few times, and have caught fish successfully, you can start to get a feel for how it is done. Most of the time you can do it by yourself without any technological help.

Once you get a feel for how loose or tight the system should be, you can very easily pull out the line by yourself without attaching it to anything and just turning the knob. Always remember that fish weighing scales are always more accurate, but they take a lot longer to use. On very light lines, this may not be the best approach. Anything over a ten pound test can be set by feel. Anything under that should be accurately measured to provide the smallest chance of breaking. You will start to notice that it is harder to set it on lighter lines. Be sure to be accurate.

Just Let The Fishing Reel Scream At You Next Time

Setting the drag system on spinning reels isn’t very hard, yet it is one of the most important things an angler can do. Make sure to always set it properly to ensure the best chance of catching fish. Setting it right can mean the difference in catching fish and landing them. It is important. So important in fact, that I highly recommend you become as familiar with this mechanic as soon as possible. Knowing how to set the drag on spinning reel gives you a huge advantage every time you pick one up. It will stop you from breaking lines and losing lures.

Do you have a preferred method of setting up your spinning reels for efficient fighting? How has having the correct tension on your spool upped your fishing game? Let us know down in the comments!

5 thoughts on “How To Set The Drag On A Spinning Reel”

  1. Hi David. That is a very informative post and it just happened to be what I needed help with.
    I’m a 62yo female with a boat. I often use small rods. I have always caught plenty of fish at my local lakes.

    I’m from the Central Coast of Australia, near Sydney and I can”t wait to try out what you have taught me.

    Reply
    • Hello Angel. Great to see you, friend. I am glad that you found the post helpful. I wish you the very best of luck going forward and I hope you will catch many more fish in the future from this info. Let us know how it works out for you. If you need anything, contact us directly. Tight lines!

      Reply
  2. Thank you for such an informative article, David. Reading this article was a very great decision as I am a newbie to fishing. I especially found your explanation on how to properly set a spinning reel’s drag very helpful.
    I am definitely sharing what I learnt from your article with my work colleagues.
    Once again, thank you!!

    Reply
  3. Hi David great write up. I enjoy fishing too. Just sitting by the river in the early mornings with the mist rising, or on the lake in the boat watching the sun rise, very relaxing. You have done a lot more than me and I sure can learn a lot from you. I live in SK Canada and there is a lake with trout here but I have had no luck with catching any. Would you have any advice for me? Not sure what kind of trout they are.

    Reply
    • Hello Quentin. Excellent question. Trout (regardless of species) are typically looking for small fish and insects for their meals. That means you want to use lures that mimic small fish or insects. Also, the mouths on most Trout are pretty small. That means to use small lures. What you want is to use small lures that imitate small fish and insects. Great examples are the Acme Kastmaster, Little Cleo Spoon, and Rooster Tail in a color pattern that looks natural to the prey in that water.

      Reply

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