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How To Set Your Reel Drag

How To Set Your Reel Drag

Losing a fish is a real drag (get it?), especially when you realize you forgot to set the reel drag.

You can adjust your reel’s drag by the star wheel beneath the handle of a baitcast reel or the knob above the spool on your spinning reel. The most accurate way to set your drag is to use a spring or digital scale to measure the amount of drag slippage. Your drag should be set at 25 percent of the breaking strength (pound test) of the line you are using. You can check the breaking strength by tying the line to the scale hook, holding your rod at a 45-degree angle and pulling down on the scale. Read the scale the moment the drag starts to slip and then adjust the drag mechanism until the drag slips at the same weight setting of the line on your reel.

I usually set my drag by hand without using any scales. I loosen the drag until line starts coming out while I pull with a slow, hard pull.

The touring pros realize each fishing situation requires different tactics for fighting and landing bass so they rely heavily on ways to control the amount of line they surrender to a hooked fish. Some veteran anglers never trust the drag systems of their baitcast reels and depend on their thumbs to release line to surging bass. Others set their reel drags according to the lures and type of cover they are fishing.

Here’s a look at how to set the reel drag systems for the following popular bass fishing tactics.

Pitching and Flipping Reel Drag:


You are using heavy line so you want to winch bass from heavy cover. Lock the drag star on a baitcaster as tight as you can turn it so you can winch fish out of the cover without any drag slippage while you're flippin' and pitchin'.

Finesse Fishing Reel Drag:

Set your drag for finesse fishing lures according to the situation you encounter. For fishing in open water with light line keep the drag fairly loose so it allows about 1 foot of line to slip out when the fish makes a run.

Topwater Fishing Reel Drag:


Set the drag so line will strip off about 5 to 8 inches from the reel when a 3- or-4-pound bass loads up on the lure. This will prevent you from pulling the hooks out of the fish when you jerk your rod after the strike.

Updated May 23rd, 2019 at 5:08 AM CT