• Published:October 8, 2018
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Everyone says the drag should be set at 25 to 30 percent of the line's rated breaking strength.

But there's a lot more to this story than the old stand-by rules.
Are you using mono or braid? What type of rod will the line be on? How does spool size and line capacity affect the drag’s output? What were the rod and line angles while setting that drag? These factors all come into play, and if you want to be king of the dock, understanding how all of these details impact your drag setting is imperative.


The time-tested concept of setting your drag at between 25 and 30 percent of stated breaking strength still holds true, but this is a wide range, and it’s just a starting point. As different factors come into play (which we’ll get into in just a moment) you’ll have to decide exactly where in this range, and quite possibly outside of it, you want to be.


Stretchy monofilament can absorb a lot more sudden pressure than no-stretch braid. As a result, it’s safer to use a slightly lower drag setting with braid than with mono, with all other things being equal, which of course, they rarely are. Remember, you have to consider all of these factors together. Braid’s diameter is so much less than that of mono that ultimately, you can apply a heck of a lot more drag pressure with the same gear. Consider a 50-pound class conventional reel, which can hold 440 yards of 60-pound mono. That same reel will pack on about twice as much 100-pound braid. Set at 30 percent for the mono, you’re dishing out 18 pounds of pressure, but set at 25 percent with the braid, you can utilize 25 pounds of drag with double the amount of line to spare when a big fish makes a long run.

The action of your rod, and to a lesser degree its length, is another important point to consider. This is particularly true with light tackle, where a few pounds of pressure may be a big percentage of the overall pressure you’re putting out. Long, slow-action rods will absorb runs and surges, putting a lot less stress on the line itself. On the flip side, a short, fast-action rod with more backbone makes it easier to break off. These traits are enhanced by line type, as noted above. Just how big a difference does it make? You’ll have to judge each set-up individually but generally speaking, the characteristics of a lightweight rig should cause you to consider shifting the drag setting up or down by up to five percent. With heavy gear the effect is lessened, and you may want to adjust by just a percentage point or two.


This plays less of a role when setting your drag, and more of a role when fighting a fish. The important thing for you to know is that as line gets dumped and the spool’s diameter constantly shrinks, the effective drag setting increases. This is basic mechanics. The larger the spool is, the slower it spins to give out an equivalent amount of line, and as line runs off and the spool’s diameter shrinks, it takes more and more force to make the spool spin faster and faster to continue releasing line at the same rate. Net result? The drag you set at 20 pounds with a full spool of line may be putting out 25, 30, or even 40 pounds of pressure after that tuna made a bulldog run into the depths.

That’s one of the reasons why drag settings can’t be anywhere near the breaking strength of the line in the first place, and why you need to be aware of how much line is coming off the spool at any given point in time during a fight and adjust the drag as necessary.


To help you wrap your head around this notion, here’s a little experiment to try. Tie off the end of your line to a scale, have a friend hold it at a 90-degree angle from the rod tip, and see how much pressure it takes to pull off line. Then, have him take 10 steps away from you so the line is at an angle closer to 150 or 160 degrees and pull again. You’ll notice a significant difference. The tighter the angle is, the more pressure it takes to pull line off of the reel.

When you scale-set your drag tension be sure to do it with as realistic an angle as possible. And when you’re in the end-game and you may be playing tug-of-war against a fish that’s straight up and down, keep in mind the effect the angle will have on your drag.

Anglers who scale-set the drag with light tackle are few and far between, while many big-game anglers who will regularly push their gear to the breaking point are much more likely to take the time and effort to set their drags at half-strike, strike and full. Obviously, scale-setting is far more accurate, but here’s one more thing to consider… Many people grab the line right in front of the reel and give a tug to judge the amount of tension it will take for a fish to pull out line. But that’s not even close to reality, because it doesn’t account for friction created as the line runs through the guides of a rod bent under tension. Try grabbing the line beyond your rod tip, pull down so there’s an arc in the rod, and you’ll see for yourself just how much harder it is to get the spool moving than it is when you grab the line right in front of the reel.

Remember that many line manufacturers under-rate the breaking strength of their line, so it seems stronger than the competition. That 30-pound test on your reel likely has a breaking strength of 35 pounds or more.

Here’s another tip, don’t ever thumb the spool on a high-quality reel. Today’s top-end drag systems are so smooth that thumbing will cause a herky-jerky tension that can lead to a break-off. Think of a car, and gently applying the brakes as opposed to slamming them on and off. That’s kind of what your thumb is doing. Rather than thumbing, take the time to adjust the drag as needed.