My Fishing Reel Drag Won’t Tighten [Solved]

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Written By Russ Egan

Russ is a professional fisherman with over 20 years of experience. He has fished all over the world for more than two decades, primarily for saltwater game fish but also for local trophy fish. Russ comprehensively tests and reviews all his fishing gear to help others achieve their own fishing goals. There is nothing he prefers than heading down to his local tackle store, buying the latest fishing reel, and taking it to the water to test.


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If your fishing reel drag isn’t tightening, it might be due to worn-out drag system, dirt or debris, or incorrect spool seating. Cleaning, lubricating, and checking the drag setting can solve this issue.

It’s also advisable to store your reels with the drag system loosened to prevent problems.

Tighten the Drag Knob

The first thing I usually check when my fishing reel drag isn’t tightening is the drag knob. This is a common issue, especially for beginners in rods and reels. Make sure you’ve tightened it sufficiently. You’ll typically find the drag knob at the top of spinning reels and on the side of baitcaster reels.

In one of my early fishing trips, I was confused about why my fishing reel drag wouldn’t tighten. Turns out, I was not rotating the knob far enough. Give it a few more turns to the right, and voila – problem solved. But, remember not to over tighten it as it might damage the reel’s internal system.

How to set the drag on a fishing reel

Worn-Out Drag System

A worn-out drag system is another common reason for the drag not tightening. I recall a fishing trip where I pulled a largemouth bass from my local bass pond. The reel was old and wasn’t giving me the tension I needed.

The issue? A worn-out drag system. After checking the official shop site for guidance, I replaced the old drag washers. This is likely the issue if the problem persists even after the drag knob is tightened.

drag washers

Replace the Drag Washers

Now, if you’re dealing with a worn-out drag system, your next step would be to replace the drag washers. Most fishing reel drags have these, which can be found on the shop’s official site or at your local pro bass shop.

This is a relatively simple process: open the drag system, remove the old washers, and insert the new ones. After replacing the washers on that same fishing trip, the drag tightened like it should have.

Dirt or Debris on the Drag System

Dirt or debris within the drag system can also cause the drag to not tighten. I can’t tell you how often I’ve found sand or small pebbles lodged in my fishing reels during beach fishing trips.

Cleaning the drag system thoroughly will usually rectify this issue. Be meticulous and ensure every small particle is removed, as even a tiny piece of dirt or debris can prevent the reel drag from tightening.

Clean And Lubricate

After you’ve removed the dirt and debris, it’s important to clean and lubricate the entire drag system. I personally prefer using a soft cloth and mild soap for cleaning, followed by a quality reel oil for lubrication.

Remember, over-lubricating can attract more dirt and debris, leading to the same issue, so moderate your application. Keeping your reel clean and lubricated prevents these issues, prolongs its life, and ensures smooth operation.

baitcaster reel pulled apart being cleaned

Check the Drag Setting

If your reel drag still won’t tighten, it’s time to check the drag setting. It should be set according to the weight of the fish you’re planning to catch. As a rule, the drag setting should be about a quarter to a third of the line’s breaking strength.

For example, if I’m fishing for a fish that weighs 20 lbs and my line’s breaking strength is 60 lbs, the drag setting should be around 15-20 lbs. You can use a fishing scale to measure the exact setting.

Russ Egan showing the spool tension adjustment knob

Loose Drag Knob

A loose drag knob can prevent your reel drag from tightening. I’ve seen this happen several times with my old spinning reel. The fix here is to tighten the drag knob adequately. But, be careful not to overdo it; you don’t want to strip the threads.

Spool isn’t Seated Correctly

If your spool isn’t seated correctly, it could prevent the drag from tightening. This is usually an issue with spinning reels. Make sure that the spool is seated properly on the reel. If it’s not, you might need to loosen, adjust, and retighten it.

Kastking Assegai reel seat

Ghost Drag from Braid Line Slipping

Sometimes, even when everything seems right, you may experience what’s known as ‘ghost drag.’ This happens when your braid line starts slipping on the spool under pressure, giving the illusion of the drag not tightening.

To prevent this, I often use a mono or fluorocarbon backing or apply some tape to the spool before spooling the braid. This gives the braid something to grip onto, preventing slippage and resolving the ‘ghost drag’ issue.

Store your Reels with Drag System Loosened

One crucial tip I’ve learned over the years is always to store your reels with the drag system loosened. This helps prevent unnecessary strain on the washers and prolongs the life of your reel’s drag system.

It’s a simple practice that can save you from many headaches in the future. So, after each fishing trip, I always loosen the drag on all my reels before storing them.


So, there you have it. These are the most common issues and solutions with a fishing reel drag that won’t tighten. Regular maintenance, proper usage, and proper storage are key to ensuring your drag system performs well.

Remember, your reel is an investment. Take good care of it; it will serve you well in your fishing adventures.

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