How to Set the Drag on a Fishing Reel

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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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The drag of your fishing reel should be set to 25% of the breaking strain of your fishing line. To set the drag on a fishing reel, first, ensure your reel is threaded correctly. Then, tighten or loosen the drag adjustment knob or star drag (depending on the reel type) until the line pulls out with moderate resistance. Test by pulling the line or attaching it to a scale to match the desired setting.

Setting the drag on your fishing line might feel like an art form or a tactical decision you make while fighting a trophy fish – but this is not the case.

Learn to set the drag properly and you will lose less fish, feel more comfortable with a big fish on the line, and have more fun.

Let’s dive in!

What is Drag?

The drag is the friction the fishing reel applies to prevent line being stripped out from the spool. This occurs when a fish strikes your hook and takes off in the other direction. If you didn’t have any drag, then the fish can apply their full strength to potentially breaking your line.

Having a high drag allows your fishing reel to help you catch more fish by avoiding lines snapping under such high tension. It also means that you can use lighter line than otherwise would be possible. This increases the fight in the fish, lets you fit more length on your spool, and allows you to purchase cheaper line.

The Science of Setting Drag

Learning how to set the drag is a science and it is designed for a single purpose – preventing your fishing line from breaking under tension.

Because of this you should set your drag properly, using a scale, back on dry land. And you shouldn’t adjust it unless you change your line or you are willing to break your line to bring the fish in faster.

An example of when you might risk breaking your line to retrieve a fish faster is if it is heading towards some structure like coral or a pier. In this situation you would prefer to run with a heavier drag to pull the fish away.

Under almost all other situations you should never need to adjust the drag when on the water.

How Much Drag is Enough?

You should set your drag to be 25% of the breaking stream of your fishing line. For example, if you are using 40 lb mono, then you should set your drag at 10 lb.

The drag may feel different depending on your rod. A heavy stiff rod will handle the weight of a high drag more easily than a thin, fast action rod. This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t use feeling to set your drag but you should use a set of scales.

1/4 of your fishing line’s strength may sound like a really low amount of drag. But keep in mind that the purpose of the drag is to protect your line. And your line is not always in top condition – maybe it has gotten damage on some rocks or on some sharp teeth.

Keeping your drag set conservatively is wise.

How to Properly Set the Drag?

The steps to follow for setting the drag correctly are simple:

  1. Find out what sized line is already on your spool. Take 25% of this value – this is your target drag.
  2. Attach your line to your scale. This can be different depending on the type of scale you own.
  3. Pull down on the scale until your line starts peeling off the spool. Keep an eye on the scale so you can see what amount of weight is required before the reel starts allowing line to come out. This is how much drag you currently have set.
  4. Adjust the drag on your reel using the overhead dial on a spinning reel or a lever drag on a conventional reel.
  5. Retest your drag until you achieve your target.

Doesn’t make sense?

Watch this great video by Salt Strong to see how simple it can actually be:


If you are looking for some more information have a read through this article.

Setting the drag on your fishing reel is not difficult, but it can be tempting to adjust it on the go. This is a recipe for a bad outcome – you can easily set the drag too high accidentally and snap your line when that trophy bass is on the other end.

If you have any tips to share for our other visitors please leave a comment below.

Happy fishing!

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