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Properly Set Reel Drag or Backreeling? Which?

Properly Set Reel Drag or Backreeling? Which?

Many years ago when I first was getting into bass fishing, the way I set my drag, was to crank it down so my line didn’t pull out when a bass yanked on it. I viewed the drag knob as nothing more than the knob that held the spool in place on the old Mitchell 300 I used back then. I would tighten the knob down and then back it off until I could turn the spool with my hand.

I cannot deny that I used that same method for many years.

That method is VERY wrong! Do NOT do it!

I use to blame the line breaking on the wrong pound test, the cover, the fish or some other unknown reason. I never put the fault on an improperly set drag.

These days, we know the drag was the reason my line broke.

Setting proper drag is crucial to successfully fighting and landing fish. It is even very important when it comes to setting the hook. Many light line techniques work better if your drag is lose enough so that when you snap a quick hookset, your drag releases a bit of line. This ensures that you don’t pop your line on the hook set with today’s advanced high modulus fishing rods and near stretchless fluorocarbon line.

But how do you set your drag properly?

This is a good question, I am sure many have asked themselves.

Many anglers set by feel. They grab the line coming off the spool and pull on it to feel how much tension they must place on the line before the drag releases more. If you have years of experience it is possible to do this accurately and properly. Though it is not the most accurate method.

I have been known to take the end of my line, hold my reel in one hand, grab the line after it comes out the top eye with my other hand and pull on the line making my rod bend. If my rod bends all the way and my drag begins to release, I consider it too tight. I loosen my drag. I like to see my rod bend about 20-30 degrees before my drag starts to release line.  This method has worked decently for me over the years. Though this is still not the most accurate method.

The most accurate method of setting your drag is to use a scale tied to the end of your line. You want the drag to be set to 25% of the breaking point of your “weakest link”. I say “weakest link” because if you have a 15lb test main line with an 8lb test leader, the leader is your “weekest link”. You want to set your drag to 25% of 8. Therefore, you want to set your drag to 2lbs.

You do this by attaching your line to the scale, then pulling up on the rod, making it bend. You apply pressure until the drag releases line. Taking notice of the read out on your scale, you want to see no more than 2lbs on your scale at the point when your drag begins to release line.

Some people claim that with bass fishing, drag can be set higher than 25% and say you can go as high as 50% of the line’s breaking strength. I believe this would be ok for heavier lines but when it comes to light line tactics, I stick with around 25%. I’d rather have my drag set loose rather than too tight.

All this talk about drag could be deemed unnecessary if you are a fan of backreeling.

The Anti-Reverse Switch on a Shimano Stradic Ci4

The Anti-Reverse Switch on a Shimano Stradic Ci4

Backreeling is exactly what it sounds like. You take off the anti-reverse on your spinning reel and crank your reel backwards when fighting the fish. Many feel that backreeling is much more reliable than the drag systems. This may have been true years ago but with a lot of today’s high-tech fishing reels, the drag systems are very reliable. The other notion is that with the drag the fish is in control but with backreeling the angler is in control.

To backreel successfully, you want your drag tighter than usual. You want to use the rod bend to fight the fish. You must maintain constant contact with the fish. When you feel the fish is about to make a run, be ready to start backreeling to let the fish have a bit of line. You want to do this all the way to the boat. It’s a game of give and take. If done properly the bend of the rod will wear the fish out quickly.

I know when I first taught myself to backreel, there was more than one occassion when my hand slipped and the reel handle spun wildly out of control when the fish made a run. I had sore knuckles from the handle spinning around and cracking me on them. It does take a bit of practice to get the hang of backreeling but once you get the feel for it, it can increase your confidence with landing even the biggest fish.

You always want to make sure that when you get the fish to the side of the boat and are ready to bring it on board, switch your anti-reverse back on so you can have a free hand to grab the fish without worry of your reel free spinning backwards and line peeling off.

Whichever method you use is really up to you. However, perfecting either or is an integral part of successfully landing a high percentage of your fish. I prefer to know how to do both so when on the water, even if my drag is set correctly, I can always flip off my anti-reverse and fight the fish backreeling.

I hope you find these tips helpful and may they result in your next fishing trip be a more successful one.

Tattered Thumbs & Bigguns, Jared


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April 2021

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