Effective Fly Reels Drag Puts You In Control

Effective Fly Reels Drag Puts You In Control

I would like some advice on Fly Reels drag systems. What different types are there? How do you set them initially and how do you use them when playing a fish?
Martin Ward

Nick Hart answers: Some anglers view Fly Reels as little more than a ‘line storage device’ that are left redundant while playing a fish in favour of hand lining. There is much to support this view as vast amounts of line can be recovered pulling it in by hand, while a reel will manage just inches at a time.

On the other side of the fence are fly fishing gurus such as Peter Cockwill, who are famed for their love of high quality fly reels. After all, is there anything more lovely than a beautifully machined barstock aluminium fly reel? These products come at a price but very often include a drag system that could stop a train, an important consideration if you are likely to encounter salmon in fast rivers or take to the tropical flats in search of turbo-charged bonefish.

However, in most trout fishing situations on our stillwaters it would be sufficient to use a standard click and pawl system such as that seen in the popular Rimfly series of fly reels. These fly reels employed a simple plastic clicker that brushed against teeth on the spool to provide some resistance when a fish took line. I can still remember the satisfying noise!

Technology has moved forward and now most fly reels (even the budget models) come with a disc drag system that is both more effective and quieter. Generally speaking the more money we part with, the better the system will be.

A disc drag fly reel - the v-lite from Airflo.

A disc drag fly reel – the v-lite from Airflo.

To set up a disc drag, turn the knob (often situated on the back of the reel) until it applies enough pressure to ensure the reel does not go into free spool. If you are able to pull line under gentle tension from the spool then the drag is just about right. Don’t set it too tight, especially when using fine leaders and be especially careful when using a cheap drag system, as the spool will not rotate so smoothly. This problem can cause the line to suddenly snap tight with little control, often resulting in a leader break or the fly pulling loose. My advice when using these products is to forget the drag and hand line a fish while playing it.

But if you have purchased a quality reel and drag system then there are few things more exhilarating than watching the spool empty as a fish heads for the horizon! Keep the rod high, allow the spool to turn under the pressure of the drag and resist the temptation to fiddle with it too much, I have seen a lot of big fish lost due to this habit. Instead palm the spool gently to add a little more pressure and be ready to wind as fast as you can whenever the fish stops running.

Be ready too for a sudden burst of speed and a fish running back towards you in which case you may have to dispense with the reel and resort to hand lining to keep up.

Reprinted with permission of Trout Fisherman magazine.