Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fly Reel Drag, Who Knew?

Do you really know how to set the drag on your fly reel? I certainly didn't!

We all know the old adage about learning something new every day the trick is to keep your eyes, ears and mind open to new knowledge. So I have to wonder if this knowledge has passed by at some point without notice or it just didn't soak in. After 50+ years of fishing I was certain I knew at least the basics on how to set the drag on a reel. Okay so I do have the basics it's the nuances that have evaded me until recently. You take the lightest break strength of your line, leader, tippet etc. and set the pull somewhere below that point, right? Wrong!

For years I have been playing the fool, as the young kids say, at setting my drag. I can’t even tell you how many times I have been the frustrated fisherman in the “big one that got away” story. Usually during a long day of challenging fishing I end up hooking into the fish that makes the day worth the effort only to have it break off. I usually just tell myself it's the hooking that matters. What a bunch of bunk! Then there are those days when landing a good size trout seems impossible and again the “big one” gets away. Thinking back on the subject this has been far and away more so the case with fly fishing using medium to light tippets than with spinning or casting gear. Part of the reason for this, I now understand is that the maximum drag settings on most light and medium duty spinning and casting reels doesn't come close to the break strength of the heavier lines used on them. For decades the maximum drag setting has puzzled me but the light is now on!

So on to the point of this little informational blurb. A couple of weeks ago while doing some reel research in preparation for a purchase I ran across an article. While reading through the text (scroll on down to the heading Range of Drag Adjustment) an interesting fact came to my attention; the actual pull at the tip of a bent rod is approximately double the pull at the reel. In other words if you set your drag at 1 pound at the reel the actual amount of resistance on the tippet when you hook a fish and the rod bends is 2 pounds. Likewise 2 pounds become 4 pounds, 3 pounds becomes 6 pounds and so on and so on. Where has this information been all my life? If you already knew all this why didn't anybody tell me? This explains quite a bit and answers the burning question in my mind as to why I've lost so many good size fish over the years to tippet failure.

I did an Internet search and couldn't find a single article, blog post, blurb or any other mention of the figures in the article listed above in relation to fly fishing though it did turn up some similar information on spinning and casting reels. The search did uncover quite a few articles that recommend setting the drag just tight enough to prevent free spooling when the line is pulled vigorously. I suppose this is a very workable course of action in a small number of situations where conditions are ideal. In this instance ideal would mean the hooked fish has no access to thick weeds, timber, rocks or other entanglements and there is no access to swift current. I can’t remember being in too many ideal situations when fishing. Actually all these years later I can still hear Jimmy Houston saying “if you’re not getting hung up you’re not fishin’ where the fish are”.

The past two Tuesdays I've had the great fortune to be able to get out and test my new drag settings. The first time out since finding this information I was able to land a trout that had been giving me fits in the weeks before. Granted it came to the net on the other side of the river but it did come to the net. Yesterday I spent some time on the Dream Stream in the South Park area of Colorado. For the most part it was a day of small trout on an assortment of flies but there were two exceptions. I will be sharing the details on those two exceptions later but for now I’ll just say, I like the new drag setting.

The only thing is now I have more questions. How much pull weight does a fly line add to the fight in stillwater? More importantly how much pull weight does current add on a fly line and it is significantly different from that added by monofilament? How much does the length of the rod, number of guides and rod flex affect pull weight at the tippet? How much does the full length of a fly line affect the weight of pull as opposed to the same length of monofilament? The answers oh quite a bit or not much probably won’t suffice. I want numbers in pounds and or ounces.

Keep an eye out for more. Now where do I get the right kind of scale for this type of thing?

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