How to Set the Drag on a Spinning Reel

Posted by nick under Fishing Beginners Guide

The drag mechanism on your reel is designed to allow you to set how much resistance a fish feels when it pulls on the line.

Drag is measured in pounds. The tighter you set the drag, the more resistance the fish feels.

You want to set the drag tight enough that it tires out the fish when you fight it, but not so tight that the line breaks under stress.

The most accurate procedure for setting the drag on your reel requires a scale.

You can use a spring scale:
fishing spring scale

or a digital scale:
fishing digital scale
What is the correct drag setting for my reel?

The drag should be set to 25% of the breaking strength of the line you are using. The breaking strength is the line’s pound test, which should be clearly labeled on the package and spool.

test strength ÷ 4 = correct drag setting

For example, if you are using 8lb test line, the correct drag setting should be 2lbs.

8 ÷ 4 = 2lb

How do I set the drag on my reel?

  1. Assemble your rod and attach the reel. Thread the line through all the guides from the butt to the tip top.
  2. Tie the line to the hook of the scale.
  3. Hold the rod at a 45° angle.
  4. Pull down on the scale. Take a reading on the scale the moment the drag begins to slip.

fishing reel drag with scale

  1. Adjust the drag mechanism until the drag slips at the correct setting for the line strength you are using.*On a spinning reel, the drag mechanism is usually on the top of the reel (front drag), though it can sometimes be found on the back end of the reel (rear drag). Click here to see a diagram of a spinning reel.

The scale method is the most accurate way to set your drag. You can try to set the drag by feel, many people do. But many of these anglers have their drag set too tight and too tight equals lost fish.

Hot Technique Alert: Have you ever heard of the fly and bubble technique? It’s an awesome and versatile fishing tactic that every spin fisherman should know… read about here.

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20 Responses to “How to Set the Drag on a Spinning Reel”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I have a 6 lb line but a 4 lb lead do you set the drag for 6lb or 4lb ?

  2. nick Says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Your leader is the weakest link here. Set the drag to protect your leader, that would be the 4lb test. Great question, thanks for asking!

    -Nick

  3. Anonymous Says:

    How do knots affect the strength of the line and how does that factor into the above.

  4. nick Says:

    Knots weaken the strength of the line. But, since we want to tie hooks on to the end of our lines, knots are a necessary evil.
    The knot wouldn’t really affect the calculation of the drag. Just use the same knot you plan to use on the hook to tie the line to the scale; The drag will be set correctly (to slip before the line breaks).

    In practice, most people are not this exacting about setting their drag. After you measure it once or twice, you’ll get an idea of the feel of it by pulling on the line with your hand after you’ve set it correctly for the weight of the line you’re using. After that you can probaby do it solely by feel. Measure again only if you change the weight of the line or forget how it’s supposed to feel.

  5. youssef Says:

    Hi neck,

    am new to the fishing when I have to fix the drag to tire the fish out, I used to only fish for small species with the drag tight to the maximum and just pull the fish out of the water.

    Now I bought 12′ surf rod and the Penn 950ssm for mulloway, rays, sharks or whatever big I can find. I have 70lb braid on the reel, so according to u I should set the drag to around 17lb !!!
    right ??!! but my problem is the rod because my rod designed line capacity is 10-12kgs and my priority is set the drag so that it will not break the rod and the fish will pull the line without snapping the rod.
    Can u help me with that please ??!?!
    My email is youssef.takla@hotmail.com
    Cheers

  6. RB Says:

    Youssef,

    I’m not very good at math problems, but I think maybe you should get a bigger rod.

  7. Ask Rangkaian pancing dan tehnik yang benar untuk galatama bawal Says:

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  8. icecoolers Says:

    Never too late to read your post. The formula to set the drag on a spinning reel is great! If it wont work as posted, a minor tweak of your gear would give you a hefty catch. Thanks for sharing!

  9. neworleansfishingtours Says:

    Hey……
    Read your blog its very nice

  10. Tom Says:

    70lb? What are you chasing? Whales?

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  13. Jay Says:

    I lost a big snook today, and I think because my drag was too tight. Hopefully tomorrow I land him after using this technique on my drag and get my darn spoon back, and a photo! lol

  14. Evan Says:

    I have 20 pound braided line but my reel only takes 10 pounds. What should I set the drag to?

  15. Jeremie Says:

    Reply to Evan I’m not a pro angler but I would check your max drag settting on your reel do the same process and max the drag to see how much resistance you have ” if you don’t see a max drag on the reel ” most reels are tested with monofil line and most “New” braid lines have a smaller diameter than mono lines . A quick note to setting drag be sure to completely remove your drag setup after your fishing is done, leaving a drag set can weaken the washer thats pressing against the bearings to tighten the resistance. Doing this reliefs the pressure and has less chance of warping said washer.I hope this helps in short term . You could 1. Use the max drag if its less resistance than the line can withstand ::4 . Baby the real and set it to half max the drag setting .3 buy bigger game reel.

  16. In Search of The Big One « In Case You're Bored Says:

    [...] nibbles on the line and then a solid bite. That was what brought to my attention that the “drag” on my rod was adjusted way too low, or high, or something in-between (I still don’t [...]

  17. Melvin Says:

    I tried doing this and it doesn’t work. I tied a spring scale to the line, held the dial part of the scale, and pulled, but got no reading on the scale. I was just pulling the line off the spool, and didn’t feel any sort of resistance. I was also adjusting the drag while I did this (both ways), but not once did I get any reading. Help please?

  18. Melvin Says:

    Also, I want to add that Ihave a spinning reel, and was holding the rod at a 45 degree angle.

  19. EddieFreak Says:

    Melvin, what are the markings on your scale? If the first mark is 5lbs and your trying to set at 2lbs they you may not see much movement.

    If you think everything is correct just keep tightening the drag until you get a reading.

  20. Shela Says:

    Usuazlly I don’t read article on blogs, however I wish
    to say that this write-up very compelled me to try
    and do so! Yourr writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite nice
    post.

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