Fly Fishing Reels: Part 3 - Drag Systems | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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The fly fishing reel’s drag system plays a pivotal role in your success. It's the subtle yet powerful feature that often decides the fate of your catch. Understanding the types of drag systems in fly fishing reels, and their significance, is crucial for any angler looking to elevate their fishing experience.

The Essence of the Drag System

The drag system in a fly fishing reel is designed to apply tension to the arbor and transfer that to the line.  That transfer to line control dictates the speed at which a fish can strip line off the reel. This control is vital when battling a fish, especially when targeting larger, stronger species that will truly test your gear. Your reel should not be your weakest point in your system. Instead it is should be a tool to aid your systems weak point or points so you can successfully land the fish. 

Types of Drag Systems

  • Click-Pawl Drag: This is a traditional system that uses a mechanical clicker (pawl) against gears to slow the line's release. It's simple, reliable, and often adjustable, but may require manual intervention (like palming the spool) for added pressure.
  • Disc Drag: The more modern system replaces the clicker with a disc, providing smooth and controlled resistance. Made from materials like plastic, cork, or carbon fiber, this system offers greater adjustability and is ideal for handling stronger fish.
    Within disk drags, there are two major types to consider, the drawbar disk and sealed drum disc types. Drawback disc used to be a more common type but the sealed disc system has evolved over the years and become more reliable. Commonly disk drags are designed with cork because it dissipates heat well but more modern materials are now being used and producing excellent results. Newer sealed disc types are far me reliable than the former.  The downside is that sealed disk types are not field repairable in many cases. Food for thought from my end.  Drags don’t typically fail unless you are allowing fish to make big runs on high drag settings.

Benefits of Choosing the Right Drag System

  • Effective Fish Handling: A suitable drag system allows you to handle fish more effectively, reducing the risk of breaking the line and a higher propensity of landing fish.
  • Adaptability to Fishing Conditions: Different drag systems are better suited to different fishing scenarios. Knowing which system to use can greatly enhance your fishing effectiveness. Sealed drags are popular in scenarios where there is salt, sand, dirt, etc. that can enter into the drag system.  Having the sealed system within the cage keeps this from occurring and causing malfunctions that end up in failure.
  • Long-Term Durability: High-quality drag systems are more durable and reliable, ensuring consistent performance over time. When the drag is sealed its protected from elements compared to other systems where parts are wearing and degrading.

Why Drag Systems Matter to Anglers

  • Increased Success Rate: A reliable drag system increases your chances of successfully landing fish, particularly in challenging situations. Putting a fish on the drag allows you to focus on other elements like driving the direction of the fish, bowing your rod, keeping away from obstacles, etc. 
  • Enhanced Fishing Experience: Smooth, consistent drag contributes to a more enjoyable and less frustrating fishing experience. We’ve all likely been there when you are on an old reel and somehow during the day muddy water got into the reel and the drag wasn’t working all that great. Soon enough what was anticipated as a standard catch became a complete debacle. Trying to control the fish and not break off. 
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Investing in a reel with a suitable drag system can save money in the long run by reducing the need for repairs or replacements due to breakages. Although it is not all that likely, time is the real cost. If I have to spend an evening off the fly tying vice researching my reel repair and then waiting a week for repair parts then I just lost a ton of money in time. 

The drag system is a critical component of any fly fishing reel, influencing your success and enjoyment on the water. Whether you opt for the traditional classic feel of a click-pawl system or the modern precision of a disc drag, understanding these mechanisms is key to choosing a reel that aligns with your fishing style and targets. Remember, in the world of fly fishing, the right drag system doesn’t just control your line. Instead, it empowers your entire angling experience.

I've shopped around for fly fishing reels for many years now and have talked to countless friends and pros about what to use. There are not to many tried and true brands that I've found and every day there seems to be a new reel company.  Here are a few brands and retailers that I trust and will get you into a solid reel with a bit of due diligence. 

Cheeky Fly Fishing Reels
Hardy Fly Fishing Reels
Peux Fly Fishing Reels (This brand specializes in automatic retrieve and multiplier reels...they are unbelievable.)
Greys Fishing
Ross Reels

Trident Fly Fishing 

You’ve been reading along and learning a ton about fly fishing reels.  Have you read all the other articles in this guide program?

Fly Fishing Reels: Overall Guide | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 1 - Understanding Quality and Price | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 2 - Compatibility and Size | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 3 - Drag Systems | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 4 - Arbor Size | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 5 - Manufacturing and Construction | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 6 - Extra Spools and Versatility | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

Fly Fishing Reels: Part 7 - Lifetime Warranties and Brand | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

FFIP does receive a small commission from affiliate sales links. However, not all links are directed towards affiliate programs as I stay neutral and base recommendations more so on my own experiences. These commissions are used to support the FFIP expenses related to maintaining and hosting the show, blog, etc. Thank you for your support and by purchasing through the links within my articles when applicable!

Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast
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