As promised in the parts of a baitcast reel I am going to run through some of the proper settings, use and functions of the different parts of a baitcast fishing reel for catfish.
The drag is one of the most important parts of any fishing reel and becomes even more important when catfishing because of the opportunity to catch BIG catfish. The drag being set and used properly can make or break you when attempting to land a trophy catfish.
The drag (often referred to as a star drag) is controlled by the star shaped knob that is on the reel just inside the handle. When the star is turned clockwise it tightens and when it is turned counter clockwise it loosens.
Being adjusted tighter is often referred to as “more” and being looser is often referred to as “less”. For instance if someone said you need to tighten the drag or you need more that would mean you needed to turn the star clockwise to apply more pressure on the washer. If someone said you need less drag or loosen it that would mean you needed to turn the star counter clockwise lessening the pressure on the drag washers.
When it is tightened, it applies more pressure to the drag washers. When it is loosened, it applies less pressure to the washers.
In a nutshell what this means is that the tighter the tension is is on the spool, the less give there is between you and a fish.
The drag functions as a “buffer” between your reel an the catfish allowing “give” which prevents the fishing line from breaking. This is what compensates for the difference between the break strength of the fishing line and the actual amount of pull the is being applied to the fishing line.
If you are using 20 lb test line and catch a 1 lb catfish, the setting is not so important. If you are using 20 lb test and catch a 100 lb fish then properly set (and used) drag system will make the difference between having it in the boat or it being the “one that got away”.
I have mentioned several times that I use 20 lb test Offshore Angler Tight Line and if you have looked at my catfish guide service website you have seen numerous pictures of fish that are well in excess of 20 lbs, many are double and triple that. Proper settings and proper technique is what makes this possible.
Here is a bit of (sideline) trivia for you. Did you know that every Texas state record flathead catfish ever caught was caught by a crappie fisherman? If you know anything about crappie fishing you know that crappie fishermen use ultra light gear and ultra light line. Proper technique and properly using the drag on the reel is what makes it possible for a crappie fisherman to land a trophy class flathead catfish in 2 or 4 lb test fishing line.
How to properly set the drag on a fishing reel.
If you have been fishing very long you have probably heard this, but others may not have some I am going to give a brief readers digest version of the “proper procedure” here. Technically, the proper way to set the drag on a baitcast reel is to spool the reel with line, attach the reel to the rod, run the line through the line guides and then tie a small loop in the end of the fishing line (where the hook would normally go).
One person holds the rod, and the loop tied in the fishing line is the attached to a digital fish scale and the rod is held at a fourty five degree angle. The drag is adjusted and the person holding the rod and reel pulls back against the line (again attached to the scale). The drag should slip at approximately 25 to 35 percent of the unknotted line strength for the fishing line.
For thirty pound test fishing line this would be 7.5 to 10 lbs.
Basically the process is adjust the drag, pull against the scale, notify the person holding the scale when the drag slips the check reading on the scale and rinse and repeat until you get it right.
Blah, blah, blah ……..
Let me know how this works out for you. I have never once, ever used this process nor do I ever have any intentions of doing so, and honestly I don’t know of anyone else who does this either.
The “Real World” Way
Now, the thing you need to remember about this is that if it is set too tight, and there is no “give” in the reel, when you hook a big catfish it is going to snap your line so fast you are not going to know what hit you and you will be left standing there, fishing rod in hand with broken line scratching your head. If the drag is too loose, when you set the hook and begin your retrieve with the reel you are not going to gain any ground at all on the fish, the handle will turn but the spool will not.
You can always compensate for a drag being to loose by simply tightening it up a bit when you hook that monster catfish of a lifetime, about 1/4 turn at a time. You only have one shot at getting this correct though and if it is set too tight (too much drag) you will NOT get a second chance at it.
When I hook a big catfish, I start my retrieve and am watching the drag and feeling the handle, getting a sense for what is taking place and whether I should increase or decrease the settings, if it is too loose, I increase one quarter turn at a time until I feel it is right, but even then you want the fish to be able to pull drag on the reel.
When a client of mine hooks a big fish I am watching the reel, watching the line and watching the drag and making adjustments if needed (which is 100% of the time increasing the drag).
Often times this works out fine, until one critical point, which is when they get the big catfish to the side of the boat. It is very rare that you will get a big catfish to the side of the boat and it will just sit there and look at you waiting to be scooped up with your dip net. I have seen it happen a couple of times but this is typically when a fish is caught in deeper water and the fish is brought up too quickly, and even then the it almost always still has some fight in it. More often than not though, the angler is gaining line on the catfish, they gain confidence, starting cranking that star down adding more tension, the catfish gets to the side of the boat, has a walleyed hissy fit (that’s Texan for goes nuts and starts splashing around) and makes another run and the line snaps at that point.
The last thing you need to remember is that it is the fishing rod that brings the fish in, not the reel. I will go into more detail on this later in a seperate article but it is something for you to ponder long and hard if you don’t already understand it.
Last but not least is reel storage and drag washers. If for some reason after all of my advice you are compelling to crank down that star on the reel as tight as it will go, you need to make sure that you back that off and loosen it up when you are done fishing. Most drag systems contain some synthetic washers as part of the system. When you crank that star down as hard as it will go and leave it that way for extended periods of time it compresses these washers and causes them to lose shape, and in turn will ultimately not function properly. If you are in an area that has extreme heat in the Summer then this can be a really big problem very quickly, which forces replacement of these parts for the fishing reel to function properly.
Hopefully this is all you ever wanted to know about drag on a fishing reel and how to use it.