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How Understand and Select the Right Drag System

Article and photo by John Strenk
Through the many years of being a professional reel technician, there has been much discussion on drag systems, as well as some confusion on the part of my customers. Here I will try to clear up some confusion and explain a bit about the differences.

How Understand and Select the Right Drag System, John Strenk, The Reel Tech,
In this photo, there are 3 different examples of drag materials. Left: Carbontex drag material that can be either installed as is, or with the addition of drag grease. Center: Drag material designed to be installed as is with no modification. Right: Cloth drag material designed to be used in conjunction with drag grease.

There are basically two types of drag systems, wet and dry, and each has its benefits. Either way, there is nothing worse than a jerky drag system. Drags not working in top form can cause you to lose that fish of a lifetime.

"Dry" drags are drags that require no modification and are designed to be installed as is. What makes a drag a "wet" drag is the addition of a lithium drag grease such as the Shimano drag grease or Cal's drag grease. The confusion I see a lot is the fact that not just any old grease will work, it must be a grease that is made for drag systems. Putting any old grease or oil on a drag washer will destroy its smooth fish stopping properties, and simply will not work. Also, it must be understood that not all drag material is able to be modified to a wet system.

Some drag materials are simply made to be just installed dry, and some are designed to be used with grease. Others materials are designed to be used both ways, depending on the persons preference.

Let's, talk, for example, about the carbontex drags made by Smooth Drag Co. in Oak Hills, CA. These are a fine example of a drag that can be either installed wet or dry. When you choose a "wet drag system" what you gain is a much smoother start up, and overall smoother performing and longer lasting drag in my opinion.

Installing the carbontex drags dry with no modification will give you a higher top end drag setting, but over time, you will not have as smooth of a startup over the entire range of drag settings.

Some people for example that fish from the river bank for hard pulling fish may opt for a dry drag system, so they can really button down on the drag to try and stop a fish they cannot follow, and keep it from going over the break. I personally am one of the guys who likes a butter smooth drag, all the time, so my personal choice would be for the wet system.

Any questions at all, feel free to visit my website and/or contact me. Tight Lines and screaming drags to all!!

John Strenk is the owner of The Reel Tech and specializes in expert fishing reel and fishing rod repair, as well as beautiful hand crafted custom fishing rods. John is an avid outdoorsman; fishing and hunting are his passions. He has experience in long range offshore fishing, tournament fishing, freshwater fishing, and everything in between. His love for the gear we use, and his attention to detail shines through in the work he does. He resides in Medford, OR, in the beautiful Rogue Valley with his lovely wife Jennifer.

Visit John’s website and blog or give him a call at 541-324-0346 if you need reel repair or a new fishing rod.

[Editor's Note: Please share with our readers what you know that will enhance the experience of fishing in Northern California or Southern Oregon. What have you learned? Your expertise, no matter where you fish (fresh or saltwater) or what species you target, could be invaluable to other anglers. What not to do is just as important as what to do. Please send your strategies, ideas, tips, techniques and personal experiences to Please include your name and hometown.]

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