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How much drag do you actually need

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I was going over a bit of thailand video of old vs the new gear I use. 

Note: sorry about swapping around lbs and kg, but it's fishing and it's something we're stuck with anyway, so be it.

I started thinking about my drag settings, my new spinning reels have 11kg of drag and I wondered if that would work for ocean fish, in particular reef fish as they are the only situation that I can think of that requires heavy drag. I started thinking then about my land based shark fishing days, I would use a 24kg overhead rod with a Shimano Tekota 8000 size reel. It's got 26kg of drag, and I rarely used all of it, I also use a Tekota 6000 that's only got 10kg of drag, and I caught plenty of 2.5m-3m sharks on that outfit.

Now fast forward to today, fishing a lot in thailand as I do, and trout in fast water I've found I loose more fish when I increase the drag then I do if I let them play.

That makesnme ask now, how much drag do you really need? I've caught a number of arapaima and large catfish with reels that only have a max of 7kg of drag, that's fish over 100-150lbs on 15lbs or so of drag. Recently I've been catching some great yellow belly and Murray Cod on light 1000 size reels running very light 5lb drag, usually only 4lb. My current personal best is a 98cm 12kg, so that's 26lbs of fish with only 4lb of drag, or recently Arapaima up to 180lbs on a drag only set to 15lbs.

Tying into that, I started working out the safe drag settings of my rods, my two big travel rods are after PE conversion 20lb-40lb (9-18kg, I consider it 15kg to be safe) and a 40lb-60lb one (18kg-27kg, so about 24kg to be safe)

So only the bigger rod can really use the full 11kg of drag, and that's on a 5000 size reel, the smaller one with a 4000 size can't use the full 11kg of drag safely. I know you shouldn't run full drag, but you can on special occasions or at least finger the spool a little. So thinkingvit over I'm usually running 50% drag on any reel that I own and it doesn't loose me any fish, I've seen people locking their drags down hard, quite a lot of people and trying to skull drag fish in.

Now that my rambling thought experiment is over, I'd like to open the floor to see how other people run their drags, does the fishing you do require tight drags and maximum cranking power, or do you like to handle things with a lighter touch.

My experiences with bottom bouncing and fishing reefs is fairly limited and not something i can see myself doing a whole lot, but for lure casting, live baiting and trolling for for big predators I can see myself doing that and the amount of drag people run in these situations is pretty interesting to me.

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There's no one answer here.

In the bay out of a boat I enjoy playing a fish in with a lighter drag so as not to pull the hooks, but when the sharks are around this is fraught with danger, so I have to go harder.

In the fresh, landbased at an impoundment, you can get away with a lighter drag and take your time playing a fish in as you don't have to lift the fish as much as you would in a boat. Also, throw in some structure like trees and you will need to run a heavier drag.

That applies a lot in a boat near structure. My mind wanders to @Another Wazza's recent experiences trying to keep jew away from the structure and needing to lock drag or @Cobiaaddict's recent tusky adventures where the fish will run straight for structure.

With the reel/rod interplay, I think you can run a heavier drag than the rod is rated for as long as you don't need to use the rod to pull a fish up, like when fishing deeper water from a boat . When that's not the case you just need to be mindful of the bend in the rod and adjust accordingly.

I generally start my bay fishing with a lighter drag and adjust after the take to a level dependent on how quickly I need to get it in.

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Heaviest drag on my reels is 15kg.....on 30lb braid    I don't use half of that.

As for sharks I am quick to disengage spotlock on a decent fish and let him swim away a bit to get away from the reef before putting the hurt on them.

To be honest I do not have much trouble at all with sharks wherever I go....river, bay or offshore.

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I have never measured the drag on any of my reels, have always just gone by feel. In saying that, in clean water, fresh or salt, I will happily play a fish and go a bit easier, if I'm up north on the reefs, I will pretty much fish locked with my thumb on standby, cause if you are trying to pull a big trout out of a bommie or a red from the deep... I really don't like giving them an inch. As for land based sharks, I've always gone has much drag as I can, as long as I can still comfortably stand, and hey... if you start getting dragged down the sand, there is always someone to grab onto ya.!! 

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I do like that idea of letting the fish run from a shark, as opposed to trying to race it in.

I can see a lot of merrit to that approach.

One thing I did forget to mention, is when I run my drag lighter, I tend to ease the fish in easier, they don't seem to fight as hard, getting into the net can be a problem, but I have noticed a difference.

My old method was to work out the maximum drag for my combo and then set it uninhs scales, but I did loose a lot more fish then to thrown hooks, I think easing them in let's you keep a more consistent pressure on them.

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2 minutes ago, Bob9863 said:


One thing I did forget to mention, is when I run my drag lighter, I tend to ease the fish in easier, they don't seem to fight as hard, getting into the net can be a problem, but I have noticed a difference.


The old saying is... the harder you pull, the harder the fish will pull back.

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One thing that really stood out to me in some more popular fishing parks in thailand is that people fight really hard, there are pylons where you land the fish. People want to force the fish away from them which makes them fight harder and a lot of hooks get thrown. But watching the European guides, they set a lighter drag, have those huge long carp rods and try to ease the fish gently into the net. That really improves their catch rate to the point that you really  don't see them loose any fish at all.

But watching fishing shows, the experts seem to fight hard and try to dominate the fish, and they throw a lot of hooks.

I also preferred stiffer stronger rods in the past, they gave me more control over the fish, especially when fighting sharks, but now I'm preferring longer much more forgiving rods, they let me apply constant pressure, absorbe runs and head shakes and guide the fish in with a lot less effort.

but I'd like to hear from the people that do fight them hard, just to see if they manage to loose less with any techniques, there's definitely situations that I can think of where it's definitely necessary to do so. Knowing how to reduce thrown hooks in those situations would be brilliant to know.


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As @ellicat say's, there is no one answer, 

I love fishing heavy drag settings, if I can stop a fish getting back to structure then it's a win for me. 

Found my catch rate improved significantly when I started moving to the more appropriate rods, reel, line classes & drag settings when targeting certain species.  

For example,  Blackspot Tusk fish fight extremely hard for their size,  a 3kg fish fights as hard if not harder than a 5-6kg snapper in my experience,  But the structure & location and feeding habits differ and Tuskies feed very low in the water column giving you very little chance of stopping them getting back to a cave or ledge, meaning  80lb braid & 120lb leaders are required to subdue such a fish,  Snapper feed relatively high in the water column and  5-6kg fish can be easily fought and landed on 20lb or 30lb line if your drag is set correctly and your using your  gear to its full potential,   20-30lb line class would simply not have the abrasion factor required to consistently land big Tusk fish,


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I've never set drags with scales. 

I go completely by feel, and adjust accordingly during the fight. 

I tend to run heavier drag closer to the bottom and once turned and on the way up I will back the drag off slightly as the fish nears the boat. 


If sharks are around then it's the old, lock it up and skull them in. 

Problem with that is you face the issue of terminal tackle failure, like straightening hooks or busting swivels. 


I've never free spooled on the reef to let fish get away from sharks. I think this is because, you don't really know when the shark is going to hit the fish. 

I have free spooled in timber chasing barra. Works well. Just have to be careful not to put weight on the fish when you retrieve the line and weave the boat around the sticks, otherwise you will lose the fish. 


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The only time I would lock up a drag would be when you have hooked a largish powerful fish that was heading for structure or was near the bottom when hooked, in which case I figure I have nothing to lose as most likely they will reach a cave/ledge/structure and snag the line and bust you off.

I used to target Mullaway in the Swan river and the only ones I ever lost were the ones that I tried to drag in, due to over excitement and not thinking. Those would turn and swim straight towards me and under the jetty, then it was game over and the line parted due to sharp bits on the pylons, the others I played on lighter drag and they would swim down current usually and towards the center of the river, a bit of back and forth  till they became tired and much easier to handle when close to the jetty or rocks.

So I think it depends on the type of fish and the nearby structure. One of the guys I met up in northern W.A used to fish for up to 30kg mackerel from a boat and used  light line, can't remember if it was 4kg or 4lb line, chased it all over the ocean and the fight would go on for a very long time, the fish was pretty much cactus when brought on board.

For large sharks, I would try to get them in quicker so they can recover quicker and be released without too much trauma on them, downside is they also tend to be a bit more energetic when being de-hooked so more care must be taken. I suppose it's a bit like running flat out for 300m, at the end you are very tired but can recover rapidly VS a marathon race, whereby afterwards you are completely shattered  and have used up all of your reserve energy.

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Only time I get to full drag is when chasing big stuff over shallow reefs. We do a lot of stickbaiting over the reef flats and on the odd occasion we'll need to lock the drags up if we connect up to a GT and we're unable to chase it, especially if it's on our smaller rigs. We use Saltiga 23's (6000's) and with 15kg of drag we're pushing something letting go, but there isn't too many other options sometimes. 

Our usual choice of gear for GT's are Satliga 14000's, with 25kg of drag we rarely have to lock it up, but when you do there's very little give and it get's hard to stand up and not get pulled out of the boat.

When chasing the normal reef fish, preference is the least amount of drag possible, pending on the structure we might go heavy to start with then back it off, this doesn't just help to settle the fish down, but also aids in releasing if it's coming from the depth, stops the barotrauma getting too bad and gives us a better release rate. If sharks are around we'll move on, I hate losing fish to them, especially undersize fish when releasing. 

Up the creeks for Barra and Jacks it's pretty much the same, as little as possible. Just enough at the start to pull them out of structure if needed, and then back it off.

We used to muck around in the shed with some beers and pull the scales out to test different knots and line/leader strength, sometimes it's a good learning point to see how much, or how little drag some brands or knots can actually take, and it's an eye opener for anyone who's never done it as to how heavy even 5kg of drag actually is. 

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