Do Fly Fishing Reels Have a Drag? How is it Used?


Recently I went on a fly fishing trip and I started to notice that my reel had a drag. It got me wondering how I could use it to my benefit so I researched it.

Do fly fishing reels have a drag and how are they used? Fly fishing has two different sets of drag systems: disc and click & pawl. Disc drag is a compressed set of washers inside the reel creating resistance when the fish starts swimming. Click and pawl is outdated and is characterized by the toothed wheel and ‘pawl’ on the inside to create drag.

There are two different types of drag and both of them have their purpose and uses. Disc drag has two different styles, and the click and pawl is where you get that famous zzing! sound whilst fishing.

Disc Drag and its Benefits?

Disc drag reels are by far the most popular drag you will find in most fishing rods. It is also one of the newest drags invented for fly fishing and is extremely effective.

In fact, most people and store owners have caught on to how superior the disc drag is. They have caught on so much that if you go into a store right now the majority of the poles will be disc drag. There are many reasons for this.

Just to state a few of the reasons, they have a higher capacity to stop the fish; or, as some would put it, “put the brakes on.”

Disc drags are also extremely smooth, allowing for the longevity of the parts on the rod. It is also able to sustain enormous amounts of pressure caused by the wind.

Disc drags are also superior in that they offer many settings in which the fishermen can change the amount of drag taking place.

If they want to toy with the fish a little bit more the reel can be adjusted to let the drag out. However, if they are new fishermen, they are more likely to tighten the drag so they can get it out of the water quicker.

Since disc drags are so strong and can withstand the worst of weathers, they are ideal for saltwater fishing. Oftentimes, the ocean is extremely windy and stormy. Even when the weather is calm the water is not.

With the disc drag, it will provide the fishermen with security so that they can not be afraid of whether or not their spool will be able to make it.

The Mechanics of Disc Drag

The mechanics of disc drag is also fascinating. Disc drag is made of compressed washers allowing the fish to pull on the line while the washers grab it and slow the line down preventing the fish from getting away.

In theory, the way a disc drag should work is that the fish latches on to the line and immediately tries to run away with the line. When the fish tries to run to compressed washers should put enough pressure on their line that it will cause the fish to slow down enough so the fishermen have a chance to reel it back to shore.

Even though this may seem pretty simple it gets even more complicated. There are two different types of disc drags. There is the drawbar disc drag and then there’s the sealed drum disc drag.

With each different type of disc drag, there is a different mechanic and technique used for each.

Bar Disc Drag

The bar disc drag is by far the most widely and most commonly found drag put into fly fishing reels. They function similar to what I described above. However, to go into more detail they also have two metal discs below them and one of the washers is typically made of cork. This allows for the line to once again be dragged back.

The best thing about the bar disc drag is that it is far smoother than other drag techniques. When you cast with the cork, it is squeezed and squishes down into itself. However, when it comes back up it causes a large drag.

The smoother the drag, the better protection for the rest of your gear. If you have a bumpy drag it will affect the tippet of your line, which will cause a shortened life span for the rest of your gear.

While the bar disc drag may seem far superior to anything else I could tell you about, there are a few issues with it. The biggest problem with the bar disc drag is that the cork used in the drag must be oiled properly each time. If it is not lubricated it could cause it to break.

Another issue with the bar disc drag is that it is mainly left open which causes debris and parts to get stuck in the drag. This completely throws off the equilibrium of the drag. This is a big concern, especially when this drag is typically used in the saltwater atmosphere.

Sealed Drum Disc Drag

With that being said, that is why the second type of disc drag, sealed drum disc drag, is the preferred type of drag for saltwater and other fishermen in muddy and murky areas.

Most of the sealed drum disc drags are sealed entirely. If they are not, it is likely to have a rubber ring protecting the washers in the spool. As far as functionality goes, this drag functions just like the bar disc drag.

However, it does not have the same stopping power. This is simply caused by smaller washers and a difference in distributors. Even so, t is by far more durable than the bar disc drag.

What is Click-and-Pawl Drag?

A click-and-pawl drag is outdated in many ways. There were a lot of problems with the click-and-pawl drag which the invention of the disc drag ultimately fixed.

Note: Most fishermen only use click-and-pawl drags as a souvenir or antique to keep.

The way a click-and-pawl drag works is extremely simple- since it was made before the disc drag. There are two gears that are next to each other. A small triangle rests inside the gear that is attached to the spool.

Whenever there is pulling on the line, the triangle will turn, which causes the gears to turn. When the gears turn, it creates a clicking sound which is what gave the click-and-pawl drag its name.

Click-and-pawl drags are going extinct and that is because all of their problems are solved by modern disc drag. They are so old, that even though they do have a knob that can change how much drag is placed into the spool, the range of drag is extremely limited.

Since it is so limited if someone using the click-and-pawl drag were to try and catch a bigger fish it would ultimately strip their line.

So should you get a click-and-pawl reel? If you want an antique, then yes! If you don’t, then no. You’ll find comparable disc drag reels that are less expensive and offer more fish-stopping power, more versatility, and more ease of use.

With the click-and-pawl drag having such a hard time keeping fish on the line, it is no wonder they are starting to go away as we get more and more technology to create better drag.

Even though I have made it sound as though the click-and-pawl reels have no drag they do have a little stopping power so you won’t lose all of your line.

Some fishermen love using this type of reel so much that they have learned new techniques so they can keep using their reels. The technique is called palming.

Palming takes an extreme amount of technique. It allows the fishermen to put more control on the reel by himself. By palming the line, fishermen literally stop the line from going away all by themselves.

To stop the line they have to slow down the rotation of the spool by cupping his hand. This is not a technique for beginners.

Related Questions

What is a fly fishing spool? A fly fishing spool is a knot used to attach backing to the spool of a fly fishing rod.

Is backing neccessary on a fly reel? Fly line backing is a necessity as it will take up room in the rod. This may not sound like a good thing but it will actually allow you to pull your line up out of the water faster.

What is the best fly fishing reel? The best fly fishing reel is the Tibor Signature Series with the Hardy Duchess coming in at a close second.

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Stripped Bass.

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