The previous two controls have to do with casting the bait. The final control of the the three we’re talking about today, the drag, has to do with what happens once the bait hits the water. The drag is controlled by the starfish-shaped device on the handle side of the reel. Drag refers to the amount of pressure needed for your spool to lip while the reel is engaged. You’ll roll the control forward or away from your body to increase the drag and roll it backward or toward your body to decrease the drag.
Again as with the spool tension knob and the brake system, the factory setting will have the drag as loose as possible. So I like to tighten mine all the way down and then, with the reel engaged, pull on the line just in front of the reel to see how much pressure it takes for the spool to start spinning. The desired pressure varies greatly depending on the presentation.
If I’m punching thick, matted vegetation with 65-pound braid, the drag is maxed out as far as I can get it. If I’m throwing a treble-hooked bait, it’s much looser. But even then, it’s not the same for all treble-hooked baits. If I’m throwing a Shad Rap on 10-pound test fluorocarbon for instance, I’ll want my drag pretty loose. Reason being, I don’t need to apply a lot of pressure to set the hook and the line is light so I don’t want my drag so tight that it might break.
But if I’m throwing a walking topwater really far on 30-pound braided line, I’ll want my drag a little tighter to ensure a good hookset on a long cast, and then actually back off of my drag as the fish nears the boat so that it’s less likely to tear off or open up a hook with the rigid braid and thin-wired trebles. So it’s not a perfect science and there’s a lot of feel to it that you develop over time through trial and error, but still a few basic rules of thumb that typically apply.
If you’re fishing something like a jig or hollow body frog with one or two big bold hooks and you have those baits paired up with heavier line, tighten down on the drag a good bit. If you’re fishing treble-hooked baits, loosen up a bit. Think about the amount of pressure needed for the hook to set and the action of the rod and size of the line you’re using and make a best guess when it comes to drag. If you find you’re getting slack in your line during the hookset or fight and that’s causing you to lose fish, tighten your drag a little. If fish are tearing off or bending your hooks, back off a little. Over time, you’ll get better and better at setting your drag.