What a Drag!
by Chris Tan

The windy conditions that prevailed for the last two days had been having a rather dampening effect on our fishing. Fishing yesterday on Jon's boat had resulted in only a handful of bream. We therefore decided to be more adventurous today. At midday we left the shelter of the mangroves to the deeper channels that were more exposed to the elements.

This proved to be a good decision and soon we were landing some good sized bream. With higher spirits now I decided to put out a fresh whiting on my baitcaster, spooled up with 12 lb line. Half an hour later the ratchet started clicking and I had visions of a big flathead. However by the time I managed to get the rod out of its holder the fish had dropped the bait. Being optimistic nevertheless, I left the bait out there.

Five minutes later the ratchet screamed, with the rod really bent over. Grabbing it, I managed to set the hook. Fortunately I had just serviced the drag as the line continued to be pulled out smoothly. As the fish continued to run strongly, we started to speculate on what it could be. It was big for sure! Although its pull was smooth like a ray, it still had the shake and fight of a fish, so Jon reckoned that it could be a big groper. The ten minute fight was hard work but sheer enjoyment. ` Got the gaff, Jon?' I yelled when I had recovered most of the line. `Forgot to bring it !' he answered sheepishly. Finally the brown of a big shovel nose shark surfaced, thrashing the water violently. Putting up a tremendous fight it dived deep for a minute and resurfaced three times. The drag handled this commendably well with the line peeling off smoothly each time. The excitement mounted when the fish broke surface the fourth time, and to my consternation the berkeley snap was open, leaving the leader just hanging on to the hooked end of the snap. As thoughts of loosing the catch was to much too handle, I yelled out in desperation, `Grab the leader, grab the leader !'. No one seemed to move, so I quickly grabbed it and wound it round my hand, oblivious to the line cutting into my bare flesh. Simultaneously Jon had managed to somehow grab hold of the exhausted fish and slide it into the boat . Phew, what a relief ! On weighing it at the end of the day, my prize catch was 24 lbs!

If I had not serviced my drag to ensure its smoothness, that shark would have definitely snapped the line or jerked the leader off the open snap. I believe that ultra smooth drags are necessary for the rare big fish that comes along, more so if you are fishing on light tackle. I have seen anglers get worried when they hook up a big one with a jerky drag. Then the line snaps and a scream of anguish follows! When the drag is ever so slightly jerky or sticky, the peak drag (the point at where it sticks) could be well above the breaking strain of the line during a hard fast run.

For anglers who do not normally service their own gear, it would be best for their reels to be sent to experts if their drag is sticky. Those who are handy with servicing their own reels, might consider servicing their drag systems or even modifying it if necessary. But be forewarned that if the reel is still under warranty, opening it up will void the warranty.

Here is how to go about servicing a drag system. It is basically the same for multipliers and spinning reels. Having the reel parts diagram helps a lot, especially in the reassembly of the reel. When removing the the metal washers and drag washers, check the metal washers for rust, pits, scratches or warping. They can be cleaned by grinding the metal washers on sandpaper placed on a flat hard surface. Use wet and dry sandpaper for this. Then polish the metal washers to a mirror smooth finish with metal polish. If the washer is too badly warped or rusted to polish down, it will have to be replaced.

Now check the drag washers for disintegrated or burnt surfaces. If damaged they too will have to be replaced (it is possible to replace them with leather washers as will be discussed later on). If they are contaminated by water, oil or grease, they can be cleaned, unless the washers are normally oil-soaked for use.

To clean them, soak the washers in an air tight jar of isopropyl alcohol for a few minutes, then shake the contents vigorously. Repeat this a few times. Remove the washers and let them dry. If the washers have been badly contaminated, the alcohol may have to be changed a few times. Alcohol (as pure as possible, 80-90% pure, not cognac or beer please ! I also use CRC CO Contact Cleaner, but it is a very expensive alternative) can be purchased from most pharmacists.

When the reel is reassembled do not over-lubricate it with oil or grease, as it will seep into the drag washers after some time and cause a sticky drag. If it is still sticky you may have to repeat the service.

If you choose to replace your drag washers, try homemade leather washers. I prefer oil-soaked leather washers,as they are smoother than most standard drag washers and almost maintenance free. They do not easily get contaminated with oil or water, not to mention they are much cheaper to replace with different sizes readily available. However, for big game reels using hi-tech washers, it would be preferable to stick to the recommended replacement parts.

The leather used is suede or chrome leather (furry on both sides). It may be obtained from leather mongers or shoe repairers. I have even used pieces from leather gardening gloves successfully. Choose the thinnest and softest leather. Some drag systems use very thin drag washers. If you choose to replace them with leather, you may have to remove a metal and drag washer to accommodate the new thicker leather washers in multi disk systems ( I have never had any problems or loss in performance in doing this).

Cut the leather to the right size and shape. Soak it in light oil like singers sewing oil for a few minutes. I would not recommend WD40 as it is not a suitable lubricant to use. `One lube' by Slick 50 is a good lubricant to use for leather. Squeeze out the excess oil and you can reassemble the reel. Check the smoothness of the drag. It should be smooth as silk, no bumps or jerks. When the drag is perfect, you would not even be aware that the drag slips unless you look at the spool !

Remember that a smooth drag is essential for sport fishing. Play the fish, not fight it. And don't forget the gaff !