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Jim Porter fishing articles


SOME THINGS ARE A REAL DRAG


by Jim Porter


Outside of a crank plug that just won't run correctly, there is one item of fishing gear that takes the majority of verbal abuse from anglers--the line. Anytime it breaks, we are quick to place the blame on the line, itself. However, in nearly every case, line failure is directly attributable to the angler; something he either did or didn't do.

Fishing line is the primary link between fisherman and fish and is also a very fragile connection. The experienced angler has learned to treat it as such. He recognizes that the purchase of a good quality line is a 'must' and knows that it should be checked regularly for nicks, cuts and abrasions, which degrade its rated strength. He also knows that heat speeds up the chemical decomposition of most lines and, accordingly, keeps it stored in a cool, dry place. He does all this and yet frequently fails to take into consideration one of his more positive controls and safeguards against line failure--the drag system on the reel.

Be honest and try to remember when you really gave a lot of thought about the drag on your reels. Did you set and test it before that last outing? When was the last time you cleaned the reel and ALSO cleaned the drag system? I'm not throwing stones here, because I am just a guilty as the next guy. The point is that the drag is normally an overlooked item.

There are three distinct times when a properly set drag is of major importance. First, when we hook an unexpectedly large and powerful fish, such as a trophy bass, he often makes a strong initial run. The second instance is when we get snagged, lose our 'cool', and start yanking and jerking to get it loose. Broken rods and lost lures often result from these episodes. The third, and most important, time to have an accurate drag setting is when we bring the fish next to the boat, particularly if we do it before he is fully exhausted. More lines are broken and trophy fish lost by final surges next to the boat than any other way.

The drag system of a reel is intended to allow the angler to preset a consciously-determined limit to the amount of pressure which may be exerted on his line. It is an automatic, mechanical back-up to the angler's own abilities in playing a fish and provides a safeguard against unexpected pressures on the line. Proper drag settings are related to the strength of the line being used, but involve a number of other factors which we will discuss as we go herein.

All modern reel drag systems operate on the principle of friction between two or more surfaces. (For you physics buffs, the 'coefficient of friction', the degree of 'slipperiness' between two materials, is the prime design driver for drag materials selection, as we will discuss later on.) Construction usually involves the use of a series of adjacent washers, to which varying degrees of pressure can be applied by some mechanical adjustment. In some spinning and spin-cast reels, the rear and/or front surface of the spool may be one of the friction surfaces. The same applies to fly reels. Others, noted by having a drag adjustment at the rear, operate by applying constriction on the main drive shaft. The drag in ait-casting reels normally involves the drag washers being positioned on the shaft of the main drive gear, rather than in direct relation to the spool. Some newer reels have a basic drag setting, plus a special lever which allows it to be increased or decreased a pre-set amount immediately, while actually playing the fish.

Early drags devices ranged from metal-on-metal, plastic-on metal, plastic-on-plastic, to various combinations, including the use of leather disks. The goal was to find a combination of materials that would always retain a constant degree of friction. Metals were originally a problem in that they would rust or the heat created by the friction would wear and pit their surfaces. Plastics were worse. The heat caused fast wear-out and the ground-off residue caused the drag to bind excessively. For a while, leather was used, primarily because it was tough, long-lasting and had some natural lubrication. However, leather dried out and became misshapened and, eventually got brittle. This was especially true if gotten wet.

While one might ask why we didn't just regularly lubricate the components of the older drag systems, the answer is that the degree of friction and, therefore, the drag setting fluctuated greatly as the lubrication gradually dissipated, making it all but impossible to maintain any type of constant setting.

Recent innovations in metals with impregnated lubrication, such as those used for 'oil-less' bearings, and TEFLON (registered trademark of E.I. duPont de Nemours and Co.), a tough, synthetic material with a low coefficient of friction, have modernized drag systems immeasurably. Their constant coefficient of friction, coupled with the toughness and ability to quickly dissipate the heat generated, now give us drag systems which are predictable, long-lasting and dependable.

The problems most anglers experience with today's reel drags result from not realizing that they do require some maintenance and care, and not knowing how to adjust them properly.

Simple dirt and contamination by other foreign materials cause most drag malfunctions. (In my particular case, it always happens when I've managed to get a good fish on the end of my string!) Whenever grit manages to work its way in-between the washers, the balance of surface friction is disturbed. This causes binding and results in the drag not slipping at the proper setting. Even if the reel does not look dirty, there will always be microscopic metal shaving that result from the normal wear of the internal reel components, especially the gears. Suffice to say, regular reel cleaning, to include the drag system, is necessary.

I do not recommend taking the drag components, themselves, apart for cleaning, as reassembly is often difficult. Simply expose the washer assemblies and immerse them liberally in a cleaning solvent, taking care to assure that the chosen solvent will not damage any plastic components. Otherwise, warm, soapy water will do fine. If you do disassemble, you may clean and lubricate the washers. BUT, completely wipe the washers dry before reassembly.

Excess lubrication will upset the built-in balance of intended friction.

One thing to never do is store the reel with the drag setting tight. (You will note all new reels are found to have the drags backed off fully.) Loosen it to the maximum. Otherwise, TEFLON, or other man-made materials, may misshapen and cause the drag to be erratic when next used. Also, any foreign materials present may dry and bind the washers together. Loosen the drag fully and exercise it before each fishing trip. Gradually tighten and exercise it until you reach the intended setting.

Setting the drag is fairly simple, IF we recognize a couple of points. First, understand that if a drag were set, for example, to allow a continuous pull of eight pounds to take line steadily off the spool, it would take an initial force of around 12 pounds to overcome the initial inertia, or static resistance between the friction surfaces. (There we go with the physics lesson again.) Pushing a stalled car is an extreme example. It takes a good bit of effort to first get it moving, but not nearly as much to keep it rolling. What all this means is that the initial force to get the drag system slipping must not be too much for the line to handle or we'll break off for sure.

Another factor is the amount of shock that may be applied to the line at any point in time and the physical properties of the line and of the rod to handle it. For example, most monofilament lines on the market today have a considerable built-in stretch factor, averaging around 20%. This, along with a fast tip or soft rod, will cushion the initial shock to the line by a surging bass (or me trying to rip my favorite Bagley plug out of a persimmon tree). If you happen to favor one of the new 'low-stretch' lines, such as Berkley’s Fireline, you will not get as much cushioning effect. Consequently, the drag setting must be accommodating.

Based on the last two paragraphs, above, I hope I've made the point for the drag setting to be a rather selective process. Initially setting the drag IS NOT done by seeing how close to the actual breaking breaking strength of the line we can get, and then backing it down a bit. A sudden surge from a fish will ‘shock’ line and a drag set in that manner and -poof- all gone. With experience, the angler will get to the point that he can estimate a proper setting for a given weight of line and type of rod through exercising the drag by hand.

The best guide for drag settings I have found in 40 years of the fishing game is the 'one-fourth rule'. Take a dead weight, one-fourth the size that your line tests at, tie it on and try to dead lift it off the floor with the rod. (For example, a three pound barbell weight for 12 pound test line.) Now, you probably expect me to say something simple, like set the drag so that it slips when the weight is finally lifted from the floor. You can do that, IF you are using too heavy a rod. That's right, TOO heavy a rod. Actually, you are in for a big surprise when you try this method. If you are using the correct rod for the line employed, you should not be able to lift that weight without extreme difficulty and overtaxing the rod. (If you don't believe this, try it.) Where you set the drag to slip is when you can just perceive any degree of movement in the weight, or when the rod seems overly strained, whichever comes first.

In summing up, keep the following high points of drag setting in mind:
  • Buy good quality equipment.
  • Store it properly and service it regularly.
  • Understand that drag setting is not solely just below, or even near, the test of the line. There are other factors to consider.
  • Remember that your line and the drag that helps control it are your final links to that trophy fish.


DEPTH

Surface
6 feet
10 feet
15 feet
20 feet
WATER TEMP
W/CURRENT
83
74
72
71
70
WATER TEMP
NO CURRENT
89
77
76
70
64


Data compiled on Lake Guntersville, Alabama

Myth #3. Bass have certain temperature preferences and will always adhere to them. Other than a specific temperature range to provide for incubation and hatch of the spawn, a bass usually seems to disregard temperature factors in favor of staying near a food supply. In fact, certain scientific study reports in my possession indicate that the largemouth bass makes the most efficient use of his food at a temperature range of 78-85 degrees (F). This efficiency factor is based on the percentage of digested food left over for body growth after fulfilling the basic requirements to sustain life. In fact, the peak efficiency point was noted to be approximately 82 degrees (F). What this tends to indicate is that bass should be quite comfortable in what we anglers tend to describe as `warm' water. And, in referring to the earlier chart, we could surmise that he can easily tolerate shallow zones during the Summer period. What actually may be the case, regarding the Summer depth of a bass, is that the food supply (normally threadfin shad and crayfish) does not handle warm water well, and prefers the cooler depths. Accordingly, the bass follows the food source as the waters warm and it moves away from the shallow zones.

One great truism of bass angling notes that "Catching fish is easy; finding them is the hard part." The wisdom of this statement holds regardless of the season, the waters fished, the angler, and all the fine equipment in the World. However, it holds more significance for understanding as we try to overcome the ingrained misconceptions we have harbored for years regarding hot weather fishing. Finding bass in the Summer is, like other times of year, a matter of understanding the World of the bass and how he reacts to his surroundings. With the water temperature up and their body metabolism high, the bass are very active, moving a lot, and feeding heavily. You may come upon a good structure feature, cast a lure, and catch two or three fish quickly. But, just as suddenly, it will be all over. And, the next time you try the location, it may well be void of any fish.

Well, here is what is probably happening. Summer bass school strongly and nearly always relate to structure. (The only exception may be when the bait fish schools move into open water over the deeper zones and the bass follow. We usually note this condition by the presence of surface feeding activity). The Summer school will be active and somewhat loose and dispersed, as all are trying to feed on a early-continual basis. The structure being used, therefore, must be fairly large in order to support the dispersion of the entire group. This is a very key point in locating schools of hot weather bass on a consistent basis. We can still find singles and small groups on smaller structures and cover features. But, for lots of bass, we normally need large structure. The angler must recognize that, if a few bass are taken and the action stops, the remainder of the school may be dispersed across or along theremainder of the structure.

The most ideal Summer structure is a creek or river channel drop, as it meets three primary requirements. First, it is near deep water, always a major factor in bass positioning. Second, it is a large feature that allows a school to disperse along its course. And, finally, channels normally have some degree of current flow, either natural or induced by the winds. Current is important in hot weather bassin', in that it prevents stratification by temperature and oxygen levels, lends some cooling effect, and adds oxygen to the water. Other good locations are large submerged islands, long underwater points, and roadbeds. Again, we would be searching for a feature near deep water and with sufficient size to support a large, widely dispersed school of actively feeding bass. Those readers who have fished tidal waters or flowing rivers with some degree of regularity readily recognize the benefits of current flow. The mixing of the continually moving waters precludes temperature stratification to the degree that there is little seasonal depth variance in the location of bass.

On shallow, weed-infested waters, some Summer bass will relate to structure, if the water happens to be deep enough. However, the dense aquatic growth may indicate where the majority will be. (Florida biologists report that fish sampling has shown about two-thirds of the bass will be in the dense cover zones and the remaining one-third in open water. This can be considered a normal condition, IF the aquatic growth is alive and thriving. Dead vegetation actually uses up oxygen as a part of the decay process.) The heavy cover, even in the shallows, is comfortable due to the shade and the rich oxygen output of the plant life. A by-product of the photosynthesis of oxygen is a cooling effect, which may well make the shallow vegetation zones cooler than deeper, open water. When searching for bass in these shallow waters, the two key ingredients are, by priority: the most dense cover and the deepest water available. Recalling that the warm waters result in a high metabolic rate in the bass and an increased requirement for food, we would suspect that the competition for food would be high during the Summer months. Consequently, we would logically choose an active lure to attract the active fish. This basically describes a diving, lipped crank plug pulled with a fast retrieve. In fact, this type lure has proven to be the most effective method for taking large quantities of largemouth bass during the heat of mid-Summer. The only requirement is that the angler get in down to the fish.

Selecting the lure with the express purpose of operating it at a certain depth, as dictated by the structure to be fished, is the most important criteria for the angler's decision process. If the depth to be fished is beyond that at which a crank plug can be accurately presented and controlled, a plastic worm is acceptable, but should be fished rapidly and erratically. Remember, during hot weather, a rapidly-fished lure is always vastly more productive than one presented slowly. Plus, we will be able to make more casts during the day. Every cast is a potential ten-pounder!

So, just because the weather is a bit uncomfortable, don't stay home under the air conditioner and sulk. The bass are on their most active feed during the hot Summer period.

Go feed them.


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