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The only 200-plus-pound IGFA-record tarpon to be caught on fly.20lbTipprtTarpon.jpg.fcb2d68a4e61c1e5c2ea3beed9f0f5c9.jpg


Weight: 202 pounds, 8 ounces Line Class: M-20 (fly) Angler: James Holland Location: Chassahowitza, Florida Date: May 11, 2001 Fight Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes Lure/Bait: Kilpatrick’s Slick Slider Tackle: Mason line; Tibor Gulfstream reel; G Loomis GLX 12-weight rod Courtesy IGFA / igfa.org

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I mostly fish synthetics - carbon fiber primarily, with cork only used for the small fish (under 25#)  for the most part.  I'm pretty cut and dried, I want a precise drag that's repeatable and adjustable.  My cork drag reels gather dust except when they get called up for duty in the hands of friends and newbies.  


But...some of the biggest fly rod fish have been caught on carbon drags...like the following on Charlton:

Blue Marlin 20# tippet 289 pounds 2002
Black Marlin 16# tippet 151 pounds 2003
Bluefin Tuna 20# tippet 197 pounds 2001
Striped Marlin 12# tippet 154 pounds 2004
(broke previous Charlton record)
Striped Marlin 16# tippet 230 pounds 2002
Pacific Sailfish 12 # tippet 114 pounds 2003
Pacific Sailfish 20 # tippet 112 pounds 2003
Tarpon 16# tippet 191 pounds 2003


Of the 2 tarpon records above, I think Tom Evans' catch was the much more impressive.  Jim Holland was fortunate to hook a big fish that didn't fight as hard as other 200# plus tarpon that have been fought in the past, then again as the saying goes I'd rather be lucky than good.  Tom's record wasn't caught because he had a cork drag, it was because Tom Evans is amazing at fighting fish, probably the best on a fly rod these days, maybe better than Stu Apte.


Cork drags work fine for most people with fly rods because we don't catch fish that are all that big in reality.  Cork works because most of us are not that demanding.  Go into the world of conventional big game fishing and you won't find any cork drags.  I've mentioned it before but in my own testing a good carbon 1 turn drag beats big fish up to 25% faster than a cork drag.  I think that Tom Evans would have beaten bigger fish faster if he was using a more modern reel and potentially would be the 20# record holder if he used better gear instead of Holland.  But a lot of the old timers use what they're comfortable with and are reluctant to use newer tech and this isn't just in the world of fishing.  I see it in other sporting arenas as well.  Jimmy Connors used to use a metal racket when the rest of the pro tour went to carbon, he still did well but it was a testament to his ability, not the superiority (or lack thereof) of his equipment.

Edited by formula1
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I do think that drags on Mako/Charlton are superior to everything else but only if you take the time to calibrate it, otherwise you might as well fish cork. They’re probably overkill for smaller fish. Cork is plenty for them with the one exception being people that pursue light tippet world records (but that’s a small group).


The rest of the so called sealed reels, they aren’t really sealed. They will allow water inside eventually. Hatch is crap and I am less than impressed with my Nautilus. 


The other one out there that looks interesting is Seigler. I don’t know if it is sealed (which is not needed any way) but the drag is repeatable. So once calibrated, you will always be able to apply the amount of drag that you want every time.


Overall, for most of us, and most of the fishing that we do - cork is just fine. It works, it’s simple and durable, it’s generally serviceable on the water. When I go to St Brandon’s next year I’ll bring one Mako and everything else will be cork. I won’t have to worry about any of them. No way in hell would I go all the way there with a Hatch/Nautilus.

ASMFC - Destroying public resources and fisheries one stock at a time since 1942.

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4 hours ago, Fergal said:

I do think that drags on Mako/Charlton are superior to everything else but only if you take the time to calibrate it, otherwise you might as well fish cork. They’re probably overkill for smaller fish. Cork is plenty for them with the one exception being people that pursue light tippet world records (but that’s a small group).




Fergal that is a good point and yes, I do calibrate my 1 turn drags, Mako, Charlton and Seigel reels.  They are all marked up so I know the drag I'm applying to the fish.  I also test them before the beginning of each season to see if they've changed (they never have in 20+ years of fishing the Charlton designed reels).  I also test them on the rod I fish them with and the fly line at a few angles ("low angle" and 45 degrees) to see the effect of rod angle and fly line on the drag.  IMHO to beat a fish fast you should know your reel drag, should know how to feel for the breaking point of a class tippet, and be able to apply the angles to a fish.  Do that and all but the biggest fish can be beaten faster than most people would believe possible.

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On 6/25/2024 at 8:57 PM, HL said:

Just the smoothness of cork and easy to fine tune.

Also the Bauer has a great feel.


Amen to that! Got a couple approaching 40 yrs old and still smooth-as-silk...tried or owned almost every reel out there and the old Bauer is still my fav.I like that I can do all the repairs myself too.

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On 6/30/2024 at 7:24 PM, BrianBM said:

Formula1, anyone, a question. I believe that Mako reels are no longer made. (?) So if you were buying a new reel for the kind of fishing you do, what would you look to get?


Mako reels are still made but I have enough for now and they are the Jack Charlton era reels while he was there and he was still in the manufacturing of them. 


But to answer your other question, I did this just that this past season, I picked up 2 Seigler lever drag fly reels...I have a small collection of Makos and Charlton's but I won't risk the loss of the Charltons flying anymore and I wanted to try something new.  Wes and Liz Seigler are good people who stand by their product and I like supporting American made.  Going to be putting the Seiglers through their paces this summer.  Outside of that I think I would go with Hardy Fortuna, the newest model.  Not American made but I would be supporting a good friend who works for Hardy - it's one of the few reels with 1 turn drag which I value for the way I fish.  

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Also to give a counterpoint to the comments that a drag is "smooth as xyz," I personally don't think any decent drag is significantly smoother than another, at least not that the average human being can discern.  I think more important than how smooth a drag is would be the startup inertia if you're using light tippet (once you're in the realm of 6 to 10 kg class tippet plus I don't think it matters a bit).  I have had drags with materials ranging from cork to teflon to rulon to carbon fiber and I couldn't discern a difference in smoothness.  What I *can* discern is drag performance when you're really clamping down on a fish.  In that regard cork falls woefully short.  Back in the old days, IMHO so many records were set with cork drag reels like Tibors because no one back then really utilized the drag like they do in conventional fishing.  Everyone set the drag at 2-3# and let it sit there, you could not try to set it heavier as you could easily overdo it since cork drags require multiple turns to really increase the drag pressure.  As a result no one really stressed the drags at all and they could loaf along while the fish ran. 


Jack Erskine, a well known Australian reel guy wrote a good article a few years back about how a cork drag disk will literally distort in shear when it's asked to apply a large drag pressure with a running fish.  I've had several guides tell me they had clients who had cork drag reels almost free spool from that effect when fighting very large fish with high drag pressures.  


Using the drag to fight the fish with fly reels really didn't come of age until Jack Charlton's reels came onto the scene and as I showed in my post above, set records out of proportion to the number of Charlton reels out there.  You simply could not do that with cork drags.  I've broken any number of big fish' spirits very quickly by applying a LOT of drag to them - I crank it as high as 12# with 20# tippet.

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I find cork the smoothest in the start. It feels like butter smooth when you pull line from the reel slowly.

I guess this is because the grease or other lubrication shears between the drag surfaces. So even if the drag is set to relatively slow pull with 2lb, it will creep with much smaller force very slowly.


Downsides of cork are that you need to keep the surface pressure quite low and the cork dies a bit with age (being under compression). The first makes the reels needing a large drag (not really a bad thing) and the second that the drag will loose power. However, the loosing power is a double-edged sword.

The drag usually needs to be restricted with design (restricting compression length). And when the cork gets thinner with time, there is less compression force on the drag and thus less power.

In most cases, just add shim rings (washers) under the drag spring and you get that power back.

Since cork is compressible, it also can hide some machining issues so it is a bit more forgiving than some other materials.

A friend of mine made S-handle draw bar design cork drag reels and cork is very strong when not restricted.

One could easily get 50lb drag from cork. But not many needs or could use such.

Since cork drags are essentially lubricated drags, you want to keep water out as it changes the lubrication completely.

So, if one encapsulates the drag to keep the water out and the drag compression can be modified, then it works. I really like my Nautilus CCF-X2 (with modified drag spring as the original six or so turn thing was cr*p). No water in the drag normally and serviceable.


Rulon, PTFE etc work nicely too. For example the Ross Evolution R Salt is excellent.

Plastics do not like water either. Nothing actually does as it messes up the contact/lubrication of the drag.


Carbon fiber (carbontex or simililar) drags work nicely and they do not fade with heat so one can make the drag smaller. However that can bring some other issues that come with very localized high heat production, wear and not so smooth drag on high settings. just look how the rod bounces before the line breaks in this:


A friend of mine used Fortuna on one trip and we were not convinced. It wore so there came something like quarter or third of drag knob turn before the drag started to increase. Six days of hard fish fighting thou. Mako has a large carbon fiber drag and works really well.


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I think just about every "archetype" of reel that I've owned/fished has eventually had at least one problem of sorts... 


And yes - that includes my beloved Charltons & Makos that were also put out during Jack Charlton's era(s)...:wave:... Jack Charlton was at the least very gracious and apologetical, and the turnaround service was fairly quick (well at least for him that is)...  


I think after awhile, I just decided that however mathematically random and/or unlikely for problems, anything is possible beyond things we can control.

Edited by Wasque921
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