How To Measure Your Reel Drag Setting For Ultralight Fishing?

The drag mechanism on the reel is designed to let you set how much fish resistance you feel when it pulls your baits and fishing line. Drag is measured in pounds but the manufacturer will label it to the closest estimation in KG. The more you tighten the drag the stronger you will feel the fish resistance. If you apply heavy force on the drag then it will make the fish given up faster during the game but if you made a mistake when it’s too strong then the line might breaks due to pressure. Almost every reel has a drag setting that allow you to control the force that needs to be set before fishing.


So what is the correct drag measurement for the reel?

Seasoned anglers they know that the rules of thumb for drag settings are 25% of the line strength with condition the line is full on the spool. The question now is how to calculate the 25% strength? Not all the anglers know the way because each one of us has different levels of experience and opinions.

The usual way to measure drag is to use the scales. Scale with spring (manual scale) or digital is still acceptable to ensure that the reading is precise with the rod position as you fish. Do these not less than 10 times to ensure that the drag components are getting some friction on the surface as if it receives during fishing.

There are several common ways used by seasoned anglers to measure the drag force. Anyway, these methods are for your reference so the reading is not 100% correct but still usable. To do this you need some tools as a gauge. Here some samples:

The line strength is based on “breaking strength” and it’s usually labeled on the box and spool.


Test strength / 4 = correct drag setting. Example if you use 6lbs as your mainline then your drag setting calculation is 1.5lbs.

Calculation: 6/4 = 1.5lb where 1.5lb = 0.68kg

This is the calculation used commonly by seasoned anglers as rules of thumb for drag setting. Even if you use a reel that has a 6kg drag force then logically you can still use a small poundage line if this rule are followed properly.

But is it okay with ultralight fishing? We will discuss further below…

Methods used to set drag on the reel

There are several ways to measure the drag force, the easiest and common acceptable way to tie the main line from your spool to your digital or manual gauge and pull it steadily. From there you can guess your real drag power.

Another way is to use a 500ml or 1 liter mineral water bottle where 500ml = 0.5kg and 1 liter = 1kg if weighed (plus minus). You can tie on your main line and set your drag with estimates when the main line start coming out from the reel then that setting is quite safe to use.

But this is just as one of the ways and its not 100% accurate but its acceptable. Please understand the risks you take using this method are your own responsibilities. This is because there are many other factors will affect its validity and accuracy.

Another way that is more accurate than the above method is to use your fishing rod setup. The trick is:

  1. Place your rod with the reel and make sure your line are also installed as usual through all the guides as in the picture.
  2. Tie the hook to your weighing tool.
  3. Hold the rod at 45° angle.
  4. Pull your scales down and take a reading on the scale when your drag starts coming out.
  5. Adjust your drag mechanism so that the reel drag is according to the strength of the main line you use.


No matter what there are many other factors will affect all these measurements. For example during a trip you might accidentally touch your drag so the drag you set at home is not practical anymore. Some reels sometimes locked tight for no reason. Another factor that should also be taken into consideration is “wear and tear” which means every reel used will go through the phase of tearing and the drag become loosen. The drag you set few months ago which you marked it may not be applicable today. So, all the info provided above is as your reference (an idea how it can be done) that you can use when measuring your reel drag.

How Does It Effect On Ultralight Fishing?

If you use a reel with 6kg drag force and apply the rules of thumb to adjust the drag setting as discussed above then you might be thinking this is quite “perfect” for ultralight fishing.

On common game practice yes it is but lets bring this further and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you think every angler understand this so called rules of thumb of drag setting?
  2. Do you think every angler will spend time measuring their drag setting?
  3. How many anglers are able to control their emotions when fishing? Imagine if you strike a huge fish. What might happen? Do you think all anglers will have the same emotion not doing anything stupid to adjust their drag?
  4. Do you want to waste your fishing time with all the drag measuring process every time you on a fishing session? Or you rather buy a reel that has max of 6lbs (2.7kg) drag power that you don’t have to worry about anything at all even if you’ve mistakenly adjusted your drag to full force? Waste time or make life easier?
  5. For what purpose manufacturer designed reels with drag power below 3kg? Isn’t it to suit the ultralight game as it should be? Isn’t it to allow you balance and matching it with the ultralight setup you have? Isn’t it to allow you enjoy the game with fair game in mind?

You need to start understand that ultralight fishing is not the same as light, medium or heavy game where you can simply force, snap or doing all kind things. Ultralight game is about sensitivity and the rod characteristics are totally different compare to other type of fishing. The blank is very thin, small and is easier to break. Not like the light / medium / heavy game where even if you are using higher poundage line or use higher drag force reel it can still sustain the impact because these rods is strong and the blank size is thicker than ultralight rods.

In ultralight fishing there is no such thing putting force to make hook up like a heavy game. No force involves. In ultralight it’s more on your skills hook up using the combination of your main line, rod power (momentum), best drag setting and with proper body positioning. These things is said to be what distinguishes our opinions and ideology as an angler. It is a collective of knowledge of your own setup and fishing style. The “FEEL” of your understanding is called the Art of Ultralight Fishing.

As an angler it’s up to you to make sure the drag is smooth and in the right condition. It is also important to monitor your drag performance during the fight. While fighting with fast and strong fish, be sure to always get ready to adjust the drag, especially when your spool diameter is reduced. Because the test found that when the line decreases in the spool; more power is required to pull the line from the reel and this causes the drag force to double. In other words when the line on the spool decreases to quarter the amount of drag will also increase fourfold. Therefore, if you set your drag reel to 25% of the line strength now your line is actually at breaking point.

Imagine other factors that also give impact such as baits weight, sinkers, fish strike force, water friction when the line is in/on the water, fish pulling your line, fishing on the boat, fishing on land base whether you are at cliffs or not and other various issues that sometimes make no sense but actually it does. Do you think all these will not give any impact to your drag force? These are few things that not all the anglers know and understand.

Believe for you now it’s kind of getting headache and doesn’t make sense. But this is the fact and this is more on the principle of engineering. This is why we always educate everyone in ensuring the importance of balance and matching especially with reel selection that has the right drag power. We are helping you to avoid any unwanted things.

Perhaps you have noticed jigging anglers straightening/pointing their rods towards water when they are being force by monsters but have you ever wonder why? Even a strong jigging rod doing all kind of efforts to reduce the unnecessary friction and pressure on the rod. Now, imagine if ultralight rod.

Final Words

This method of measuring the drag is the perfect way to set your drag reel according to your fishing game (best for drag larger than 2.7kg) and this method can also be used for ultralight games but for a reel that has been designed for ultralight game (ideally 3kg below). This is because it’s sensitive nature and the fineness in manufacturing technology. With small drag, you can still practice the same method.

From my opinion it’s all about how you suit it to your fishing style, situation, target fish and also fishing spots. Some good anglers know how to adjust their drag setting using their “feel” or “memory” (due to tons of experiences). All these are risky but experience does helps.

But to avoid mistakes (which we human always does), I’d say it’s better to use a reel with drag power 2.7kg and below which has been designed for ultralight game and at the same time you can have better fishing experience with lots of fun. We can never predict what will happen in a situation where you are being force by predators. So, with better selection of reels you still be in safe situation even you forget to adjust the drag or mistakenly adjusted the drag to full force during the fight. Why need to trouble yourself and waste time measuring the drag than buying a reel with proper drag? Why need to take risks breaking your rod?

For me every fish species needs different drag power to control them from forcing back to the nest or structures. And here experiences will play an important factor to understand it well. Not all the anglers know to use the rod strength (momentum) with the right drag reel setting to control the fish pressure. Due to lack of experience they like to tighten the drag reel which is the main cause of breaking the line or worse break the rod due to absorbing “overload pressure”. Every rod, every reel and every line requires various experience and knowledge. It’s not the same but not too far from your common setting. Only on-field experiences can teach you the best setting for each species.

There are experienced anglers who deliberately tighten the drag in order to land the fish faster but the handling errors come without warnings so it is best to use the experience and adjust the setup so that it’s well balanced and matched as it’s safer with no risk due to basic errors. All these info can be used as references if you want to venture into ultralight fishing.

Experience is important as experienced anglers will know how to use “feel” to make the right drag setting. It’s like a memory. Once you “understand” it’s all become easier. Once you “got it” you no longer need the tools to measure drag as long as you understand the importance of balance and matching in ultralight fishing.

Practically, most anglers won’t be too focused or cluttered in ensuring their drag reel. After measuring it several times, they will usually get an idea of the “feel” by pulling the line by hand and set the required drag force. Measure few more times if you want to change the drag power that you think is right. But remember yeah, habits usually cause errors because over confident. Be careful with your habits because it’s not always right because the habit will make us forget the basis.

Various fishing technologies have existed in today’s world where it is certainly better than 10-30 years ago. What you need to do is adjust the setup for more balance and matching to get maximum satisfaction. After all, you fish for small palm size fishes so why large drag force? Most ultralight reels have been well tune with technology so it’s safe and appropriate to use.

Anyway, every angler has a different style, techniques, methods and experiences and that’s the main reason we have disagreement in opinions. For me it’s very easy fishing is for fun and I seek only thrills. You can get that thrills ONLY when you willing to go beyond. So it’s your choice.

In conclusion, it is very important to understand how drag pressure varies with your line level in spool. And understand what other factors can give a change in drag setting. Understanding this will allow you to adjust better accurate drag force. Hopefully this article can give you an idea of why the importance of balance and matching in fishing especially ultralight game. Perhaps now you can understand why we say the reel selection with proper drag force to suit your ultralight setup is very important. Other than that it’s up to you. 🙂


All information given is based on a best efforts to express our opinions and knowledge that has been acquired. Paragraph or inappropriate words may have been used and it is out of control because we have tried most wisely. If you have suggestions, please comment. We will make changes.

Check Also


Understanding Ultralight Fishing Concept For A Big Fish

Ultralight game has taken up the momentum again now since it was introduced long ago. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.