The drag mechanism on your reel is designed to allow line to peel off from your spool before the weight or fight of a fish causes it to break. A result of this is that very large fish can be subdued on comparatively light line.
The best setting for your drag is to adjust it to one third of the breaking strain of the line in use. To do this, tie the end of your line to the hook on a set of pocket scales or a spring balance. Have someone hold the scales steady while you walk slowly away from them, pointing the rod tip directly at the scales. The measurement obtained is the drag straight off the reel, without any interference from friction over runners, sinker or the water. Adjust the drag until the scales read roughly one third of the breaking strain of you line.
Imagine if you are fishing from the rocks. You are casting a lure on your 10 kg spinning outfit, when suddenly a huge 30 kg fish takes your lure. The fish's immediate reaction is to bolt. With only 3 kg of drag set on your reel (1/3 of the breaking strain of your line), the best thing you can do is to keep the rod tip low and let the line run. The pressure of the hook in the fish's mouth, taking into account the friction and water drag, could be as close to 7 kg, and there is no way that the fish will go too far with the equivalent of 2 house bricks hanging from its jaw. Chances are that the fish will slow down or stop after a run of about 200 m. Most spools, dependant on the thickness of the monofilament that's been reeled on, can hold up to 270 m of line.
As soon as the run stops, get that rod tip up high and put the pressure on. Your job now is to turn the fish's head and begin pumping it in. With the pressure exerted by the rod, you'll be pulling as much as an extra 3 to 4 kg at the top of each pumping stroke. The pump stroke is basically that of pulling on the line on the up-stroke, and reeling the line in on the down-stroke.
Should the fish suddenly bolt again, drop your rod immediately and point the tip of the rod straight down at the fish. If you keep it high, you'll most probably break your line.
After 25 minutes of hard work, you have the fish just 30 m away from the rocks, but now its just hanging there, deep in the water, using the backwash against its flanks to resist your efforts. Every time you pump, line just slips off against the drag and you gain nothing. This is where most anglers make a fatal mistake, by cranking on more drag to haul in the fish. Instead, use your hand against the reel to physically add more pressure on each lifting stroke of your rod. This way, if the fish does really bolt again, your safe knowing that the drag settings are still set right. By altering the angle of the rod and by manually overriding the reel, you've been able to constantly adjust the pressure on the fish, without fiddling with the drag.
In nine out of ten times, you'll be able to land your fish without altering the drag from one third the breaking strain of the line. The only big exception to the rule is a fish taking a great deal of your line, ie more than half of your spool. Due to the basic laws of physics, by the time your reel is half empty of line, the drag has effectively doubled. Therefore, if a big fish runs off more than half your line, it pays to ease off the drag if you want to bring it home. Only when you are down to the last 20-30 metres of line, should you go for broke. Don't tighten the drag to much, but use your palm or finger pressure to try and stop the run. If you have only a few turns of line left on the reel, then should you lock the drag completely. With luck, the fish will stop well short of spooling you. Then it's a long haul bringing in the fish that hopefully wont get away !
Remember, that your line is fatiguing and that a small hook may be straightening slowly during the battle. You should actually be decreasing the pressure as time goes by. A dangerous moment in any battle is the first time the fisherman sees the fish. No matter how tired (or dead) the fish looks, back your drag off slightly when it comes into view. The shorter length of line you are now working with has less elasticity and less room for error. Always be prepared for a last minute burst of action from the fish. In the case of beach fishing, there is also the probability of having to follow a large fish up and down the beach, especially in the case of large Mulloway.
You might be lulled into the belief that the fish has given up the fight and is ready to pack it in. This illusion will be dispelled when the fish comes into view, as it approaches the surface. Usually, the fish will panic, so be ready for the run that follows. You must keep up the pressure on the fish at all times. This will tire it out, and force it to go back along the pull of the line, towards you.
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