All About Drags (Part II)
  |  First Published: April 2003

Component replacement for worn and faulty drags

SECTION: Reel Torque

APART from lever drag reels, most drag systems are very much the same, be they on overhead, baitcast, threadline or sidecast reels.

On overheads and baitcasters there is a series of metal and fibre washers encased within the main gear and fitted to the shaft. The metal washers are keyed either to the main gear housing or the shaft, and the fibre washers are sandwiched between the metal. The latest fibre components can now be made strong enough to enable them to be keyed as well. A star wheel is usually used to compress the drag stack. As the washers are compressed greater friction is placed on the main gear, with the result that it requires a greater force to pull line from the spool. The illustration from an ancient Penn catalogue depicts a typical drag set-up.

Threadlines use the same principle but the drag components are located within a housing in the spool, and compression is achieved by a knob screwed to the end of the main shaft.


The quality of a drag relies on the materials used and manufacturing practices. The metal washers should be perfectly flat and lie at right angles to the shaft – a state of excellence achieved by few manufacturers as most stamp the metal washers from sheet metal, resulting in convex or concave washers. The type of fibre washers required are ones that grip the metal surfaces as compression increases, loosen that grip when compression eases, and resist glazing. Unfortunately, many washers fall flat on their faces.

The fibre washer of the Penn company, known as HT 100, is by far the best fibre washer used by a major manufacturer. By all means replace the washers of other reels with upmarket replacements, but if a Penn reel needs new fibre washers – use HT100. Shimano and Daiwa also use decent fibre washers and their drags are OK, but Abu are at the bottom of the fibre washer component heap.

Any new Penn reel I purchase gets an immediate strip-down, the factory grease cleaned off and the metal drag washers lapped using a sheet of fine wet and dry on a piece of glass. Most other brands receive the same treatment but I replace the fibre washers with Smoooooth drag washers. In some cases I replace the whole drag stack with the Smoooooth product – fibre washers and engineered, flat, lapped, stainless metal ones too. Smooooothies are installed dry so any existing grease on internal parts is best removed.

Most good tackle shops will get you Smooooothies for the popular rage of reels, but if your requests fall on deaf ears you can ask Jack Erskine of Precision Fishing Reel Engineering in Cairns. He’ll supply washers for most current reels and – as long as he knows how many, the ID, OD and thickness – he can make sets for almost any reel.

Changing washers

The procedure for changing the washers is depicted using a Shimano Calcutta 400S, and it is quite straightforward. Apart from the normal drag stack there is usually a washer under the main gear. In this case it is between the drive gear and the anti-reverse ratchet. In a Smoooooth set the washer, which goes under the main gear, is usually a white PTFE washer. While it is more difficult to replace the Calcutta one than an Abu (it involves an E clip which can fly away unless you use a plastic bag) it’s really quite straightforward.

Threadline reels are much the same but, of course, there is no requirement to increase the height of the drag stack. Apart from a Penn 850SS, the drag of which was modified by Jack Erskine with the same drag area as a 16s International, all my threadlines have either HT 100 or oiled felt drags.

Oiled felt (or leather) works perfectly well in threadlines, but the drag components must be kept moist. Let them dry and the felt will stick to the metal components, producing a nice lock-up. I have never fitted Smoooooth washers to threadlines. I believe wet ones are available for specific models but they are not in Jack Erskine’s catalogue. The only threadlines mentioned are Fin-Nor Megalites and Ahabs, and there are pre-lubed cork composite Smooooothies available for them.

Jack Erskine’s company, Precision Reel Engineering, can work miracles on reels. If you need a reel blue-printed, set up for a specific line class or just about anything reel orientated, just send an email to --e-mail address hidden-- and you’ll get all the answers.

Next month – reel modification and tuning.



I like all my reels to be tuned so that when the star wheel is backed off as far as it will go (hard up against the spring underneath the handle) the reel is in freespool. As soon as the star wheel is turned I want the drag to start biting – not after three or four revolutions of the star wheel.

The parts which control this are the spring washers directly above the drag stack or in roller bearing reels – directly above the roller bearing. These spring washers can be made to take up more or less space in the drag stack depending on how they are placed. All spring washers when viewed from the side look like this ( . If two of them are placed () or )( they will take up more room than if placed (( or )). In the case of the Shimano reel, I have then placed () () – maximum height – and if I needed to raise the stack more I would probably use one more washer.

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