If you have come to this page, you want to know more.  Therefore, I won’t apologize for the length of this piece.  It was a complicated study, but the results were very revealing and very consistent where it comes to fishing reel drags.  It included a little about each kind of reel available today including spinning, spincast, baitcasting, and fly reels. 

        DragensteinTM was built to record, as accurately as possible, changes in forces acting on a line as it was removed against the drag mechanism from the spool of a reel.  There are many, practically innumerable, variables at play in an actual fishing situation which will affect the performance of a reel drag system.  The objective of the DragensteinTM testing protocol was to eliminate as many of these variables as possible, thus depicting the actual performance characteristics of reel drag mechanisms.   

        I want to begin however in a very basic way by discussing the difference in spinning and baitcasting reels; beyond the obvious and visible differences.  It is important to have some in-depth knowledge of the functional differences in baitcasting and spinning reels.

         Spinning Reel Spools vs. Baitcasting Reel Spools - Obvious, but very significant differences exists between spinning and baitcasting reel drag systems.  Baitcasting reel spools are permanently attached to a spindle, or shaft, that is stabilized at both ends by a bearing system.  Friction from the drag is transmitted by way of a gear placed on the spool spindle beyond the bearing support for the spool.  Therefore, the amount of drag applied has no effect on the rotational stability of the spool itself.  

        Spinning reel spindles do not have this stable configuration.  With very limited exception, a spinning reel spool typically rotates on its supporting spindle only when the drag is operating.  Initially, that means that the spool has only the stability afforded by the tolerance, or space (called “slap”), between the spool race (the hole in the spool bottom) and the spindle. 

        This becomes very complex, and due to many variables, a spinning reel spool is not able to rotate on its spindle without some inherent wobble.  Further stability of the spool is achieved only by compression of the drag mechanism with the drag knob.  This compression places pressure against both ends of the spool and affords some additional amount of stability.  Typically, the more pressure that is applied, the more stable the spool becomes. 

         Line Rollers (spinning reels) and Level Winds (baitcasting reels) - As every angler already realizes, baitcasting and spinning reels have radically different systems for evenly spooling line onto their respective spools.  The spool of a baitcasting reel, held in its stable configuration, is spooled by a mechanism, called a “level wind” that moves from one end of the spool to the other as line is guided onto the spool.  Since line rolls directly from the manufacturer’s spool, directly and flatly onto the reel spool, there is no tendency for the line to twist as it is loaded if done properly. 

        However, as line is removed from the baitcasting spool with the thumb bar engaged, against the drag mechanism, a number of systems have been designed to determine the action of the level wind mechanism. 

        In what is called a “disengaging” mechanism, the level wind mechanism is no longer engaged with the spool gears and thus the level wind remains in a random, fixed position when line is removed from the spool against the drag.  There is also a “non-disengaging” mechanism on some reels in which the level wind mechanism is still engaged to the spool gears and moves back and forth as line is removed from the spool against the drag.  In this system, the level wind may or, more often, may not be synchronously timed with the position of the line on the spool as it is removed. 

        All of this means that during the removal of line against the drag mechanism of a baitcasting reel, a random set of circumstances can exist which will eventually, and inevitably, place the level wind at one side of the spool while line is being removed from the other side of the spool.  Since a baitcasting spool is typically held stable at both ends, there is no tendency for the spool to wobble due to this misalignment.  However, this would predictably cause changes in stresses or drag forces acting on the line, a pulsing so to speak.  Indeed, DragensteinTM confirmed that this was the case and we called it Level Wind Effect. 

        Questionably, a third configuration may exist in some baitcasting reels in which the level wind mechanism is totally disengaged during drag initiation.  That means that the level wind would “float,” or follow the line back and forth on the spool as line is removed.  Due to the complexity of this system, if it exists on any reels produced today, it is not common.  It appears obvious that this is the most desirable configuration possible, in so far as additional stresses on the line are concerned.  The only reel I am aware of that has this system are the reels manufactured in Missouri by Ardent Reels. 

        Spinning reels are quite another thing.  Since the “line roller” system on a spinning reel is attached to the rotor, it is always held in a fixed position.  That means that the spool must move in and out on its spindle to permit even winding of the line onto the spool.  It is obviously very important that the spool moves in and out very precisely if the line is to be wound evenly onto the spool.  This system creates a mechanical situation that compounds existing problems already described above about spinning reel spool stability. 

        As a spinning reel spool travels to its outer most limits during the winding process, the distant end of the spool of line is placed away from the fixed position of the line roller mechanism.   In a fishing situation, usually at the most inopportune time, this configuration will inevitably exist.  That is, when line is cast, it will not automatically place the line in the correct alignment with the line roller. 

        If a fish is caught and the line is pulled from the reel against the drag, the inherent wobble of the spool will come into play, causing the spool to wobble back and forth on its spindle as the line moves from one end of the spool to the other to go through the line roller.  This can, and likely will cause changes in stresses and drag forces acting on the line, again most likely as pulsing.  This was confirmed in our tests and we called it Line Roller Effect. 

         The Drag Adjustment Spring - Accurate and consistent reel drag adjustment is achieved by compressing the spring located inside the drag adjustment knob of a spinning reel, or the five-point star drag wheel of a baitcasting reel.  It is the compression of that spring which results in even, steady pressure against the drag surfaces located in the spool or reel body.   

        The tensioning on the line that we experience as “drag” is only initiated at the point that the spring first begins compression, and continues at some more or less predictable rate only until the spring is fully compressed.  That period, or distance, of compression will represent the full range of useable adjustment of the drag mechanism.  Further pressure against the fully compressed spring by the drag adjustment mechanism will result in rapidly accelerating drag forces against the line until the mechanism goes into a “locked down” configuration.  At that point the reel is essentially in a direct drive mode with no useable drag available. 

        Therefore, the nature of the spring itself is all important to the proper functioning of the reel’s drag mechanism.  Most spinning reels have drag adjustment knobs that contain a strong, compression, coil type of spring.  Baitcasting reels generally contain either the same type of coil spring, or perhaps due to limited space, many contain special Belleville disc springs, known more commonly as “cup washers.”  By changing the compression strengths of these various types of springs or washers, the manufacturers can drastically change the many characteristics of a drag system’s performance. 

         The Effect - DragensteinTM, sometimes called the Drag Beast, is a sensitive thing in spite of it beastly qualities.  The effect of the misalignment (line to level wind, and line to line roller) became very obvious as a pulsing phenomenon while recording drag forces on DragensteinTM.  Many variables appear to exert some control on this pulsing of drag forces, now described by the DragensteinTM project as “level wind effect,” and “line roller effect.”    To place the significance of these effects in proper perspective, it has been observed to create pulsing changes in drag forces by as much as 70% in some spinning and baitcasting reels.  

        While not all reels demonstrate a line roller or level wind effect, of 21 new spinning reels evaluated for 2003, approximately 50% demonstrated a line roller effect.  Twelve new baitcasting reels were evaluated for 2003, and 10 of those were observed to demonstrate a level wind effect.  While it was not clear cut which reels would demonstrate this effect before they were tested, certain factors do appear in summary to predispose a reel to create this potentially disastrous situation.

        Baitcasting Reels - No difference was observed in disengaging and non-disengaging level wind configurations in regards to the presence of the level wind effect.  It became obvious however that a couple of other situations were significant contributors:

·         The wider the spool, the more likely the level wind effect was to appear.  There was then a difference observed between the level wind effect of the disengaging and non-disengaging reels.  The pulse rate of the level wind effect with a non-disengaging level wind was generally twice that of the disengaging level wind.  Since the non-disengaging level wind would travel back and forth as did the removal of line, and if the two were exactly asynchronous, the pulse would occur with each trip across the spool.  Since the disengaging level wind was stationary during the line removal process, the pulse would only occur after the line made a full trip across the spool and then back. 
·         If line positioning on the spool was convex in shape, the level wind effect was likely to be more pronounced.  A flatly loaded spool of line was less likely to create a pronounced level wind effect.  Beyond that consideration, the larger the diameter of the line, the more pronounced the level wind effect was likely to be.  That appeared to be related to a “hanging up” phenomenon as the line made the sharp angle from one side of the spool to the level wind mechanism on the other side of the spool. 

·         At this point it can only be conjectured, but it appears likely, that the more stretch in the line and the more limber the rod, the more likely a line roller effect may become significant.  That is because the stretch of flex and release motion enhances the effect. 

·         The nature of the drag surfaces and poor tolerances of internal bushings in the drag mechanism appear to be contributors.  Grease impregnated drag surfaces are more likely to be sticky and enhance the effect.  In at least one situation, tolerances of internal bushings were tight and unlubricated and the periodic seizing of these surfaces appeared to enhance the effect. 

·         While it is still preliminary, the current data seem to indicate that the stacked drag washer configuration of many baitcasting reels is more likely to result in a level wind effect, than is a single drag washer system.  More testing has to be done to confirm this and provide an explanation. 

        Spinning Reels - While some factors effecting spinning reels were similar to those in baitcasting reels, there were some significant differences noted.  It is important to again emphasize that the line roller effect does not always appear.  It is still unclear as to the reasons this effect may or may not appear in any given reel.  This is still under investigation. 

·         Short spools, which inherently travel less distance while spooling line, were less likely to exhibit a line roller effect than a long spool.  That is of course because the angle the line makes from one end of the spool to the line roller on the other end of the spool, is less acute.  In addition, if the line roller is placed a greater distance from the spool, the less likely a line roller effect was to appear because the angle from line to line roller is reduced.  In fact, there were two reels evaluated in which the line roller was so closely placed to the spool, that under a heavy drag setting, the spool would make contact with the line roller.  That is of course disastrous. 

·         Line positioning on the spool appeared to have a significant impact on creating a line roller effect.  If the line was flatly spooled, the effect was less likely to appear.  If the line was convex, or loaded toward the rear of the spool, it was more likely to appear.  As with baitcasting reels, the greater the diameter of the line, the more likely a line roller effect was to become significant.

·         While spinning reel spools are more likely to be wobbly and unstable, it is still unclear what degree of instability is involved in producing the line roller effect.  Some reels with relatively stable spools did produce the effect, and some reels with unstable spools did not produce the effect.  It is believed at this point that spool wobble may contribute in some way, but this is still not fully understood and may have to do with the presence of instability along with some other factors. 

·         As with baitcasting reels, the sometimes sticky nature of grease impregnated drag materials and poor tolerances in moving parts were likely to enhance this effect.  That is not to say that it was absence in a dry drag configuration.  The line-roller effect was typically more pronounced with slower spool speeds.  A sticky drag surface, greased or dry, would like be a strong contributor to this. 

·         Once again, stretch of the line and flex of the rod may have some influence on enhancing the effect.  Also peculiar to spinning reels, excessive twist in the line may be a contributing factor. 

·         As is the case with baitcasting reels, the current data seem to indicate that the stacked drag washer configuration of many spinning reels is more likely to result in a level wind effect, than is a single drag washer system.  More testing is being done to confirm this and provide an explanation. 

          Line Twist - As an aside, it was interesting to note the creation of twisted line during the testing sequences.  While line will always stretch during tensioning from the drag system, it was observed that the stretch appeared to be insignificant in baitcasting reels.  This was logical since line is spooled directly, and flatly, from one horizontal spool to another when spooling a baitcasting reel.  As the line is then stretched, perhaps from a hooked fish or a hung lure, and then re-spooled, there is no tendency for this line to twist as it is re-spooled, regardless of elongation due to stretching.   

        Spinning reels are quite another thing however.  Unanimously, in every spinning reel tested, twisting of the line was observed after the first tensioning run in the test sequence.  With continued observation, it became obvious why that will always occur, regardless of claims by manufacturers to the contrary. 

        There are specific and very exacting ways to spool a spinning reel so that line twists are not introduced in the process.  Generally the line and/or reel manufacturer will include instructions on this process.  These instructions are generally good and will create success.  However, once the line is stretched and then re-spooled, it does not lay back down onto the spool with the same exact number of turns as previous, i.e., the line is now ever so slightly elongated and there will be more turns placed around the spool.  More turns around the spool with a spinning reel line means that the stretch is now translated into twists due to the nature of the way line is wound vertically around a spool.  Simple ways to observe this is by marking a piece of string or fly line with a magic marker and then wind it onto a spool by hand.  Watch and you will see that the line twists one turn with each trip around the spool.  

        Since the terminal end of the spinning reel line was attached permanently to the DragensteinTM spool, there was never a chance for the last few feet of line to untwist as would normally occur in a fishing situation, so the presence of the twist during testing was pronounced.  I have read and heard it said many times that a twisted line might be untwisted by trailing it behind a moving boat or in a moving stream of water.  DragensteinTM testing has now verified that this is not true.  A line trailed behind a moving boat, as many readers are aware, will create considerable drag on the rod and line.  As has been detailed in one experiment, 200 yards of 12 pound test line with no lure attached would break at 22 knots of speed.  Three hundred yards of 20 pound test naked line would break at 21 knots.  Obviously, all that is occurring with the attempt to untwist the line in this fashion is that the line is being further stretched and then rewound, so twists would still be present.   That has frequently been my observation, in fact, when attempting to untwist line with this technique.  After a day of stretching line, it is best to just change the line and start over.  It is money best spent. 

Stay tuned!  There is more to come and I will add pictures!


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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Very nice article.
    I hoping you could help me with a problem I am having with a Shakespeare spinning reel that I have. It doesn't matter where I set the drag at as soon as I start cranking the reel the drag knob turns with the reel increasing the drag to the max within a few seconds.
    Have you ever seen this problem and if so how do you solve it?

    1. Hello Richard - Can't say I have seen this exact problem, but maybe I can help you solve it anyway. Does it actually wind line onto the spool, or does the spool turn when you wind it? If it is actually winding line, then I don't see any way it can turn the drag knob. You say the "drag knob turns with the reel" Does that mean it turns with the spool or the bail?

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