Drag is Everything
Inside the Outdoors, July 27
, 2012

Recently I was conferring with a friend on how to land fish, especially those of bigger sizes than most people catch around here, and we both concluded, the secret is drag.

If one is reading this column and doesn’t know what that term refers to, each fishing reel is equipped with a special mechanism that prevents the line from snapping once the fish has taken the bait. If an angler sets the mechanism properly and has a pound test line that corresponds to the type fish being sought, it’s surprising how big a fish can be landed. However, that comes with a bit of experience.

Think of it this way. You have gotten to the water’s edge, baited your line with either live or an artificial attractant, and cast either out into the water. What is the first thing that happens – the bail closes, right? The bail is the semi-circular device that creates tension against the line, lifting it above the coiled line on the spool.

If a fish were to hit a lure quickly and the drag release was not set properly, or at all, as the case may be, there is a good chance the line would snap and everything would be lost – take my word for it, it’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. I thought I had the drag set OK, but not enough to create looser rather than tighter tension.

Two instances come to mind. One, I was fishing the Conemaugh Lake and had a #9 Black and Silver Jointed Rapala lure on my line. I cast it maybe 40 to 50 feet near some stick ups and a swirl appeared on the water. All of a sudden my line became taught and “snap-a-rooney,” my expensive investment became the possession of an unknown culprit.

Another sizeable fish got the best of me down at the catwalk left of the trestle in Legion
Keener Park, Latrobe. I had thrown a similar Rapala into the water, but this one was shorter in size. As soon as it hit the top of the water, “zappo-snappo” went my line. Here again, I had set my drag but not enough to allow the fish to take off with the lure “unsuspecting that I had allegedly nailed it.” I put that in quotes because that sentence says a lot. An angler wants to the fish to think it has control, but in reality, the angler is setting up the haul once the fish tires. When that happens, one can bring it in as long as tension is kept on the line.

This isn’t something that most anglers can learn overnight? With a little experience, the drag and retrieve combination will become second nature.

If one is unsure how to set one’s drag, check the instruction manual that comes with the reel. Once this technique is learned, you will be surprised what you can catch – with a little patience, of course.


I was elated when I happened to see an article in Pennsylvania Outdoor News titled, “Expert: State’s forests stressed, under attack,” by Jeff Mulhollem, editor. A good four to five years ago, I tried to bring the subject of the invasive species attacking our forests to the forefront, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. I even reached out to three experts on the subject, one from the University of Minnesota, one from the University of Georgia, and the head of the zoology department at Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, John E. Rawlings. It was agreed upon that right here in Latrobe, our forests are being attacked by the invasive earthworms that have come over from Asia via the big ocean liners hauling top soil. Anglers than purchase these worms for fishing which come from Canada, no less. These worms are packed in with the Canadian night crawlers and they slip into the country unforeseen via legal importation.

Once the sportsmen are done fishing, they think they are doing a good deed and fling the worms out into the woods. Not so. The worms will seek out hardwood tree roots and feast on them, eventually killing the young trees. As a result, “All crawlers should be killed if not used for bait.

Just as Mulhollem has pointed out in his article, “Invasive species such as the Japanese stiltgrass shown carpeting the forest floor are stressing Pennsylvania forests and preventing the re-growth of valuable tree species that provide food for wildlife.”

Those worms may be excellent bait for bottom feeding fish or cut, suspended from a bobber, but be careful, even half sections will re-grow, and cause havoc to the environment.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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