Fresh water and salt water fly fishing in New Zealand and Australia. Brought to you by Riverworks waders, wading boots, vests, jackets, fly rods and reels.

Alex Broad – Drags with grunt


I’ve spent years working in the tackle industry and I realize every angler is different, some view reels as an important part of the fishing arsenal, while others think that they are just over priced line holders and would rather “palm drag” their fish.  Well, to be honest in the early days I was a line holder kind of guy, but have now been converted to the ways of the gear freak.  I love nothing more than a hot looking reel, that has an exceptional drag. Sometimes we depend on a good drag, a stroppy sea run brown or a wild back country pocket water rainbow will test your gear to the limits, and generally a palm isn’t going to give you the upper hand (excuse the pun) especially when you need a hand on the rod and the other helping you to negotiate the rough country.

Many many reel companies have redesigned the disc drag system over the years.  Whether its conical, disc, click, cork, stainless, teflon etc they all work on the same principal.  They all exert pressure on the spool to slow its rotation down, thus slowing down the line peeling off and in turn the fish pulling on your line.

Here the more complicated physics comes into it, we start looking at torque, inertia and centrifugal forces.  But I’m not going to get stuck into the nitty gritty, simply put, if something is spinning, its much easier to stop it spinning at the outer edge than if you tried to grab it in the middle.  For example a bike wheel, you would have all turned your bike upside down as a kid and spun the pedals, well try stopping that wheel spinning, its way easier to grab the tire than it is to grab the spokes by the axle.  This is torque or turning power created by the reel, or in this example the bike wheel.  The further you move from the axle or center of rotation the larger amount of torque can be applied to the axle or center of rotation, basically meaning its easier to stop or start spinning.

So why would we want some kind of compact drag? with small surface area, small diameter or funny angled cone systems,  which in turn mean little stopping power? I can’t actually answer that.  It beats me, and goes against all physics based laws of motion.  It would be great to have a drag the size of the reel itself, but we have to be practical.  There will be trade offs somewhere with size vs drag, the tricky part is finding the balance.

I’m not about to go slagging other companies designs and systems, but I am going to draw some real world comparisons and explain why these work and why we have tweaked our design to be better.

Take a car disc brake.  Fundamentally unchanged for ages I know, but they work.  Bigger and faster cars have bigger brakes, not more of them.  Space and weight is at a premium on a performance car and brakes are super important.  Much like a fly reel, we want a light weight reel that isn’t bulky and stops fish.  When we designed the R series reels we started with the 3  reel sizes, and designed a drag around these.  We soon realised that we could use the same drag in all the reels reducing our production costs and in turn the end cost of the reel to you guys.  The drag needed some prerequisites however, it needed to be laterally compact, light, durable, smooth, sealed and easy to maintain.

We came up with the “Orbit disc drag”, a simple system based around car disc brakes.  The “Orbit” drag consists of a stainless steel pressure plate to which a high quality cork brake pad is bonded, and another stainless pressure plate which spins with the spool.  We realize we probably could have saved some weight by using a different material other than stainless, but its the strongest most durable corrosion resistant material that could be used in this application with out pushing the price through the roof.  Stainless steel responds well to polishing, giving us an unbelievably smooth drag surface, which means a super smooth drag.  We also realized that even though, as I stated before the drag size is directly proportional to the amount of drag exerted, we only needed a drag size of 32mm diameter to give us more than enough drag for any fish that one may encounter in the size reels we designed.

Cork? you ask, yeah we could have made up some fancy name for it, but at the end of the day its cork.  Its old school, its proven and best of all makes awesome drags!  We could have used teflon, rulon, carbon or any combination of all these plastics, but they just don’t give you the same feel and longevity of a good quality cork drag.  I have to emphasize “Good Quality” here, there is cork and there is cork, all are not created equal.  We have found a really good quality product and have tested it extensively in both fresh and light salt water applications in New Zealand and it stood up just fine to the abuse.

Cork wont get as hot and it also wont melt when it gets hot.  Because as another rule of physics informs us, energy can’t be created or destroyed, only transferred.  In this case, rotational kinetic energy is turned into thermal energy (heat) through friction from the drag.  So the drag will get hot, now if in the real world we happen to be connected to a stroppy back country fish that is really working our gear through some gnarly water, the last thing we want is our drag to get hot, then fail because the designer didn’t think about how hard our New Zealand fish pull.  Luckily for you guys Riverworks gear is designed by kiwis who are out there thrashing it hard at every opportunity. The last thing we want is for one of our customers to take a reel to Atutaki and get spooled by a massive Bonefish, our reel fails, their trip is ruined.  Cork is also relatively inert, its properties don’t change much with temperature, whether your swinging big streamers and drifting bombs in the depths of winter, or tiny dries and large terrestrials in the summer heat, our cork drags will always perform at the same level.

An often overlooked function of the drag is its ability to slip.  We don’t want it to stay rock solid when we are hooked up, otherwise we would snap tippets, loose fish or worse, break rods.  The Orbit drag system is easily adjustable to cover a huge range of drags.  The pitch on the drag knob thread has been designed so that with less than 2 full rotations you have gone from full drag to no drag.  This allows the angler to quickly adjust the drag not only a substantial amount at a time but also easily fine tune the drag mid fight for the best feel and control over your fish.  The best of both worlds.

As the last Reel related blog post said we have a real flash reel coming later in the year, now the drag in this is different again, but based on similar principals.  Keep an eye out for a post explaining its drag system in the near future……..

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