How To Set Drag on a Spinning Reel Without a Scale – Easy to Follow Guide

| Last Updated May 24, 2021

Imagine this scenario: you’re out on the lake using your new spinning reel, and you hook a monster fish. Before you can get it to the boat, your line breaks. You’re devastated, and when you get home, you look online for tips and tricks to prevent that from happening to you again. You find out about drag and scaling.

Anglers use drag to wear out big fish and prevent your line from breaking. Many people recommend using a scale, but you don’t have one.  

Luckily for you, you can still set your drag without a scale. We’ll teach you how to do it in this easy-to-follow guide.

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Quick Questions Before Starting

You might have a few questions before starting this project: 

How Difficult is This?


How Long Does it Take?


How Much Do Materials Cost?

The cost of materials for this project depends on how much you want to spend. You can get everything you need for as cheap as ten dollars or expensive as $252. 

Items Needed

You will need a rod and reel combo, fishing line, and pre-packaged household items. 

Setting Drag Without a Scale

Setting your drag is vital for fishing. If you set it too high, the line can break when a fish takes off suddenly. 

Trout and snooks have thinly lined mouths that your hook will rip a large hole in without enough tension. Then, the fish can get away when they shake their heads. 

Drag that’s set too low will cause your line to over spool and keep your hook from going in deep enough. 

Correctly setting your drag without a scale is simple once you know what to do. Follow the steps we explain down below. For a video explanation, watch Salt Strong’s video below.

1. Locate the Drag Adjustment

Most spinning reels have a circular drag adjustment knob at the front of the spool. You can tighten the drag by turning it right or loosen it by going left. The dial may make noise when you turn it. 

2. Wrap the Line Around Your Hand and Apply Pressure

When you properly set your drag, applying pressure causes an indentation on your skin. When it's too light, the line requires no effort to move. Too tight drag causes you to strain when trying to pull the line and feels like it will cut your hand.

3. Adjust Your Drag Accordingly

Adjust your drag based on the results from the last step. If it's too light, turn the knob to the right. You should turn the drag that's too tight to the right. 

4. Do a Pound Test

Many anglers recommend using a scale because they say it's more accurate. While these devices improve accuracy, you can still do the same without one. While these devices improve accuracy, you can still do the same thing efficiently without one. People fail to consider that you can do a pound test using household items.

Gather Household Items

Your testing weight should be ⅓ of your line strength. So, for a 15-pound test, you would need five pounds of drag. You can achieve this weight by using pre-packaged items. 

You need to look for objects labeled with how much they weigh. Some examples include water bottles and soup cans.

Place Items in a Plastic Bag and Tie to the End of Your Line

Place your items in a plastic bag. This way, you can easily attach the end of your line. 

Place Bag on a Smooth Surface and Try to Slide It

Avoid placing the bag on textured floors, cement, or carpet. Try to slide the bag two to three inches before the drag slips. Re-adjust your drag until you accomplish this goal. 

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Tips and Tricks for Setting Drag on a Spinning Reel Without a Scale

Now that you know the basics of setting your drag without a scale, here are some extra tips and tricks. 

Different Scenarios Require Different Drag Settings

You should use different drag settings based on what type of fishing you're doing. When pitching or flipping, put it as high as possible. This setting will allow you to get fish out of coverage with no slippage. 

Use a loose setting when you’re fishing in open water with a light line. For top water, set the drag so that it comes off five to eight inches with a three or four-pound fish on the line. This setting prevents the hook from coming out when you jerk your rod to set it. 

Tightly Tie Your Knot When Doing a Pound Test

When you put weight on the end of your line for a pound test, tie it tightly. Otherwise, the test won’t be accurate. You can use any knot as long as it tightens down.

Don’t use a loop knot. Some acceptable options include Palomar, clinch, improved clinch, and uni knots. 

Set Lighter Drag for Braided Line

Setting drag has a unique process when using braided lines. Less stretch creates better hook-setting but less cushion against tension spikes. When using this type of equipment, have a looser drag setting. 

Cup the Spool When a Fish is Close

You need extra drag when a fish is close, and the fight is almost over. Do this by cupping the spool with your fingers. 

When to Back Off During a Fight

Your initial drag setting allows you to reclaim the lost line. But, when a fish won’t slow down, loosen it to compensate for increased pressure.

Once the chase slows down, you can set the drag higher again. But remember never to go more than the original setting. 


You can set drag just as accurately without a scale. All you have to do is find the tension knob, wrap the line around your hand, apply pressure, adjust your setting, and then do a pound test. 

Now that you know the steps and some handy tips and tricks, you can catch monster fish without breaking your line. 

People Also Ask

You may still have additional questions about setting your drag. Below we answer some commonly asked questions. 

What is Drag on a Reel?

Anglers use drag to wear out big fish and prevent your line from breaking. This feature constantly pressures a fish to tire it out. It also stops your line and tackles from failing because of too much tension. 

Is This Easier with a Scale?

Yes, setting your drag is easier with a scale. When you use this equipment, you don’t have to find household items and do the math to find the right weight for a pound test.

Tie on a scale and pull your line, and the machine does the rest of the work. However, if you don’t have a scale and don’t want to buy one, setting the drag manually isn’t much harder.

My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.