What's the maximum drag?
I've gotten this question quite a bit. The "maximum drag at strike..." specifically applies to lever drag reels, but all reels have a functional "maximum drag." A maximum is the highest number of pounds, but what is functional? Going back to some previous discussions, let's just say that I am looking for a maximum drag with 10% start up or less. If the drags are too sticky or if they are locked down, I am just going to call them "non-functional." Let's look at the different reel designs.
Spinning Reels - For spinners, just tighten down the knob to set the drag. Nothing fancy here. The more you tighten it down, the more drag you get. At some point, the drag knob will bottom out or the drag washers will lock up and you will have just hit your functional "maximum" drag. Many spinners can actually reach such high settings that you can damage the reel. One of two things will fail at this point, the bail or the gears. I guess we'll have to add that drag settings high enough to damage a reel would also be "non-functional."
Star Drag Conventional and Baitcasting Reels - Nothing fancy here, either. Turn the star down for more drag pressure. As a VERY rough rule of thumb, each drag washer inside the main gear of a star drag stack will contribute about 5 pounds of drag. Obviously, there are many variables here, but this is a fairly consistent guide. Low profile baitcasters with a single drag under the main gear and a single drag washers inside will deliver an easy 5 pounds of drag. Larger round baitcasters and smaller conventional reels with a single drag washer under the main gear and three drag washers inside the main gear will deliver roughly 15 pounds of drag. Careful, though. 15 pounds of drag on a 4, 5 or 6000 series ambassaduer will shred the main gear on the first pull. More than 7-8 pounds of drag on a squidder, jigmaster or smaller penn senator will round off the 98-60 gear sleeve (drive shaft). Full-sized conventional reels (4/0-sized or larger) typically have a single drag washer under the main gear and 5 drag washers inside. These reels usually deliver a maximum of drag of 25 pounds. The 4/0-sized Penn Senator 113h drag stack will deliver just that amount of drag, but you run the risk of damage to the main gear a drag settings in excess of 20 pounds. Let's just call the function drag range of a Penn 113h to be 20 pounds or less. That's why this reel is commonly rigged with straight 50 pound monofilament and a perfectly happy 15 pound drag setting.
Lever Drag Reels - These reels are designed to deliver tremendous drag ranges in a compact frame. Lever drag reels the size of an ambassaduer can deliver the same amount of drag as a 4/0 senator. This design can also incorporate dual gear sets to give you high speed or low speed at the push of a button. This the reason that they are so popular, and so expensive.
To adjust the drag pressure, push the drag lever back to the "free" position, then turn the preset knob clockwise to increase the drag and counterclockwise to decrease it. Now push the lever to "strike" and check the drag setting by pulling on the line with a scale. Simply repeat this process until you've reached your desired drag setting. Turning down the preset knob moves the drag pressure plate closer to the drag washer. If you are trying to achieve a very high drag setting, it is possible that the drag and pressure plate can come in contact. When that happens, you will loose freespool. With the lever still in "free," you'll have to back off the preset knob just a smidge to restore freespool. At that point, you can push the lever forward to "strike" and measure the drag. This drag setting will be the "maximum drag setting at strike" before losing freespool.
There is no law that prevents you from turning the preset knob past the "maximum drag setting at strike." Similarly, there is nothing to prevent you from pushing the lever past "strike" to "full." Simply be aware that the resulting high drag settings might damage a right main side plate bearing, break the base of a graphite frame, or shred a stainless steel gear. Sometimes this kind of damage can occur at relatively "low" drag settings. The Avet MX can be modified to deliver nearly 20 pounds of drag at strike before losing freespool, but drag settings in excess of 9 pounds cause the right main side plate bearing to bind. The Shimano TLD 30 two speed can be modified to reach 25 pounds of drag at strike before losing freespool, yet the frame has been reported to break at the base at those settings. The news is not all bad, however. The Shimano Charter Special 1000's and 2000's can modified to perform well at a 15 pound drag at strike before losing freespool. Now if the Charter Special only came with a topless frame!