wet versus dry drags

Started by alantani, December 07, 2008, 05:32:37 PM

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wet versus dry. seems like i've been fighting this battle for the last 10 years. what's the big deal? i still get asked once in a while, so i'd like to go through some points that i think are important and then i think you'll have a better idea of where i'm coming from.

just so we're all on the same page, i'd like to define a few terms i use. the first is "start up." when you first pull on the line, some drags tend to stick a little, so you have to pull a little harder. once the line starts moving, it may take, say, 5 pounds of drag to keep the line moving. that initial pull may take 6 pounds to get it started. that extra pound (or 20%) is what i refer to as "start up." with a horribly sticky drag, the start up might be as high as 100%. my personal preference is zero.

the next is your drag setting. simple enough. it's the number of pounds needed to keep the line peeling off the spool once it starts moving. that number will increase as the spool height decreases. it actually doubles when the spool height decreases by half. for spinning, star and lever drag reels, i will quote a drag setting but always add "at the top of the spool, " even if i do not.

then there is "accelleration" or "high speed runout." this is the nasty tendency for a greased drag to become more slippery. a gentleman named cal sheets has done work some on this. imagine a situation with a large shimano tiagra 80, a 50# drag setting, and a 500# tuna. such a fish might take a 100 yard run in 10 seconds. cal sheets had found that the functional drag would decrease as much as 40% during these hard runs. it was not necessarily a function of temperature, it was interestingly more a function of speed.

the shimano star drag grease is a pure teflon product that has a melting temperature of 300 degrees farenheit. when applied in excess, this problem with accelleration was noted. when the excess was removed, it became less of a problem, but i do not know how much less. cal sheets also now sells a pure teflon grease. it has a melting temperature of 500 degrees farenheit. it is applied liberally to the drag washer of a large lever drag reel, then the excess is vigorously wiped off. cal sheets says that this has eliminated the problem of accelleration. i have no reason do doubt his work, but i have not seen the data.

and lastly, my definition of a properly functioning drag system. try this with your own rod and reel. spool the reel with a desired line weight. let's say 20 pound monofilament, just to pick a number. place the reel on the rod. run the line through the guides. tie with line off to a 5 pound weight, which is 25% of your line weight. clamp down on the drag star. reel down to the weight. lift the rod up until the grip is at a 45 degree angle. now adjust the drag until the weight drops one foot every 5 seconds. if your reel can perform to this level, then you have near zero start up. this is my definition of a properly functioning drag system.

regarding greased carbon fiber drag upgrades in top drag spinning reels, bait casters and small to medium conventional star drag reels, i simply find a carbon fiber drag washer that gives me a "best fit." i can cut them down to size pretty easily if needed. i slap a thick coat of grease on the drag washers, install them and let the grease squeeze out the sides. when i first started doing this, my friends were amazed at the smoothness and level of performance and reliability. many tackle pros, shop owners, repair personel and industry were adament that i was totally wrong. sometimes, it got personal. so what i did was to slap in more grease, and then take pictures. i just used the excess grease in non-lever drag reels just to annoy the non-believers. and one fisherman, after another, after another, would say "yes, i own this reel," and "yes, it is as smooth as he says." oh, and "yes, these drags last forever!" and for the most part, the harassment stopped. it is true that you get no respect on the internet without pictures.

what about lever drag reels? i always wipe off the excess, but that is because it allows me to get a higher strike drag setting before losing freespool. i am also concerned about accelleration, but i believe it will only be an issue with one fisherman out of 10,000. the start up remains zero and that's my main concern. the grease also prevents water damage to the drag washer and aluminum underneath. and when i say that i've almost won, here's what i mean. shimano started out with greased carbon fiber. they get credit for that original innovation. you will now see greased carbon fiber drag washer in all of the flagship two speed lever drag reels, including penn, daiwa, okuma, accurate and tiburon. only avet and alutecnos have dry systems. someday, that too may change. and then i will call my victory complete.

why no grease star drag reels from the major manufacturers? only progear has a greased carbon fiber drag system. i can only guess, but perhaps other manufacturers consider this system to be too expensive. and why make a reel with a drag system that will last forever, when they would rather have you buy another reel. as for spinners? they WANT you to buy a new one each year. otherwise, why would they introduce a new model every year? basically, start up is the main issue here. accelleration will never be. but this is a battle i know i will never win. it is simple frustration on my part, but i wonder somtimes if companies deliberatly make a reel that they know will fail, just so that they can sell another one.
send me an email at alantani@yahoo.com for questions!



Hello Alan, 

I finally got a chance to play around with my newell 550 and 646 reel.  I initially tried to use the penn 555 ht-100 fiber washers because it closely resembled the size of the carbontex for the 550.  It was just a hair bigger on the outside diameter.  The inside diameter is exactly the same.  However, the thickness of the washer is fatter than the carbontex.  Anyway, it did not work.

So I finally said, okay, although the carbontex washer are a lot more expensive compared to the ht100's, I will just give it a try.  I greased it all up and installed them.  At first, it seemed that it really lost power.  Then after I fished with them, washed down the reel, and tried it again, yes they really improved.  I guess the grease needed to be "worked into the washer".  Nonetheless, what a difference in smoothness!  Absolutely no "herky jerky" stickiness.  I did notice that I lost some of the power but at 8 or 9 on a scale of 10 is not so bad considering the smoothness that I gained.

I also do notice the difference in power between the 646 reel and the 550 reel.  I guess the two added washers in the drag stack really makes a difference.  Anyway, both of them are converted (dry to greased) and feel excellent!   Now, I need to break out my penn spinners and do the same to the drag stack.  The stickiness in spinners are even more pronounced than the conventional reels. 

Thanks again for your help, Frank

send me an email at alantani@yahoo.com for questions!



Hi, Alan.  Just wanted to say thanks to you for all the wonderful reel maintenance posts you have made over the years. It has greatly influenced what I have purchased in the last years (Avet, Pro Gear Albacore 280, and Penn 975 star drag). Last year I fished my Avet SX MC more than anything else with 50 braid on a 100 lb Shimano Trevala rod, which I even broke and Shimano replaced free. Not any monster fish, but loads and loads of them: bluefish, stripers, fluke, bonita, and false albacore.  Anyway I just took my Avet apart after its first year of heavy use-- it has the glued on drag washer. I had greased it when new, every screw and every inside surface. It was super clean inside, zero corrosion. I wiped it clean of old grease and again used liberal amounts of Penn grease away from the shaft and drag, Cal's on the drag then wiped clean, and Corrosion-X on the shaft/ spool bearing area. The reel is so fast I am not worried about giving up a little free-spool in exchange for corrosion protection. Good to go for another year. This reel takes lots of salt water spray in the boat, but gets lightly rinsed after every trip and air dried. The outside gets sprayed with Penn reel cleaner before every use, which is a corrosion inhibitor.  Thanks again, and Happy New Year!  Jim 

send me an email at alantani@yahoo.com for questions!


people still have questions about this!


Registered User   Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Sandbridge
Posts: 3,919 

Drag grease


I own four Daiwa Saltist reels.  I have fished each of these reels with Daiwa's stock drag washers for at last a year, some of them for two years.  They are very fine reels, and I very pleased to fish with them. They are, in fact, my favorite reels for surf and pier fishing for cobia, drum and striper.  Each of these four reels had their fiber drag washers loaded with grease when I bought them. And each of these reels had poor drag pressure out of the box.   Drag pressure did improve with time. The drags got even better after I cleaned the grease off the fiber washers.  There has been a lot of talk about putting drag grease on carbon fiber washers. However, I'm still not convinced this is a good idea.  The stock fiber washers in the Daiwa Saltist reels are carbon fiber. In fact, they look identical to the Carbontex washers from Smooth Drag. The only difference between the stock washers and a set of Carbontex is the fourth fiber washer under the main gear. The stock one looks like it's made of paper. Even so, I don't think you can blame poor drag performance entirely on the stock Saltist washers, IMHO.  Almost everyone in the know seems to agree there are two types of grease sold that work well on carbon fiber washers, Shimano's and Cal's drag grease. Could it be the type of drag grease that Daiwa used on the stock washers isn't up to par? To be honest, I don't know. I assume that Diawa used their special "drag grease" on the fiber washers, but I honestly have no idea.  Maybe the large amount of drag grease that Diawa loaded onto the fiber washers decreased the drag force? Most of the people I respect insist that a small amount of drag grease - just enough to leave a finger print - is all the grease you need on carbon washers. Again, wiping off the excess drag grease on the stock Daiwa washers did improve the drag. 
Or could it be that using no drag grease at all carbon fibers washers provides the best drag pressure. That's where I'm leaning right now.  I just installed three sets of Carbontex washers in my Saltists. I put a light amount of Cal's Drag on the fiber washers in each of these reels. In hindsight, I'm not sure I shoulda done this, but we'll see.  I'll keep ya'll updated on how drags work under these conditions.   
Last edited by Newsjeff; 02-07-2010 at 09:01 PM.

send me an email at alantani@yahoo.com for questions!


and here's another....


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the baker
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Drag Washers


Hey all, Anyone using the carbontex drag washers in the tyrnos 30 and TLD 25 reels and can you tell me what the upgrades are like and what was the cost
the other Question I have is that can you use Cals drag grease on any drag washer.  Thanks for your help.  Dave

I am not an Angler I am an Athlete of the sea.............Call sign- Wild Child. VHF 21, 73. 
send me an email at alantani@yahoo.com for questions!



Please help me what best i use for my bc reel daiwa zillion 100 hsla 50th anniversary, dry or wet drag? coz when i see 1st time drag, it use dry drag...



Chris, if the reel has carbon fiber washers, Cals or Shimano drag grease is best, they'll never wear out, start up is negligible and no sticking. You just won't be able to get this with dry washers......

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."   Mark Twain


besides if the cf washers are dry there is no protection from corrosion for the spool!end of story
should the cf washers be replaced when they become smooth.some of my drags are smooth and they work just fine.is there a use by date?whats the real story?


My observation on this topic is as follows. I changed a large collection of reels over to greased Carbontex drag washers. I have only fished a third of them so far this season. I viewed the tutorials and was a little skeptical about the amount of grease applied to the drag washers. I just dismantled a Calcutta 400 with little fishing time on the reel and was amazed at how much was absorbed by the drag washers. They were dry. A second coat, put the reel back together and smooth again. I compare the first light coat as a sealer coat that gets absorbed completely. The second light coat actually works as a wet drag which Alan and many others have done the testing to prove the effectiveness. I am confident all of my gear is race ready thanks to all of the input from here, Thanks all, Brendan.


should there be any grease on the plate the drag washer rubs against?

Bryan Young

There will usually be a thin coat of drag grease on the pressure plates or metal drag washers due to transfer from the grease CF drag washers.
:D I talk with every part I send out and each reel I repair so that they perform at the top of their game. :D



I know it's an old post and it's probably a rookie question, but then again...I'm a rookie.  looks like you can use Cal's drag grease on drags, and anywhere else where grease would go in the reel.  I'm probably going to get some Cal's, but until then I am using reel butter at this time.   Am I correct to assume that you guys would suggest go with dry drags rather than using this grease?

so many baits....so little time



Most carbon fiber drags suffer ill consequences when exposed to petroleum-based products over time.  A PTFE or a Teflon-infused grease, such as Cal's,  will not degrade the resins bonding the carbon fiber in the drag discs.  Your reel butter is probably a better grease for the gears, and remainder of the reel.  It can be thinned using corrosion X if needed.
Hope springs eternal
for the consumate fishermen.


The Ardent Reel Butter is fully synthetic but I do not the make up of the grease. It may work fine in small reels with the excess wiped off.

At least better than nothing.
OCD Reel Service & Repair
Gulf Breeze, FL