Wet vs Dry Drags

In this post we will discuss wet vs dry drags when fishing in Lake Ontario or any other body of water for that matter. With several decades of fishing experience and using many different makes of level wind reels, we have settled on what works for us.   

But First A Preface

In the earliest of beginnings, money was an issue. I’m sure it was for most of us who started fishing Lake Ontario at one time or another. Before I started chartering, I was looking for reels that would just get the job done for the limited amount of time that I got to fish. 

The old adage “You get what you pay for” held true. The cheaper reels would not take the poundings overtime that adult king salmon dished out. As we became more adept at catching fish, the more the reels would break down. Most often, it was the drag system that failed. So we would go out and spend more money on the same type of inexpensive reels till they would break again. 

Eventually, we realized that if we just spent the amount required to purchase a better quality reel in the first place, we would be ahead of the game. Little by little, that’s just what we did. All of these “nicer” reels are still in service today.


wet vs dry drags
Dry Drags

 The Power of Dry Drags

When it comes to dry vs wet drags, we whole hardily prefer a dry drag system. The main reason is that they are easily adjustable and respond well to incremental increase or decrease in drag pressure. More specifically, decreases in drag tension actually lighten the drag and won’t hang up. There is a reason for this! 

As stated, dry drags don’t stick or remain “hydro-locked” when drag pressure is backed off. They are by definition dry. Materials used by “Dragmasters” and Penn drags made of HT 100 material are dry and slippery by nature, but possess the ability to increase friction when pressed together between metal washers. Simply put, dry drags just don’t stick to each other when pressure is released.

The Problem With Wet Drags

Initially, brand new or recently serviced wet drags do perform well when set correctly. Some argue the initial burst of line pull against a wet vs dry drag is smoother. In the real world, I haven’t noticed a significant difference between the two. Wet drags on larger reels such as the Tekota 700/800 reels, have large surface areas. These larger drags will hydro-lock when squeezed together due to increased drag tension, even when brand new!  Drags stay hydro-locked when backed off. 

Freeing Hydro-locked Drags

Hydro-locked drags can be easily corrected by placing your left hand thumb on the spool and cranking the handle with your right hand to free them. You’ll  feel it break free when cranking the reel handle. But, what happens when you forget to set the drags free? Trouble that’s what!

By definition, wet drags are greased . Experience shows that the smaller drag washers don’t hang up when brand new or recently serviced. The problem is that over time, they will require service as the grease dries out or wears away. Dry drags do not require servicing in and of themselves.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned purchasing less expensive reels due to financial restraints. Some of these reels had wet drag systems such as the SG 47 LC Daiwas. The drags are made of a felt like material. The  Penn GTI reels purchased back then had dry drags made of the HT 100 material, some of which are still in service. I have since upgraded the majority of my reels to Tekotas and Penn Internationals.

Modifying The Shimanos

 The Shimano Tekotas come through with wet drags. The larger reels in the 700/800 series, those with line counters and without, will hydro-lock. Tunas Reel Troubles have after market dry drags available. All of my reels including the smaller series 600’s (not as susceptible to hydro-locking) have been upgraded to dry drags. You can switch them out yourself   (check out you tube) or send them to Tuna Tom’s. The drag kits are available for under $10.00 with free shipping on E-Bay. 

In conclusion, we recommend when at all possible running quality reels with dry drag systems. King salmon put tremendous stress on reels and their components. Better quality reels, such as Tekotas, with dry drags take the punishment. We fish nearly every day when possible, sometimes twice a day. Our reels must perform and not break down as our charter business depends on it.   

Feel free to contact us anytime with our Ace Charters contact form or call us at 413-346-7675 !!