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Super Tuned Drags by Jeff Nielsen

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First Published on Ultimate Bass May 26, 2005

Have you ever had a fish break your line or a spool that failed to rotate while you were turning your reels handle? Most of us that fish have at least had the first event take place and it's usually when we hook that big Bass we have been searching for. There really is no need for all the broken lines and for having to endure the trauma of those fish that just "pull off " as you are reeling them in. Many of these events could be completely eliminated if we would just pay attention too and properly maintain one of your reels most important systems, called the Drag!

Most modern day Americans suffer from the bigger/faster/tighter/stiffer is better syndrome! Fishermen, especially, Bass fisherman are some of the worst transgressors in regards to this thinking. Gotta have a bigger boat, with a faster motor too get me to that fishing hole where I can use my stiffer rod with that reel that has its drag tightened or "winched" as many like to say, all the way down. Most if not all, of this thinking and the accompanying actions that go with it are… well lets just say "not good". It definitely 100% bad thinking when it comes to your reels drag system! An over tightened drag will cause accelerated parts wear, broken lines, failure to retrieve line and perhaps worst of all allow holes to be torn in fishes mouth's allowing them to "pull off" or "spit out" a hook!

Your reels drag performs a vital two-part function in a modern day fishing reel. Most anglers do not understand this vital function and therefore many reels fail due to the neglect of proper maintenance and care for this important reel function. This article will discuss the proper maintenance, care and rebuilding of your reels drag system!

We will be using the parts from a Shimano Curado/Citica for illustration. Your reels drag will vary somewhat in appearance from what you will see here. But all drag systems in modern baitcasting reels function essentially the same, so the knowledge you gain here will be readily adaptable to your particular components, be it a ABU Garcia, Daiwa or some other brand of reel.

Lets start with a picture of the overall drag system stating each parts name and a corresponding explanation of its function(s). The parts are shown in their order of assembly. After a study of this picture and its parts descriptions you should start to get a understanding of how it all works together to pull line in during a retrieve and payout line under drag!

for detailed descriptions see below

Star Drag LeverThis lever allows the drag system to be placed under variable tension by turning the stag drag nut!
Star Drag SpringThis springs main function is to keep the star drag lever flush against the handle so that the handle nut retainers tang (tab) can produce a clicking sound against the star drag lever surface during rotation. Also functions as a lock washer preventing the star drag nut from loosening easily without direct input from the lever
Star Drag NutThreads on to the drive shaft and compresses or uncompressed the drag system components when rotated by the star drag lever
Star Drag SpacerThis washer transfers tension evenly from the star drag nut to drag spring washers. It has a Teflon like coating on one side that must be in contact the drag spring washers so the drag adjustment turns smoothly without “biting” into the drag spring washers.
Drag Spring WashersThese “ C ” shaped washers allow for the drag system to have an adjustment range. Without them the drag would basically be on or off with no “in between” settings to choose from! Must be installed “mouth to mouth” or facing each other to work correctly.
Roller Clutch Inner TubeTransfers tension from the spring washers to the drag washers through the key washer thus enabling drag washer C to develop friction (Drag) against the key washers surface in an anti reverse line payout condition. It also locks into the key washer-transferring instant anti reverse lock up from the roller bearing to the drive shaft via this locked condition!
Drive ShaftAllows for the stacking, alignment and proper functioning of all the drive/drag components. Directly drives the key washer and anti reverse ratchet washer during handle rotation
Key WasherKeyed to drive shaft (rotates with shaft) and the roller clutch inner tube. Transfers tension (pressure) directly to drag washer C allowing the drive gear to turn the pinion gear (which turns the spool) via drag washer pressure when rotating in forward condition. Develops friction on its surface during an anti reverse line payout condition providing “drag” to the spool through the gears.
Drag Washer CMade of a semi-compressible fiber material, which absorbs drag grease making a “wet drag”. Transfers tension to the drive gear surface so the gear can be rotated causing the reel to retrieve line. During an anti reverse condition this washer causes friction to be developed on the drive gear and key washer surfaces as line is pulled from the spool producing the reels drag condition.
Drive GearDrives the pinion gear during forward rotation of the handle. This gear is not directly driven but is made to rotate only by the “clutch” action provided to it by the reels drag components. During an anti reverse condition the drag tension on this gears surfaces will allow it to perform a controlled counter rotation letting the spool pay out line under tension (drag).
Drag Washer AWasher is non-compressible with a scored surface, which retains small amounts of drag grease. Acts more a little more like a clutch than drag washer C by preventing surface contact between the drive gear and anti reverse ratchet washer so each can perform their designed functions. It does cause some friction to be developed on the underside of the drive gear in an anti reverse condition when line is being played out.
Anti Reverse Ratchet WasherThis washer is keyed to the drive shaft. Its cogged outer rim allows the reels clutch pawl to lock the drive shaft when the thumb bar is depressed thus preventing the handle from spinning freely in the forward direction during a cast. When the handle is rotated forward after completion of the cast the clutch pawl is "kicked" backward by the anti reverse ratchets teeth, which in turn allows the pinion gear to re-engage the spool so the retrieve can begin. It also transfers the "stop" from the bottom of the drive shaft to the rest of the drive shaft components so that compression can take place along the shafts axis thus developing tension (drag). Allows drag washer A to develop friction on its surface during an anti reverse line payout condition.

Now that we have given an explanation of the individual drag system components and their functions let move on to discuss how to Super Tune a drag! First lets look at a picture of some actual used drag components that we will be working with. The top and bottom rows have used Curado/Citica drag components while a 6.2:1 new drive gear and Drag washer C are shown in the middle.

(Pictured are the drag components that we will be working with)

As you can see these drag components are in need of some serious attention. Heavy oxidation and leaching have occurred due to the drag components not being serviced with new grease and the drag system being kept under constant tension when not in use (i.e. drag was not backed off for storage after a day on the water!) Drag grease will become slightly acidic with age and if kept under tension it will accelerate the oxidation of the brass drive gear. Keep in mind that these pictures where taken after the gears had been cleaned and wire brushed with a dremel tool and they a still in this bad of condition. Obviously oxidation like this will not allow the drag to "slip" evenly thus increasing the possibility of broken lines and allow fish to "pull off"! Lets take a closer look at the actual components we will be dealing with!

(Reading Left to Right)
1. Old gear, bottom side contacts drag A
2. Old gear top side contacts drag C
3. New gear bottom
4. New gear top
5. Anti- reverse ratchet beveled side faces down toward bottom of drive shaft
6. Anti- reverse ratchet flat side contacts drag washer A during assembly
7. Key washer topside note beveled edge faces up during reassembly
8. Key washer bottom side contacts drag C during reassembly

Lets get an up close look at the drag components surfaces prior to starting the Super Tuning Process.

Old Gear bottom side

Old gear top side

Anti Reverse ratchet topside

Keywasher Bottom side

Well lets get started on tuning up these worn surfaces, there are 5 main areas the we will concentrate on resurfacing in order to get a smooth drag they are: 1) the Key Washer bottom side (flat side), 2) the Anti-reverse Ratchet Topside (flat side), 3) the Drive gear topside, 4) the Drive gear bottom side, 5) Drive Shaft and Drive gear center surfaces where they contact!

We will wet sand these surfaces by hand using the same Imperial Wet or dry sandpaper used during the SUPER TUNING process. This is available at Wal-Mart in the automotive section and comes in 800, 1000, 1500 and 2000 grit sheets. We will start with the 800, them move on to the 1500 and finally to the 2000 grit paper to complete the sanding portion of this process

You will need some kind of flat water proof surface to place our wet sandpaper on I used a nylon cutting board for this requirement. We will wet the sandpaper and work the component surfaces back and forth across the sandpaper till we remove most of the flaws in the surface and then we will move on to the next grit sandpaper. We will do this for the Key washer, Anti-Reverse Ratchet, and Drive gear Bottom side surfaces only! Lets get started!

Key washer bottom side before coarse sanding

Slide components up and down on sandpaper surface.

Key washer after coarse sanding

Drive gear bottom side being worked on sandpaper

Key washer, anti-reverse ratchet and drive gear after completion of fine sanding process.

Now let’s look at doing the topside of the drive gear, to work this recessed surface we need our trusty dremel tool once again. Will be using the large sanding drum holder to secure the gear! Take off the sanding drum off the holder and remove the top retaining screw and washer. Place the drive gear on top of the drum holder and center it as best you can, then secure the gear to the holder with the washer and screw that was removed from the holder.

Sanding drum holder with screw and washer removed.

Drive gear installed on dremel sanding drum holder.

Now we have to sand the inner surface of the drive gear. To do this we will cut our sandpaper into strips approximately 3/8 of an inch wide. Then we will place that sandpaper strip around a wooden handle cotton swab or a plastic solder tool as shown in the pictures. When the sandpaper gets loaded up just rotate the strip around the swab or tool to expose fresh grit. Start with the 800 grit as before and then progress to the 2000 grit. While the dremel rotates move the sandpaper across the inner surface until all oxidation is removed and surface is evenly sanded. Make sure that you also sand the drive gear lip as drag washer "C" makes contact here as well.

Swab inside of sandpaper strip / Optional solder tool used for sanding

Drive gear after coarse sanding / Sand surface and lip of gear

Next we must use our trusty Simichrome polish to complete the refinishing of the surface.

Place the polish on your cotton swab spread it around the inside of the gear, turn the dremel on and work the polish into the surface. Remove polish with a clean swab and repeat process till the gear is shiny and smooth inside.

Drive gear after Simichrome polishing is complete!

Now we must move on to the final polishing stage of the drag components. To accomplish this we need the dremel tools large polishing disk with its associated holder having had its sharp tip sanded down to prevent marring our component surfaces!

Dremel polishing disk / Dremel polishing disk holder with pointed tip removed

Install the tool in the dremel and spread Simichrome polish over the surfaces of our components. Use the polishing disk to buff the surfaces to a mirror like finish Repeat application of Simichrome polish till the desired finish is obtained!

Note the reflections on the highly polished drag surfaces in our final picture below!

If you notice the new gear pictured middle row has no reflection and the old gear pictured bottom has a reflection in it after polishing. The polished surfaces are better than new.

Now we must give attention to the drive shaft itself. The shaft can become oxidized and have burrs on its surface around the drive gear mounting area. We need to smooth this area up to insure non-binding rotation of the drive gear during a line payout condition. It must be lightly sanded if burrs are noted upon its surface. Use either the dremel and sanding toothpick as described in the Super Tuning article or sand it by hand. Then apply the Simichrome to the shaft and polish it with the large polishing disk.

Note roughness and oxidation on drive shaft surface in the areas where the drive gear rests.

Simichrome being applied to drive shaft.

A light sand and polish must be preformed on the shaft to ensure smooth drag operation.

Drive shaft after sanding and polishing!

After sanding and polishing smooth surface ensures that the gear won't "catch" during a drag condition.

There is one last area we must polish on the Drive gear and that is its center hole.
This is to enable the surface to surface contact between the drive gear and drive shaft to be as friction free as possible! Sand the inside if necessary otherwise just polish it with a cotton swab and Simichrome polish!

Check out these close ups of the drag components.

Key washer after sanding and polishing.

Anti reverse ratchet after sanding and polishing.

All components finished!

Now we are ready for reassembly of the drag components in the reel. For instructional purposes we will go through this with the components not installed in the reel housing of our Curado but this will aid you in understanding the proper way of reassembling your drag.

Start reassembly by installing Anti reverse ratchet onto drive shaft, polished side up!

Apply Shimano star drag grease to anti reverse ratchet and drag washer A.

Place drag washer A on to drive shaft and coat the top with star drag grease.

Coat underside of drive gear and slide it onto the drive shaft then coat topside of drive gear.

Place drag washer C into drive gear and coat with drag grease.

Install key washer polished side down.

Install roller clutch inner tube teeth into key washer keyways.

Star drag spring not shown in picture. It installs between star drag lever and nut. Final drag component assembly note, drag spring washer mouth installation. Teflon coating of star drag spacer contacts spring washer.

Well that's all folks! Performing this Super Tune to your drags will be a big asset on the water greatly reducing the broken line and pulled off fish syndrome! Remember to check your drag tension by placing your thumb on your reel spool to hold it still and then rotate the handle forward. Increase the tension by rotating you star drag lever until you are satisfied that you have sufficient tension based on the difficulty with which the handle turns. Never check a drag by pulling your line off of your spool as this will abraid the line and bury it in the spool causing casting problems. Remember to back your drag all the way off after your fishing day is complete to prevent damage to the drag components. I hope you find this article both informative and helpful.

God Bless you all!
Jeff Nielsen