Fishing Reel Drags – Wet vs Dry

By John Strenk of The Reel Tech

Through the many years of being a professional reel technician, there has been much discussion on drag systems, as well as some confusion on the part of my customers. Here I will try to clear up some confusion and explain a bit about the differences. There are basically 2 types of drag systems, wet and dry, and each has its benefits. Either way, there is nothing worse than a jerky drag system. Drags not working in top form can cause you to lose that fish of a lifetime.

The Reel Tech Drags
In this photo, there are 3 different examples of drag materials.
Left: Carbontex drag material that can be either installed as is, or with the addition of drag grease.
Center: Drag material designed to be installed as is with no modification.
Right: Cloth drag material designed to be used in conjunction with drag grease.

“Dry” drags are drags that require no modification and are designed to be installed as is. What makes a drag a “wet” drag is the addition of a lithium drag grease such as the Shimano drag grease or Cal’s drag grease. The confusion I see a lot is the fact that not just any old grease will work, it must be a grease that is made for drag systems. Putting any old grease or oil on a drag washer will destroy its smooth fish stopping properties, and simply will not work. Also, it must be understood that not all drag material is able to be modified to a wet system. Some drag materials are simply made to be just installed dry, and some are designed to be used with grease. Others materials are designed to be used both ways, depending on the persons preference.

Lets for example talk about the Carbontex drags made by Smooth Drag Co. in Oak Hills, CA. These are a fine example of a drag that can be either installed wet or dry. When you choose a “wet drag system” what you gain is a much smoother start up, and overall smoother performing and longer lasting drag in my opinion. Installing the Carbontex drags dry with no modification will give you a higher top end drag setting, but over time, you will not have as smooth of a start up over the entire range of drag settings. Some people for example that fish from the river bank for hard pulling fish may opt for a dry drag system, so they can really button down on the drag to try and stop a fish they cannot follow, and keep it from going over the break. I personally am one of the guys who likes a butter smooth drag, all the time, so my personal choice would be for the wet system.

Any questions, please feel free to visit my website and/or email me directly at

Tight lines and screaming drags to ALL!!

The Reel Tech LogoJohn Strenk is the owner of The Reel Tech, a local company specializing in fishing reel repair and service. For more information visit his website or follow him on Facebook /TheReelTech

2 thoughts on “Fishing Reel Drags – Wet vs Dry

  1. I forgot to mention that the drag plates in the Shimano Calcutta are ceramic. That’s why the guy didn’t like them. He said you can crank down on the ceramic plates and break them too easily.

  2. I had a reel expert up in Anchorage replace the standard drag system in my Shimano Calcutta with one from Penn. Every time I talked to him, he kept complaining about the unnecessarily complex (and occasionally unreliable) Shimano system and touting the plusses of Penn’s. I figured I’d give it a whirl. Seems to work great.

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