Is Your Love A Disc Drag Or Spring Pawl?

Monday, 14 February 2022  |  Sarah

Disc Drag
Vs
Spring Pawl

Top Tip to prolong reel life
Reel recommendations
 
 
Disk Drag or Spring Pawl Difference
There’s a longstanding debate as to whether you invest in a disc drag, or a spring pawl reel. Before delving into this further, it’s vital to understand what drag is.

The “drag” is the braking system on a fly reel, which alters / slows the spool’s rotation. In turn, the reduction of rotation applies more pressure when battling fish. The drag also prevents tangling (spooling) of the fly line by maintaining a degree of tension on the spool so it doesn’t overrun when stripping off fly line for casting. 

There are two types of drag mechanisms that work a little differently: disc drag and spring pawl.
 
Disc Drag
Disc drag reels use washers (discs) to create friction on the spool, resulting in tension on the line. Typical washer arrangements often include a combination of cork, brass, or teflon discs that work very much like the disc braking system found on vehicles.

Because disc on disc creates a greater surface area, more resistance (braking) is achieved than a spring pawl reel.  There is an adjustment knob on the back of the reel cage that can be rotated to alter the amount of tension applied.  So, when a fish runs and takes line from the reel the drag’s washers provide resistance on the spool to tire the fish.
Disc drag reels are generally highly engineered and are often used more for saltwater fishing, or larger fish like salmon in fast, powerful rivers. For this reason the disc drag system is more apparent of reels designated for heavier line ratings, perhaps from AFTM 6, right up to 12.  That said, some brands include a disc drag system on smaller reels as well.
 
Spring Pawl
The spring pawl (click-n-pawl or ratchet) drag consists of a clicker (tooth) that is tensioned by a rudimentary spring located on the reel cage.  This interlocks with a cog housed on the reel spool. For this reason, spring pawl reels are often a little more noisy that their disc drag counterparts. Because less surface areas are interacting they tend not to have the stopping power of disc drag reels. 

That said, this doesn’t make them obsolete when it comes to trout fishing, as most trout battle it out in their known territory, especially on rivers.  In fact, ask any river trout angler how many times a fish has run them onto the backing, and it’s likely the answer will be “never”!  For this reason the spring pawl system tends to be apparent on reels rated for lighter lines, typically AFTM 2-5 weight reels.
 
Conclusion
Both drag systems work perfectly when for playing Trout, or Grayling though many anglers these days lean towards disc drag reels.

As the spring pawl drag is less sophisticated, reels tend to be much lighter in weight, which has a bearing when it comes to using, shorter, lighter rods. They also tend to be cheaper in price too, making them extremely popular with those on a shoestring budget. 

Disc drag reels are unparalleled when it comes to stopping powerful fish, making them necessary when targeting saltwater species, or Salmon for example.  It’s tempting to say that disc drag reels will last a lifetime.  However, like any moving parts of a braking system they are prone to wear, so it doesn’t necessarily mean they last forever. 

In a nutshell then, if your quarry is Trout, or Grayling then a spring pawl reel is adequate.  Conversely, if you’re chasing Bonefish, Tarpon, or Salmon a disc drag is a must. 
Try to release the drag brake on your reel cage after every trip by rotating (usually anticlockwise) the tension knob to its lowest setting.  This relieves pressure on the dics, or springs to prolong the life of your reel.

The Essential Fly