Reel Questions

Reel Questions

Palming reels & setting drags; plus, what does it mean when a lake "turns over?"

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
When you're fighting a fish, under what circumstances should you "palm" a reel that already has a set drag on it?

That would depend on how the drag is set, relative to the tippet strength. Most trout anglers are using light tippets of 4- to 6-pound test and less. And few ever measure drag settings, instead tightening them until they "feel right." Usually, that's considerably less than the breaking strength of the tippet. Do I have proof of that? No, but I rarely hear of a trout angler breaking off a running fish "because I had the drag set too light."

Setting a too-light drag is a fault common to many beginning anglers, particularly if they have never caught big fish, and thus have never gained an appreciation for the importance of using the drag. Of course, on smaller fish, setting the drag has little importance in any case, beyond preventing the reel from free-spooling.

If we accept as correct that drags are often set too light, then I'd suggest that anglers could benefit from palming the spool under some circumstances. For instance, if you hook a nice fish and it's peeling off line quickly as it heads for a brush pile or toward the lip of the pool below which the water turns perilously fast, you might want to palm the spool and try to stop or turn it rather than start fiddling with your drag at such a critical moment.

I would strongly encourage any angler who hasn't done so to actually see for himself what amount of pressure he can put on his most commonly used tippets. The best way of doing that is to string up the rod and tie the tippet to a post or tree. Back off 20 feet or so, tighten the line while pointing the rod at the tree, and then begin lifting the rod, putting a bend in it. You'll find that with a straight pull (no jerking) you can put tremendous pressure on a 4X or 5X tippet without breaking it.

Bottom line: If you're using a reel with a halfway-decent drag, the best way to go is to adjust the drag to a proper setting in the first place. That way you probably won't have to palm the reel. --B.B.

I hear people talking about lakes "turning over." Is this an old fisherman's tale and, if not, what does it mean?

It's real, although "turnover" is a bit misleading. The density of water changes as temperature changes. The cooler water is more dense and will remain at the bottom of a lake--up to a point.

Unique to water, though, is that it is most dense at approximately 39 degrees Fahrenheit; it becomes less dense as it gets either warmer or cooler. This characteristic explains why lakes freeze on the surface first. And it also explains the turnover.

As a deep lake cools off in the fall, that cooler, denser water will settle to the bottom. But once the water temperature drops below 39 F, the water becomes less dense and stays on top, even freezes, if the temperature drops low enough. Then, as the lake warms in the spring, the surface water warms until it reaches 39 F and maximum density and sinks to the bottom forcing up the colder, less dense water. This is important to anglers because, during spring turnover, the more oxygenated surface water helps reoxygenate the depths of the lake, while the more nutrient-rich bottom waters are redistributed toward the surface, facilitating growth of plankton that newly hatched fish will eat. --B.B.