Cure for a slipping drag

You know what I am like with reels. Of all my fishing gear it is the fly reels that I love the most. I own far too many and most of them see little use but I am still a sucker for a bargain reel. That’s why I bought a second hand System 2 a while back. I especially like the old System 2’s, made by Scientific Anglers, they are solid and dependable with excellent drags. I own a few of them and they have never let me down. Those of you who practice SWFF should think about hunting one down as they are salt water proof.


There was a problem with this 89M that I bought. Nothing serious, just a moment’s thoughtlessness by the previous owner which led to a useless drag. The System 2 sports a disc and caliper drag just like one you have on your car. Turning the screw on the back of the reel tightens the brake pads against the disc, providing wonderful fish-stopping drag. Except nothing much was happening when I turned the screw on this one. I left the reel out meaning to get to the bottom of the issue and it has been sitting on the sideboard since then. Until this afternoon.

I checked out reel today to see what the problem was. The drag mechanism is not overly complex and it quickly became apparent that everything was there and in good condition. Sometimes on hard used examples the drag pads can be worn out but they were like new on this one. In fact the whole reel looks like it was hardly used. Why was the drag so useless then?

The disc and caliper

The previous owner had taken care to lubricate his or her reel with oil. Very good, except he/she had also put oil on the disc and pads! No wonder the drag didn’t work (I guess on the upside it wasn’t going to rust!). Now, there are two ways of dealing with this problem. You can dismantle the drag and replace the pads with nice new ones and clean all traces of grease or oil from the disc. That works fine and if the pads are worn it is the best course of action. But in cases like this where the pads are in otherwise good condition there is another way to fix the reel.

The pads are like new

Let me be clear, this is not an instant fix, it takes a few applications but it does the job in the end. All you need is some lighter fuel (petrol, not gas) which you can pick up at any hardware store for a few cents.


First, remove the spool. I give the whole drag a rub with a brush to remove any grit in the area (an old toothbush does the job well). Simply squirt the lighter fuel on to the disc and pad and rotate the disc by hand to spread the fuel over the surface. Now rub off the fuel with a soft cloth. Repeat often. Any oil or grease will be embedded in the open structure of the brake pad and it takes time for it to be flushed out by the fuel, so it will take a few attempts to be rid of the lubricant. Be careful when applying the fuel so that it doesn’t get anywhere else other than on the pad and disc.


You will know when you have cleaned out the last of the oil by putting the spool back on and trying the drag. Even after the first cleaning it will probably be a bit better but keep going until the drag is functioning properly. This cure works for other similar reel drags too.

Just before I close, if you are hunting for a System 2 on the secondhand market remember that they came in two sizes. The ‘M’ models were smaller than the regular ones so make sure you are buying the want you want! Here are examples of two 89’s, the one on the left is the ‘M’ model.


I hope this has been helpful.



3 thoughts on “Cure for a slipping drag

  1. Great info, thanks!
    I have an old SA System2 78, it works great but makes two different sounds.
    A pleasant click for a couple of strips and quite occasionally a screeching metallic noise. The drag resistance is the same.
    I haven’t cared, because it doesn’t effect the performance, but reading this post made me think I might be able to rid the screeching?


  2. Check the drag as the metallic screech may be due to wear on the ‘pads’. Great reels which were very under-rated for many years. I see them selling for higher prices now but still represent good value for money as they last a lifetime.


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