When comparing lever drag versus star drag reels, on the surface, it seems like a no-brainer—lever drags are better, right? They’re easier to adjust at a moment’s notice, pre-set drag levels can be adjusted, and a single flip of the thumb both engages the reel and adjusts the drag, as opposed to engaging with one lever and adjusting separately with the star. But let’s dig a little deeper.

fishing reel

This lever drag reel is a top-notch piece of equipment. At least, it is in the hands of a pro - for inexperienced anglers, not so much.

Superior though the lever drag may seem, it has some distinct down-sides. First off, lever drag reels tend to be more expensive than those with star drags. Often, much more expensive. Secondly, while it’s possible to accidentally hit the lever and open or lock closed the drag with a lever, it’s nearly impossible to move a star drag out of the proper position by mistake. Thirdly, lever drags require attention; a star drag is set-it-and-forget-it simple.

If you’re thinking I’m about to bestow the “Best Drag” award to the star, however, you've got another think coming. The reality of the matter is that in the hands of an experienced angler, the lever drag is the hands-down winner. The ability to shift from exactly five pounds of pressure to exactly 15 pounds within seconds of that hot tuna slamming your ballyhoo gives you a much better chance of a solid hook-up. The ability to shift from 15 pounds back to 10 when the fight has reached the end-game and that tuna surges right next to the boat gives you a much better chance of keeping him hooked. And the ability to smoothly and slowly shift straight through free-spool and into strike makes using circle hooks a heck of a lot more effective.

The bottom line? Both lever drags and star drags win this battle. Levers are the number-one pick for experienced anglers for sure. But when you have relatively inexperienced fisher-folk aboard, hand them a reel with a star drag. Their idiot-proof nature means those newbies won’t make mistakes that lower your success rate—and turn your day of fishing into a real drag.

Want more tips on how to choose the right tackle? Check out these Fishing Fridays:

The Best Spinning Reels
How to Choose a Spinning Rod
The Best Conventional Reel Ever?