Anyone who ends up with a tangled fishing rig or a matted ball of line on their reel can attest to the frustration of line twist.
So, naturally most anglers look to the swivel to solve all their woes. But unfortunately that means swivels get tied on in places they have no business being.
But here’s the thing. Swivels aren’t needed nearly as often as we think. In fact there are only a handful of fishing situations where they truly help. As a result of over use they potentially do more harm than good when it comes to your success on the water.
Well, no time like the present to admit the error of our ways. Keep reading and join us as we answer the most critical fishing question: To swivel or not to swivel.
What do swivels do
Swivels have just 2 primary jobs to do and its to prevent your fishing line from twisting and to keep your rigs from tangling up (depending on the type of swivel). More specifically, they provide a rotational connection between two lines so that the hook end can rotate freely without causing twist in your mainline on the other side of the swivel.
Types of swivels
However a swivels true function can include much more that preventing line twist. They act as quick connections between mainline and leaders for easily swapping out tackle and create freely rotating pivot points for certain fishing rigs. Let’s quickly review the 4 basic types of swivels and their uses.
Both barrel and ball-bearing swivels are used to join two segments of line together. Usually a leader to your main line. Their primary function is twist reduction but they also act as sliding sinker stops. Barrel and ball bearing swivel may look the same but ball-bearing swivels are a much higher quality swivel with better anti-twist functionality.
Combine a barrel or ball swivel with a quick snap and viola, you have a snap swivel. They serve the same purpose as barrel style swivels but with the added perk of a quickly swapping out hooks, lures or weights. However, as we’ll discuss later, snap swivels are the most likely swivel to be used wrong.
3-way swivels are almost exclusively used for dropper rig fishing. One side attaches to the main line, one side goes to a weight and the middle swivel ties to your bait. Not only do 3-way swivels reduced line twist they also allow your bait to swing around in current without getting tangled on the rest of your fishing rig.
The last type of swivel also happens to be the newest. The finesse swivel is used with drop-shot rigs. It incorporates a hook into a barrel style swivel and includes a clip for attaching a length of line tied to a drop-shot weight. A conventional drop-shot rig is not twist free but these finesse swivels change that.
Situations when you need a swivel
We certainly feel that swivels are wildly over used but there are a handful of situations when swivels are necessary.
Whether you are trolling dodgers, flashers, pop gear, bait or spoons, there is always the risk of line twist. Any time you’re trolling baits that are likely to spin, use a swivel to isolate your main line from the rest of your rig and leader.
Keep in mind that trolling puts a lot of force on your gear so a quality swivel is a must. Inexpensive barrel swivels don’t rotate well under tension so opt for a ball-bearing swivel instead. A ball-bearing snap swivel is a great option for trolling with dodger and flasher setups since you can quickly change out entire setups without re-tying.
Spinner and spoon fishing – maybe?
There is a case to be made for using a swivel with spinners and spoons. After all, these lures have significant spin in their action that certainly adds twist to your line. However, we seldom use swivels when casting spoons and spinners simply because swivels take time to tie on and add a week link in your line. More knots equals more points of failure.
Yet, if line twist plagues you then tie in a small barrel swivel 18 to 24 inches above your lure at the top of your leader. But absolutely do not use a snap swivel to connect directly to your lure.
Three way rig
It’s entirely possible to rig up a dropper rig without a 3-way swivel. There are countless Youtube videos showing how to do it and I see plenty of anglers using it. But they all end up with one thing in common. Twist and tangles and a lot of wasted time re-tying.
A 3-way swivel is a simple way to tie up this rig without all the headache. Especially if you are fishing in any sort of current. The main benefit of a 3-way swivel is to let your hook rotate freely around your stationary weight and mainline. Plus, with a 3-way swivel you can more easily swap out your hook or weight without scraping the entire rig and starting over.
Carolina/fish finder rigs
Carolina rigs (also known as fish finder rigs) are incredibly popular and one of the few times where a swivel is needed. Not so much for line twist, but mostly as a stop for the sliding sinker. Without the swivel the sinker would slide straight down to the hook which would ruin the presentation and scare away even the hungriest fish.
You can use a barrel or ball-bearing swivel. We really don’t notice a difference in line twist between the two when using this fishing rig.
Don’t use swivels in these situations
Swivels are a must have piece of tackle in any anglers bag of tricks but that doesn’t mean every situation calls for one. If in doubt leave it out, especially for the following.
- Jig fishing: Casting jigs with swimbaits, grubs or minnows never warrants the use of swivels. Whether a swivel is used with a leader or attached to the jig, it absolutely destroys the natural presentation of the bait.
- Fishing crankbaits and other hard baits: Just like jig fishing, don’t use swivels with crankbaits or other hard baits. There is little risk of these lures causing line twist in the first place. Plus, a swivel negatively impacts the presentation these lures.
- Connecting directly to a lure: As tempting as it is to forego knot tying and use a snap swivel attached directly to your lure, don’t do it. You will spook fish which isn’t worth the time you save to quickly swap out lures.
- As a substitute for line-to-line knots: A properly tied double uni knot or FG knot is a far better connection between your main line and leader than a swivel. Unless your lure or bait causes lot’s of twist your better off with line-to-line knots.
Common mistakes when fishing with swivels
Even if you use a swivel in the right place at the right time there are still a few common mistakes that undo all the good a swivel does for your fishing success.
Using swivels that are too small
Swivels come in many sizes for a reason and matching the size of your swivel to the intended application is critical. Not only should you not used oversized swivels that can spook fish, avoid using swivels that are too small.
Undersized swivels have a breaking point that could be less than your line weight and small swivels stop rotating more easily than larger swivels under increased tension. Use small swivels for casting light spinners and spoons and larger swivels for trolling or when targeting larger fish.
Using low quality swivels
For years we used low quality barrel swivels that never seemed to work but once we switched to ball-bearing swivels line twist was drastically reduced. The reason seems obvious now. Cheap barrel swivels just don’t work as good. It’s a metal on metal connection that under tension has a hard time rotating against all that friction.
The only thing is, you have to decide if the cost of a ball-bearing swivel is actually worth it. Especially since most of the time you don’t need a swivel. The only time we can justify it is when trolling expensive gear that might snap off from line twist.
Tying the wrong knots
Every time you use a swivel you are adding two additional knots to your line and knots are the most common point of failure. Bad knots can cost you a big fish and expensive tackle. We all have knots that we prefer to tie but not all are equal.
When tying braid to swivels go with a Palomar or Uni knot. For monofilament or fluorocarbon a Trilene or Orvis knot are great options for tying to a swivel.
Casting swivels through rod guides
If you plan on using a swivel for casting spoons or bait be sure you never tie it so far up the line that the swivel goes through the guides when you cast. Letting a metal swivel bang on your guides as you cast cause burs in the guides. As a result you’ll damage your line with every cast and retrieve as it ride over the burs. You’ll loose a lot of fish and expensive gear. Plus, the only fix may be to replace the entire rod. Not fun.
Do swivels scare fish
There are a lot of opinions on the matter of swivels scaring fish so we may as well weigh in on the discussion with our years of experience too.
We avoid using swivels because they often do spook certain species of fish. Especially when swivels are directly attached to lures or when used in ultra clear water situations. It is almost always better to use a line-to-line knot to achieve a more natural presentation, even if that means more line twist.
With that said there are just as many situations where it’s clear swivels don’t scare fish. Obviously plenty of fish are caught on Carolina rigs, dropper rigs and with lures. Not all fish are as easily spooked. But use your own judgement and avoid the obvious pitfalls that are sure to scare fish. Use appropriately sized swivels and don’t attach lures directly to them.
More than likely you are using swivels to avoid line twist but did you know there things many of us are doing wrong that cause even worst twist?
Want to know what it is? (Hint: It has to do with spooling your spinning reel wrong) Check out our article about spooling up a spinning reel right and discover the biggest cause of line twist known to man.