How to Stop Fishing Line from Twisting when Trolling

There is nothing quite as frustrating as starting your morning of fishing with a heap of tangled line in your lap.  You can almost hear the fish laugh as they swim away, while you spend your precious time unraveling the mess.  

How does this happen and what can you do to avoid wasting time with twisted line?

In short, trolling causes line twist line because trolling creates uneven drag that spins your tackle as it is pulled through the water.  Also, spooling line on your reel incorrectly and even developing bad habits when reeling in a fish, can contribute to line twist.  

Now, let’s dive into the problem of line twists, and I will show you how to easily prevent future issues with a few quick fixes.    

What is line twist and why is it bad

Imagine casting to a spot where a big fish is lurking, only to have a ball of tangled line zoom off the reel and snag on the guides of your pole.

If this has happened to you, then you just witnessed the effects of line twist.  

Twisting line eventually coils up onto itself when any slack is introduced.  The coils can quickly form knots, and if unnoticed, can be retrieved onto the reel spool only to rear its ugly head as a giant tangle on the next cast.

Generally, some line twist is expected while fishing.  The very nature of how spinning reels work and the spinning action of some lures will lead to line twist.  However, line twist is especially bad while trolling.      

If line is allowed to twist unchecked while trolling, it can actually cause the line to snap and you can wave good bye to your expensive gear as it sinks into the abyss.  

Common causes of line twist and how to avoid it

The first step to avoiding and fixing a rat’s nest in your reel is to figure out the primary culprits.  Line twist may seem impossible to conquer and unavoidable, but there are likely a few things you are doing to make it worse.

Not using swivels

Swivels are designed to prevent line twist by swiveling when the terminal tackle is spinning.  That may not be a revolutionary concept for most anglers, but all too often I witness people tying a trolling rig directly onto the main line without one.   

A swivel is intended to separate the main line from a leader that is tied to your gear, and size does matter.  I am talking swivel size here.  The lighter your leader, the smaller your swivel should be.  If you use an oversized swivel, the torque in the line will not overcome the friction in the swivel and it won’t be able to dissipate the line twist.

The most common swivels are barrel and ball-bearing swivels.  There are also snap swivel varieties that make gear changes faster and easier.  However, don’t over use them either.  More is not always better.  One properly sized barrel swivel between the main line and some length of lighter weight leader will do the job.

Are you using swivels incorrectly? Read our complete guide to using swivels right to find out.

Not every situation calls for a swivel.  I personally don’t use one if I think it will negatively alter the presentation of my lure or bait.  For example, jigs and most non-spinning lures do not warrant using a swivel.  In these cases, any line twist is minimal and can be remedied before becoming a problem.

Bad habits when fighting a fish

The drag system on a spinning reel is vital when battling large fish.  The setting of your drag helps control how easily a fish can peel out line when hooked.  All too often, you may find yourself continuing to reel as the fish is making a run.  

Continuing to reel as line is being stripped from the spool is a guaranteed way to increase twists in your line.   Many reels use a 5 to 1 gear ratio which means you are adding 5 twists into your line each time you crank the handle.  Keep in mind that this only applies to spinning reels.

To avoid making a tangled mess of your line after every big fish you catch, try developing better fighting habits.  When a fish starts peeling line, just let it run.  Do not crank the reel yet.  Once the fish tires a bit, pull the fish in with the rod up and reel line as you drop the rod tip.  Repeat this process until you land the fish.   

While this bad habit usually occurs when fighting fish, the same issue can rear its head when pulling up trolling gear.  When trolling with more than one rig in the water, you may need to reel up and check your gear without cutting the motor.  There is a lot of pressure on the line and the drag may slip while you reel.  Simply bring in your gear the same way as fighting a fish to avoid more line twist.

Spooling line on a reel incorrectly

Another overlooked cause of line twist is putting new line on a reel the wrong way.  And yes, there is a wrong way to do it.  

Here is a super quick step-by-step guide to put new line on your spinning reel the correct way.

For more detail and helpful beginner tips check out our complete guide for spooling up a spinning reel.

Step 1

Choose the appropriate amount and weight of line.  Using too heavy a line for a reel will make casting difficult and increase the rate of twist and tangles that form.  Also, spooling on too much will cause line to spring off your spool every time you open the bail.  Most reels come marked with the recommended weight and amount of line.

Step 2

Determine the rotation direct of your spinning reel.  To do this hold your rod and reel up right and crank the handle.  Look down on top of the reel and see which direction the bail rotates.  It will spin clock-wise or counter clock-wise depending on the brand.

Step 3

Next, place your new spool of line on the floor with the label up.  Grab the end of the line and lift straight up.   Make note of the direction the line comes off the spool.  You want the line to feed off the spool in the opposite direction that the bail of your reel rotates when held upright.  For example, if your bail rotates clock-wise, the line should come off the spool counter clock-wise when you start spooling on the line.  Simply turn the spool of line over if this is not the case.

Step 4 

Once you have the right reel and spool orientation, feed the line down the pole guides and tie it to your reel with the bail open using a simple over hand knot.  Trim the tag end and close the bail.  Begin reeling up line while applying gentle pressure to the incoming line to keep it tight.  I use a small rag to pinch the line between my figures a foot or two above the reel as I crank the handle.  When the appropriate amount of line is on the reel, you are all done.  

If you are using a level-wind baitcasting reel, spooling is slightly different.  Connect the line to the reel in a similar fashion as describe earlier, but now face the edge of the new spool toward the reel.  Begin reeling with nice even pressure on the spool until you have the correct amount of line.  Direction of rotation is not critical.

How to fix twisted line

Sometimes line gets so twisted and tangled that it is best just to cut it all off and start over.  Most of the time, however, line twist can be remedied with a couple simple methods.

From a boat

For those of you fishing from a boat, you’ve got it easy.  First, remove your tackle.  While the boat is moving forward in a straight line, put the loose end of your line in the water.  The boat speed does not need to be fast.  Trolling speed is sufficient.  

Now begin pulling line from the reel.  The drag of the water should be enough to apply gentle pressure on the line.  Keep pulling out line until you no longer see twists.  Let the line drag behind the boat for a minute or two.  Then, while keeping the line taut, start reeling it back in.

Check that all twists are removed by suspending the loose line a few feet below the rod tip.  If no coils form with slack line, the problem is solved.

On land

Fixing twisted line on land is a bit more challenging.  A fishing buddy once showed me a nifty little trick that made my life easier.  

Tie one end of a barrel swivel to a truck bumper or fence post.  Next, tie your main line to the other end of the swivel.  Loosen the drag on your reel and walk away from the swivel.  The drag should be just loose enough to avoid slack line.

When you are 40 or 50 yards from the swivel, lay your pole down and, with a rag, pinch your line while walking back towards the swivel.  This will force the twists to move down the line toward the swivel.  Repeat this process until no coils form when the line is slack.

Now, the next time you go trolling your line will be twist free.  Apply the simple fixes that we discussed and you will surely spend more time fishing and less time with a frustrating mess of line.