There are several types of fishing swivels available on the market. If you’re a newer angler, you might wonder what a swivel is used for. They serve many purposes, but the main function is to reduce line twists. Have you ever noticed that after reeling in your line a few times, it starts getting a little twisted up after a cast? A swivel helps eliminate that issue.
I’ve been an avid fisherman since before I can remember, and I didn’t understand why I used a swivel for the first ten years or so. I just did because everyone else did. Insert lemming joke here. As I started learning more about the theory and science behind angling, I learned why swivels make sense. I also learned the sad truth about lemmings and how we shouldn’t make fun of them anymore. These days I take several types of swivels when I hit the lake, depending on the rods I intend to use and the fish I plan to target.
Swivels are a must-have in every well-equipped tackle box. I don’t head out without them unless I’m fly fishing. Even then, I might take a few, depending on what type I’m doing. A day out with my baitcaster might not require a swivel if I’m only casting crankbaits. Crankbaits don’t add a line twist. Anything else, and I’m adding a swivel. I’ll even use one if fishing with a nightcrawler.
This post will help you make sense of the different types of swivels and the best use cases for each style. Some lures need swivels to keep the line twist to a minimum. Other lures don’t require one at all. Here’s a list of the types we’ll get into:
- How to Determine the Swivel for the Situation – Figuring out which swivel to use when
- Barrel Swivels – This is your basic, most common swivel
- Crane Swivels – Great for live baits
- Finesse Swivel – A solid choice for drop shot setups
- Ball-Bearing Swivels – Very common, can handle a heavy load
- Snaps – Like swivels with slight differences
- Colors and Materials – Not all swivels are created equally
How to Determine the Right Swivel for the Situation
Imagine that you’ve been out tossing spinners all day. You’ve been tying them straight to your line and changing them out as needed. By the end of the day, your spinning reel is a jumble of twists and snarls. Every time you cast the spinner, line twists form in several spots up the entire length of the cast. You spend more time getting twists and snarls out of your line than actually fishing.
The swivel will save your line from twists and damage. Swivels allow the spinner to do its thing without causing the line to spin along with it. The swivel spins instead, letting the upper portion remain still. The mainline doesn’t get twists in it, and you spend far less time dealing with line issues. It’s as if swivels were invented specifically for this issue! This is especially true if you use a spinning rod.
Spinning reels are notorious for creating line twists. The way they reel the line in causes a natural twist throughout the day. A swivel helps eliminate added twists and can even help get rid of built-up line twists. The reel adds the line on sideways, which adds the possibility of twisting right at the point of contact. You’ll notice this when you cast, and the line gets long twists in it every few feet. They are typically easy to remove but can cause the line to become weaker at those points. The weaker line isn’t always noticeable, but when it is, it’s because it just broke off in the middle of a fight.
Spoons, spinners, and any other lure that might twist the line require a swivel. If you’re targeting fish that put up a good fight, add a swivel. Catfish are known to roll when fighting, which leads to line twists. Be sure to come prepared not only with swivels but with the right swivels for the job. A weak swivel won’t hold up to a 20lb striped bass, while a ball-bearing swivel might be overkill when targeting trout. Tackle needs to be sized to the fish you’re targeting.
Toothy critters might call for steel leader. Muskies and walleyes tend to bite through the monofilament line, so you’ll need a tough swivel to connect the steel leader to your line.
Barrel swivels are the most common type you’ll find. They are relatively cheap and come in a variety of sizes. One drawback to them is their inability to handle big fish. If you’re casting heavy bait or lures, the swivel might lock up, rendering it useless. It’s critical to use the right size to ensure the swivel functions properly.
Pair a barrel swivel with lures that cause line twists such as Kastmasters, spinners, and plastic worms. Any time you’re using a spinning rod, these work well. Heavier tackle may require a heavier size or a different swivel type. Lighter tackle will perform great with these time after time. I like to use these with the snap add-on. It makes setup much quicker.
The material is usually brass, stainless steel, or copper. Nickel is being used more often and works well. Brass tends to wear out and start grinding at the junction if used with heavier lures. Be sure to use the right sizes when rigging up for the day.
The general rule of thumb is to leave around 2 – 3 feet of line between the lure and the swivel. That’s enough to allow the lure to move naturally and not restrict the swivel.
Crane swivels are great options when drop shotting or using multiple bait hooks. You can connect your main line to the top, run a leader off the bottom connection to connect either a bait hook or a weight, with a second hook connected off the middle.
The crane swivel is ideal for live bait and targeting larger fish like catfish. The double swivel design allows the heavier fishing line to move without the restrictions of a single barrel swivel. These work well with preventing line twists from larger sinkers as well. Live bait can swim freely around the swivel without getting caught up in the weight or the mainline above. The crane swivel is designed to keep everything free-flowing.
Finesse swivels are the go-to swivel types for drop-shotting. They’re already rigged with the hook, so you just need to attach the worm and the weight on the bottom, and you’re ready to go. There are several sizes available to choose from, so be sure to get a variety. The more options you have, the better. Smallmouth and largemouth fishing can be great with these, as can panfish. Anything that bites on a drop shot is a good candidate for a finesse swivel.
The introduction of the finesse swivel freed up a lot of time for anglers that prefer the drop shot technique. It basically eliminates the need to tie a hook on the middle of the leader. Being able to get fishing quicker is a win no matter who you are.
Ball-bearing swivels are another popular option amongst anglers. The ball-bearing swivel tends to be a bit more expensive than barrel swivels because the construction is more complex. There are ball bearings set inside the swivel to provide extra versatility and strength. These swivels can handle much larger loads, meaning you can target bigger fish and cast bigger lures. The primary use is for saltwater applications, but they work well for targeting large freshwater game like sturgeon. It’s all about the ability to handle extreme pressure and tension, which ball-bearing swivels do well.
Large ball-bearing swivels are common among charter boats at sea. They can handle exceptionally thick monofilament and have the strength to hold up against all sorts of giant sea creatures.
Snaps can be used instead of swivels if a line twist isn’t an issue for you. However, I’d recommend going with a swivel that includes a snap already added on. The swivel/snap style is what I’ve mostly used throughout my fishing life. I use the crane and finesse swivels, but when I use the barrel or ball-bearing swivels, I include the snap when I buy them. It definitely makes connecting easier.
Snaps come in a few different configurations. There’s the duo-lock snap, which is the most common type. It is the easiest to open and close, though when fighting a wily fish, it’s possible that it could pop open. When equipping the duo-lock snap, bend the hooked part backward a bit, and you’ll be fine. The duo-lock isn’t meant for going after huge fish, but it does a great job with anything under 25lbs. If you’re targeting anything bigger, you’ll want to use the cross-lock snap.
Cross-lock snaps are made for larger diameter lines and heavier tackle. Think of the bigger, thicker lines used on charter boats. You don’t see the 20lb test stuff being used for the clients out trying to reel in their photo-op sharks. That line can land a cruise ship. A cross-lock can keep it secure. I’ve used cross-lock snaps while running charters in South Carolina and found them to be very user-friendly. My only issues with them were the lack of a swivel to prevent line twist. I would rig them on rods that held cut bait solely for shark fishing. The blacktips we normally caught didn’t cause too many twists, so I wasn’t overly concerned. The rods we used for bluefish or anything else deeper definitely had swivels. I liked the ball-bearing swivels with a cross-lock added on.
Colors and Materials
Colors are important when fishing. If your swivel is more colorful than your bait, fish will strike your swivel. Fish have sharp teeth and will tear right through your line. I like to use the dullest colors possible for my swivels. They do come with a catch. Dark colors are generally made by sending the swivel through a chemical process to tarnish the metal. Tarnishing also weakens the metal a little. Weakening a swivel can cause it to break. Don’t worry, though. It only breaks under extreme stress, like when you’re reeling in a big fish.
Most swivels are nickel-plated brass with stainless steel rings. They are nice and shiny, which either scares or attracts fish. It’s always a good idea to add a few feet of leader to the end of the swivel. Keep the bait as far as is comfortable for you to cast, and you should be fine.
Select a swivel that weighs a little more than the leader you’re using. Fish won’t be as distracted by a slightly heavier swivel as it bends the line. Going with a much heavier swivel will possibly attract curious fish but will also ensure the swivel works after the fish bites.