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What’s in a Swivel?

A Swivel Can Help or Hinder Your Fishing Ability


We all use them at some point. Swivels are and have been a main part of the terminal tackle on almost any rig. Some anglers swear by them. Others swear at them. But they do serve a purpose.

There are three or four basic types of swivels, all of them designed for the specific purpose of preventing line twist. When a bait twirls in the water or a hooked fish spins, the swivel is there to turn (swivel) and allow the terminal tackle freedom to spin while keeping your line from twisting.

Barrel Swivel

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  • This swivel is the least expensive and consequently often the one most anglers purchase. Unfortunately, they purchase this one for the wrong reason. As a true swivel, this one does not perform very well. The design is such that pressure on the swivel causes friction that often inhibits its ability to turn.
  • This one does serve a purpose, however. It is an excellent terminal point for attaching a leader to your line. If you plan to fish with a leader that is much heavier than your line, and line twist is not a major concern, this swivel is ideal.

Crane Swivel

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  • This one is an offshoot of the barrel swivel design, but turns much more freely under heavy pressure conditions. This one is the all around midrange swivel that can be used in most fishing situations.
  • It is designed with that same barrel in the middle, but the end eyes terminate inside the barrel instead of with an outside wrap. It costs slightly more than the barrel swivel, but it is worth the price in a twisting line situation.

Ball Bearing Swivel

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  • These are the top of the line items that are specifically designed to provide anti-twisting qualities along with superior strength. They are actually built with internal ball bearings that allow the leader to twist freely under pressure. They are used more in the big gamefish and billfish arenas than anywhere else,
  • There are a number of varieties of ball bearing swivels that appear in appropriate price ranges. In every case, these swivles will test your wallet. Starting at about a dollar each for smaller ones, prices can climb to over five dollars for the larger sizes.
  • But, remember, you always “get what you pay for”. These swivels may be expensive, but they also provide the best service to the angler.

Snap Swivels

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  • In each of the three basic types of swivels an option is provided – called the snap swivel. This is basically a swivel that has a snap attachment built in on one end. These are used to allow quick change outs or lures or leaders. Rather than cutting and retying, anglers simply unsnap and re-snap.
  • Anglers argue over the benefits of these snap swivels. Used directly at the lure connection some feel they take away from the natural look and fell of the lure (I am in that school of thought). Others argue that the snap allows them to change lures more quickly.
  • When used as the connection between line and leader, snap swivels work well. They are well suited for attaching a wire leader. When a fish is caught, the leader is unsnapped and a new one is snapped on in short order. Offshore trolling leaders are best connected using snap swivels.
  • Be aware of some issues with snap swivels. A silver or brass snap swivel that catches the sunlight and flashes while trolling can often result in a cut off line when the swivel is attacked by a marauding surface feeder. Use a black snap swivel and replace it when the finish gets damaged.
  • When choosing a snap swivel, I see two varieties on the market. One has a rounded snap that hooks back under a wire catch. The other has a straight side that angles down to the catch mechanism. The vertex of the angle is where the leader will ride. With the rounded snap, pressure can pull the rounded shape and will straighten the snap, usually causing the snap to fail and open. The angled snap can handle far more pressure without failing.

Choose Wisely

  • The bottom line with swivels is that you need to choose wisely. Barrel swivels work extremely well in certain circumstances – if you simply need a terminus point for leader and line.
  • Crane swivels are an economic choice for most of the everyday fishing applications. They work well under most conditions.
  • Ball bearing swivels are a must for offshore billfish and game fish situations. They are used inshore on smaller fish where the use of extremely light line demands the finest terminal tackle.
  • Snap swivels take their place as on application of the various swivels we discussed. Just make sure you pick the one that will serve your particular situation.

An Aside

  • I must admit to all of you, that in most of my inshore fishing situations, I do not use a swivel. I have a hang-up about them. I tend to feel they spook fish in clear water situations. Whether they do or not is up for a lot of discussion. But for me, personally, I am more comfortable and consequently have more confidence when I tie my fluorocarbon leader directly to my line, sans swivel. Is it just me?
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