To succeed when fishing, you must use the right equipment in the right fishing scenario. A fishing swivel is a key piece of terminal gear used in many fishing scenarios.
Anyone new to fishing reading this might ask, what is a swivel, and what do swivels help with? These are the questions I am going to answer.
In this article, I’ll cover what swivels are, what they help with, the different types, and when to use them so that you can start integrating them into your setup and hopefully increase your fishing success.
What Are Fishing Swivels?
Fishing swivels are made of metal and consist of two or three metal rings you attach your line to that are held together by a joint in the middle. The joint holds the rings tightly together lengthways while allowing them to spin freely in both directions or swivel, hence the name.
Why Are Fishing Swivels Useful?
The main benefit of swivels is removing any line twist that leads to tangles. When you are fishing without a swivel with a lure or bait that spins, the spinning motion twists your line, which not only damages the line but also causes tangles.
When you attach one between your main line and your lure, the lure and line will spintogether around the pivoting joint. This means your line doesn’t spin, will last longer, and will cause fewer tangles.
Other advantages of swivels include connecting two different types of lines or different breaking strains of lines together easily. There are also types, such as a snap swivel, which makes changing lures a lot easier, but more on that later!
Types Of Fishing Swivels And Their Purpose
There are five main types of swivels fishermen use most often, and these include:
Barrel swivel – Barrel swivels are effective for simple fishing setups and are often used with sinkers.
Ball-bearing swivel – ideal for high-speed trolling and fishing techniques that involve a lot of line movement.
Three-way swivel – is used when you want to attach additional lines to your mainline, such as when setting up a dropper line for bottom fishing or using a live bait rig.
Snap swivel – making it easy to change lures or leaders quickly without retying knots. They’re convenient for anglers who need to switch out their gear frequently.
Finesse swivel – designed for finesse fishing techniques where a delicate presentation is crucial. They are less visible in the water and can help reduce line twists with lightweight lures.
Each type is a little different from the next, and we will discuss them all in detail below, looking at how they work and when it is best to use each one.
Barrel swivels are the most common type of swivel used by anglers worldwide. They consist of a barrel-shaped joint in the middle that holds a ring above it, and below that, you can attach your mono, braid, or fluoro line.
The barrel joint allows the rings to twist freely while you are fishing to prevent line twists and those nasty tangles that come from it.
Barrel swivels are also the most basic and affordable type on the market. While this is great for the wallet, they tend not to perform as well as others.
Nothing is inside the barrel joint on these swivels; sometimes, the rings can catch inside them. When this happens, the rings stop being able to turn, and that dreaded line twist will be back.
Easy to use
Work well most of the time
Rings can catch and cause line twist
Ball Bearing Swivels
Ball-bearing swivels are a performance version of the barrel swivel. A ball-bearing swivel works in the exact same way as a barrel swivel, except the barrel joint has ball bearings inside it, which the line rings are connected to.
By being connected to a ball bearing instead of empty space, the line rings can turn more easily and a lot more reliably. This means the line rings won’t get caught and create a line twist, making the ball-bearing type much more reliable than your standard barrel type.
The main downside to these is that they are much more expensive than barrel types; thus, it would be prudent only to use them when the situation demands it, for example, when using a lure that twists a lot more than others.
Easy to use
Always remove line twist
More expensive than others
Three-way swivels are like barrel swivels, but instead of having two line rings running into the barrel joint, they have three, hence the name. By using three-line rings, you can use these swivels to build more effective rigs when fishing near the bottom.
They are often called T swivels or T-turn swivels. The T-Turn version includes two plastic beads in various colors, such as red, black, and even luminous options. These are positioned at the center, between the 90-degree ring that goes to your bait or lure.
One great way of using the 3-way option is in a multi-hook bottom fishing rig. You can tie your main line to the top swivel ring, your leader with a hook to the middle one, and then use the bottom line ring to tie a connecting line to the next three-way swivel, where you add another hook.
Once you have added all the hooks you want to your rig, you can then add your weight to the final bottom line ring on the final three-way swivel. If you tie your weight on with a weaker line, you can break it off easily when it gets snagged without losing your entire rig.
You can also use them when trolling slowly with your bait near the bottom. Attach your main line to the top line ring, leader and bait to the middle line ring, and your weight (using a lighter strength line) to the bottom line ring. Again, this also means you can break off the weight if you get snagged in rocks, etc, and save the rest of your rig.
It makes building bottom fishing rigs easier
Great for trolling slowly near the bottom
Allows your weight to break off without losing your rig
Easy to use
Remove line twist
A little more expensive
Snap swivels are ball-bearing or barrel swivels with an additional snap (clip) attached to the bottom of the two line rings.
When using a snap style, you will tie your main line to the top line ring, open the snap (clip), attach your leader line or lure directly to it, and then close it. This makes changing lures incredibly easy, as all you have to do is open the snap, remove your lure, add a different one, and close the snap again.
The best snap swivels are ball-bearing snap swivels for the reasons we already discussed when we looked at ball-bearing swivels, but again, these are more expensive than barrel snap swivels.
Remove line twist
It makes changing lures much faster
Works well when connected to leaders or lures directly
Barrel snap swivels can stick
Ball-bearing snap swivels can be expensive
Finesse swivels are a little different from those we have looked at, as they come with a hook readily attached to them. A finesse type has a top-line ring that goes into a barrel or ball-bearing joint, and beneath that is a hook that rotates freely around the swivel, followed by a drop shot clip.
When using these swivels, you would tie your main line to the top swivel rig, a leader with a drop shot weight to the bottom clip, and add a soft plastic lure to the hook. This setup allows your lure to swim freely, stops any line twisting on your mainline, and lets you quickly add a drop shot weight.
You can also use a lighter line to attach your drop shot weight so that if you get snagged, you only lose the weight and not your whole rig!
Now that we know the main types of swivels and when to use them, let’s look at how to choose the right size for your fishing situation.
All the swivels mentioned above come in different sizes, and their size denotes their breaking strain, just like fishing line. For example, you can buy one that may break at 10 lbs of pressure and one that breaks at 130 lbs.
The key is to use one that is a little heavier or has the same breaking strain as the main fishing line you are using. This is so that if anything in your rig does break, it is not the swivel but the line that breaks.
But, the bigger the swivel, the more likely a fish will see it, which matters when fishing for spooky species. In this case, don’t compromise the strength of your chosen option; be sure to use a longer leader between the swivel and the lure.
Swivel Sizes Availability & Swivel Size Chart
When shopping for fishing swivels, they will be labeled with a size similar to hooksusing the aught scale. A size 18 is smaller than a size 10, and the biggest types are labeled as 1/0 or 2/0, a 2/0 being stronger and larger than a 1/0.
Unfortunately, there is no standard aught sizing regarding the breaking test of the swivel. Each manufacturer specifies the size, but the breaking test change can vary. Below is the typical swivel size chart of barrel swivels from several manufacturers for reference.
Size 2# – Test 88lb to 102lbs
Size 4# – Test 66lb to 73lbs
Size 6# – Test 58lb to 62lbs
Size 8# – Test 40lb to 44lbs
Size 10# – Test 29lb to 35lbs
Note: You will find the same variation for a snap, ball bearing, finesse, and 3-way swivels.
The packaging will also show the breaking strain on it, so it should be quite easy to match them to the line you are using.
Once you have determined your line-breaking strain, choose the smallest size possible to match your line strength. The length and width of swivels are more consistent within each manufacturer.
Finally, always buy swivels in packs (not individually) for the best value for money. You will find that you will lose a few and use more than expected. Multi-packs are a good idea if you use them for multiple scenarios.
What Are Swivels Made From?
You can buy swivels made from several types of metal. The best material to choose is stainless steel as it is not only strong but also corrosion-free.
Other than stainless steel, some manufacturers use lightweight metals such as copper or brass as the base material, which is softer than stainless steel.
Almost every type of base material is plated with silver nickel or black nickel.
Stainless steel is a slightly heavier option, but its durability outweighs any impact from the additional weight. Some anglers claim it’s harder to cast with a heavier swivel, but in my experience, this is negligible.
What Color Swivel Is Best?
Swivels come in silver, black, and gold. These colors are the secondary plating process on top of the base material.
Whilst colors can be important when fishing, this impact is usually only to attract fish to your bait. Swivels are not used to attract fish unless they are attached to your lure. So, in most cases, the color does not matter, as the swivel only acts as a terminal tackle.
Personally, I prefer the color black, as I would prefer no additional shiny objects on my line, which could impact getting bites or possibly scare fish.
Do Swivels Scare Fish?
Some swivels are black, and some are shiny! So, do they scare or attract fish?
If you are concerned that the swivel is frightening fish, ensure you have a sufficient leader to keep the swivel away from your lure or bait. Some anglers like the bright ones as they believe it acts like a spoon that shines and attracts fish. I have found little evidence that either case is a game changer.
More importantly, use a smaller swivel as this will give your bait the best presentation, and when fishing with a lure, its most natural look.
Lastly, to ensure that it rotates perfectly, tie your line to the center of the eye of the swivel.
Thank you very much for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and now understand all about swivels and when to use them. They are affordable and a very useful piece of terminal tackle that makes most fishing scenarios easier and helps you catch more fish.
Please share the article with any of your fishing buddies, and why not check out my in-depth guide on the best fishing pliers with tips on using them correctly.
Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.