To Swivel Or Not To Swivel

by Gary Soucie
An excerpt from his book "Hook, Line, and Sinker"

The question of whether and when to use a swivel can be a vexatious one. It is also a question of considerable controversy among angling experts. Over the years I have been exposed to the whole gamut of opinion and I have tried it all, from swiveling everything to swiveling nothing. As you might guess, I have decided that the extremists of both camps are misguided and that the truth sprawls rather awkwardly across the gray places in the middle.

Whether to use a swivel in a particular rig is ultimately a personal decision, and I'm not sure there are a lot of objective truths that can be turned into guidelines. But how to swivel a rig is something else again, a matter of pure and applied physics, and specifically that branch called tribology, the study of friction.

Those who hold the extreme positions in the range of opinion on swivels can marshal a lot of logic but not much hard data in defense of their positions. If you even read fishing articles in the outdoor magazines, or books on fishing, you are probably familiar with the arguments. Even if you aren't, I don't intend to trot them out, line them up, and present the pros and cons. Instead, I'll give you my own biased, middle-ground position on the subject, and I'll try to marshal as much scientific support as I can.

Swivels are primarily for preventing or removing twist in the line or leader and secondarily for permitting or promoting baits, lures, spinners, or other parts of a terminal rig to revolve. Your mental picture of a swivel should be a motion picture. Swivels should not be used when other pieces of tackle or a simple knot will do. In the United States, for example, most anglers use swivels as stops when fishing with sliding-sinker rigs.

In Australia and New Zealand, small brass rings are used for this purpose. In Canada and Great Britain, split-shot sinkers are more common. All three pieces of hardware will do the job, but of the three, the swivel is the largest and most expensive and the most "overqualified." Why soak a swivel in corrosive water if you don't need its swiveling capacity?

The almost inherent unreliability of most swivels - they won't always turn when you want them to - coupled with the uncertain strength of some inexpensive ones, had me edging toward the no-swivel end of the spectrum, until I switched almost entirely to fixed-spool spinning tackle.

Spin fishermen and spin casters know that line twist is a serious and perennial problem, and it will get the best of you if you don't learn how best to select and rig swivels.