What are Fishing Swivels

When you’re out fishing, you want to make sure that you have an easy time catching fish and that your equipment doesn’t get damaged in the process.

Fishing swivels are a great way to prevent line twisting, and that means they’re an essential piece of fishing equipment.

In this article, we’ll explain what are fishing swivels so that you can judge what type of swivel you might need to round out your set of fishing gear.

What is a Swivel?

Fishing swivels prevent your fishing line from twisting and tangling when you cast your line and when you hook a feisty fish.

In terms of their construction, swivels are small pill-shaped pieces of metal that connect two portions of your fishing line using tiny hooks or loops. The loops are connected to the central part of the metal.

This means that the loops can move 360 degrees in response to the force of whatever is connected to the circle. Because the two circles are not connected to each other, they can rotate independently from each other.

What Does a Swivel Do?

When there are two opposite forces applied to the two ends of the line, like when a fish is trying to escape while you are trying to reel it in, the fishing line would usually twist.

If your line twists, it will eventually fray, but in the short-term, your line will be much harder to reel in, and it may cause more wear-and-tear on your reel.

When you use a fishing swivel, the forces that make the line twist will instead make the loop on the swivel twist. As a result, when both of the loops on the swivel twist, the entire line rotates rather than twisting.

Swivels are excellent tools for any fisherman because they preserve your other pieces of gear from unnecessary wear-and-tear.

Swivels are VERY convenient points to attach additional lures, sinkers, or bobbers.


The vast majority of fishing swivels are made of lightweight metal. Most consumer-grade swivels are made from nickel-plated brass, though stainless steel is a slightly heavier option.

With nickel-plated brass fishing swivels, there may be stainless steel components, like the loops at either end of the swivel. Some swivels use hard plastic in addition to metals, but these are less common.

The swivel material is important because it impacts the weight of the swivel, the strength of the swivel, the durability of the swivel, and also the appearance of the swivel.

Stainless steel swivels are heavier, but more durable than nickel-plated brass swivels, making them better for reeling in larger fish. In contrast, all-brass swivels have low durability in saltwater, but they are very light.

Heavy swivels make it harder to cast your line, and they also may make it harder to use lighter bobbers.


Swivels range dramatically in size. Some swivels are as small as a grain of rice, whereas the largest swivels are as long as a child’s hand.

The size of the swivel determines both the weight of the swivel as well as the size of fish that you can catch without the swivel breaking.

If you want to catch 200-lb tunas on the open water, you’ll need a large and heavy-duty swivel. For fly fishing in a stream, you could probably get away with a swivel on the smaller side.

Larger swivels also tend to cost more than smaller swivels, but they also tend to be much more durable.


The most common swivels have only the color of their metal. This means that nickel-plated brass swivels have a creamy silver tint with a hint of gold, whereas brass-only swivels are darker and with a deeper yellow hue.

Stainless steel swivels are fully silver, and plastic swivels are typically matte black.

The color of the swivel determines the chances of a fish noticing your line. Some fishermen swear by whatever swivels are the shiniest, especially in murky waters.

However, other fishermen find that they catch more fish when their swivel is mottled or dark in color.

Many metal swivels have the option to add a plastic covering or a coating of paint to change their visual properties. While colored swivels are more expensive and heavier, they may be instrumental in catching certain types of fish, so remember that they are an option.

Types of Swivels

Fishing swivels come in a variety of different styles. These styles determine the ideal niche for the swivel as well as how the swivel can integrate with your other equipment.

In this section, we’ll walk you through each of the types of fishing swivels so that you’ll have a few ideas about which type of swivel might be the right choice for your needs.

Barrel Swivels

Barrel swivels are the least expensive, most lightweight, and most common type of swivels.

Barrel swivels are named for their dead-simple design, which features two loops attached to a central barrel. Inside of the central barrel are two anchors that spin when there is a twisting force applied to the loops from the line.

Barrel swivels come in all sizes and in several different materials, and every fisherman should have at least one.

The main issue with barrel swivels is that when the twisting forces on each of the loops are especially massive, the internal anchors cannot spin quickly enough because of the friction between the anchor and the inside of the barrel.

This means that in some cases, the barrel swivel can be overwhelmed, and your line can still twist, damaging the swivel itself in the process.

Barrel swivels also lack any attachment points for additional bobbers or lures. Overall, barrel swivels are not very durable, especially when fishing for big game.

Ball Bearing Swivels

Ball-bearing swivels are an improvement on the original barrel swivel concept.

Rather than being designed with two internal anchors that twist and cause friction, as well as mechanical strain, ball bearing swivels have two ball bearings inside of the barrel.

These ball bearings rotate when there is a twisting force applied to the swivel. While ball bearing swivels still generate some friction when they are twisted with a lot of force, they negate the overwhelming majority of twisting force, and they do not break as frequently as barrel swivels.

Ball-bearing swivels are the right tool for hunting larger fish. However, they are heavier than equivalently-sized barrel swivels, and they are almost always more expensive.

Unfortunately, ball bearing swivels also lack attachment points for additional gear.

Crane Swivels

Crane swivels are an evolution of the basic barrel swivel that emphasizes ease of use and also higher rotation forces without twisting.

Unlike basic barrel swivels, crane swivels have a small amount of wiggle room in each loop, allowing the loops to pop slightly out or to the sides of the barrel.

Internally, crane swivels are the same as barrel swivels. Due to the additional wiggle room, however, crane swivels are more durable, and they are also rated for heavier fish than the equivalent barrel swivel would be.

Crane swivels can still break when they are used with a more massive fish than they are rated for. This means that ball bearing swivels may be a better choice for some types of fishing.

Finesse Swivels

The so-called finesse swivels are fortified versions of the regular barrel swivel that are designed to tolerate much higher rotational forces without breaking.

Finesse swivels are great for fishers who want to catch a wide variety of fishes with different sizes without switching out their swivel.

Because they are built to more exacting standards than typical barrel swivels, finesse swivels are much more expensive than barrel swivels of equivalent size.

As a group, finesse swivels run on the smaller end, there is still a large selection of materials, colors, and sizes.

Many finesse swivels can also snap their loops in or out, which makes them easier to handle than default barrel swivels.

For casual fishermen, using a finesse swivel will mean that your swivel won’t break even when you catch a large fish. On the other hand, for the majority of small and medium-sized fish, a casual fisherman will find that a finesse swivel is more than enough for the task at hand.

Australian Style Swivels (Extreme Swivels)

Australian-style swivels are the largest, heaviest, and most durable swivels, and they’re intended for deep-sea line fishing or other heavy-tackle situations.

Under most conditions, Australian swivels will never face more rotational force than they can dissipate, so your line and your reel will be well-protected, and you won’t need to worry about a twisted mess of line after pulling in a large fish.

Australian swivels have a snap loop attached to the distal end of the swivel. The snap loop means that you can attach other pieces of gear to the swivel, and it also makes connecting or disconnecting your line significantly easier.

Australian swivels are the most expensive type of swivel, and fishers don’t have too many choices when it comes to the swivel’s material, size, or appearance. This means that for most casual anglers, Australian swivels are not a great option.

On the other hand, if you plan to catch swordfish in the open water, your life will be much easier if you have a good Australian swivel on your line.

Three-Way Swivels

Three-way swivels are dramatically different from other swivels, comprised of a ring and three loops. Three-way swivels are not very durable, but they’re very lightweight, and there’s no better option if you’re looking for a swivel to attach additional bobbers or lures to.

Most three-way swivels are made from brass. While they are effective at preventing your line from twisting when faced with typical forces, they can’t handle extremely violent motion or heavy rotational force.

This means that three-way swivels are best for mid-sized fish or highly technical fly fishing rather than deep-sea fishing.

Three-way swivels tend not to be very expensive, and they’re handy enough that most fishermen should have one.

Keep in mind that three-way swivels can make a three-way tangle if their rotational capacity is exceeded while reeling in a fish.

In other words, you need to be confident that your three-way swivel is more than strong enough for the fish you are planning to catch if you want to avoid the worst-case scenario for twisted lines.

When Do You Use Swivels?

Fishers should use swivels in most situations because they cut down on a lot of hassle. Having an inexpensive barrel swivel will prevent your line from twisting and causing damage to your reel, even if you don’t think it is a problem.

Especially if you favor fishing for larger creatures, a swivel will make the difference between a major struggle and an easy time when you are reeling in your catch.

You should also use a swivel if you want to attach bobbers or lures to a specific part of your line, or if you’re trying to attract fish that are known to appreciate shiny objects.

There isn’t any specific situation in which you should absolutely not use swivels, but you should be careful to use swivels that won’t break given the size of the fish you want to catch.

If you plan on going fishing frequently and for several different types of fish, you should probably have more than one swivel in your collection. Then, you can adapt your swivel based on the local conditions and use the perfect tool for the job each time.

For most casual fishermen, it’s hard to go wrong with a medium-size ball bearing swivel. For professionals, there’s a good chance that the Australian swivel is the best choice.

Final Thoughts on Fishing Swivels

Now that you know everything there is to know about swivels, it’s time to pick the right one for your fishing needs. Remember to pick a swivel that is rated for the weight of the fish you want to catch and don’t be afraid to opt for a flashy option if you think the fish will like it.