Lures are no doubt the belle of the fisherman's ball and certainly some of the masterpieces designers create are worthy of the admiration they receive. That said, saltwater anglers who put in time out on the ocean know that the real unsung hero is terminal tackle and of that broad category that includes line, leaders, hooks, crimps, snaps, swivels, chains and more, the most often overlooked component is the swivel. So what is the best swivel for fishing? The answer requires a bit more detective work and some explanation before we choose our favorite.
As most fishermen are aware, line twist is always a concern that needs to be looked after. Should the line twist become regular, it can lead to frayed or lower strength line and also will reduce casting distance and alter the fall or natural appearance of the attached bait. Overall, line twist is no good, especially when it comes to offshore fishing where every single detail is important. But, that said, it can easily be eliminated all together by using a high quality swivel... but "high quality" isn't always the easiest to find, especially when companies are promoting their brand using terms that are abstract or unproven like: "smoothest swivel", "least resistance", "highest impact strength", "dual rotation"... etc. It gets confusing and convoluted.
Swivels are not the most practical component for some freshwater, light tackle anglers who believe their presence is more of annoyance than a benefit. To that we say, do what you feel is right. But for saltwater anglers using line sizes exceeding the weight of most freshwater fish, well, swivels are a necessity. Other naysayers believe that swivels spook fish, but really, with the amount of creatures in the sea, a small, dull colored swivel is certainly not going to be too prominent.
Types of Fishing Swivels
There are many types of swivels designed to match specific fishing needs or those with numerous components extending from the basic swivel itself. However, for the sake of simplicity, the two most common basic level swivels are ball-bearing swivels and barrel swivels
Ball-Bearing Swivels Vs. Barrel Swivels
The general design of a barrel swivel is comprised of a central hollow brass, stainless steel or nickel barrel (hence the name) that has been swaged around pins that are bent into eyes for attachment to other terminal tackle pieces like snaps, locks or rings. Barrel swivels are probably the most popular form due to their low cost and wide range of sizes that cover seemingly all of the fishing needs. However, their biggest disadvantage is their inconsistency and inability to turn when put under tremendous pressure. The idea of metal grinding on metal doesn't sound like a good choice for any application and will prove to wear down the components providing opportunities for failure. Furthermore, as anglers we seek to minimize the unnatural sounds, noises and vibrations that are sent through the water. So having metal grinding against itself and sending vibrations through the line doesn't seem like the optimal solution.
Under minimal load, a barrel swivel should perform to spec. However, when sized inappropriately or subjected to heavy load (e.g., trolling deep-diving plugs, lengthy or repeated battles with big fish, soaking baits in a strong current), the friction within the swivel will slow or halt its rotation. When this happens, the swivel will fail to perform its job and allow twists to travel up the fishing line.
A quality ball bearing swivel on the other hand uses a polished stainless-steel ball bearing which positions itself inside the housing of the swivel and allows the two connection points on each side to rotate freely on their own. This allows for independent movement and absolutely no friction between the components which in turn can handle heavy loads or hard pulling lures. When you're targeting truly big game saltwater species with trolling applications, a stainless steel ball bearing swivel is the only way to go.
Construction and Finish
It is most common to find swivels made of a nickel-plated brass with snaps and rings made from stainless steel. Many anglers will refuse to use a shiny looking terminal tackle component, but in truth, by turning to a dull or coated alternative, they are likely sacrificing strength and durability. For example, in order to create that black color on a nickel plated swivel, the manufacturer must use finishing processes that eat away at the surface of the metal. Any time you involve a process that takes away from the material you are going to set yourself up for some strength and inconsistency issues - that's just the nature of chemical processes. So, in our opinion, it's always best to opt for the strongest material and therefore the standard color of the metal as it is in production. If it's a bit of stealth you desire or the price of stainless steel is too high, check out the brass alternatives that use the same components, but just a brass housing.
Selecting the Right Swivel
Choosing the right swivel means examining the type of fishing you'll be participating in. Offshore trolling is perhaps the most strenuous and requires the absolute best components. For our serious trolling endeavors we turn to stainless steel ball bearing swivels with two welded rings - sometimes with a snap on one side. This type of swivel is ideal for trolling because the double rings give the connection more distance to rotate and yet still stay in balance which ultimately reduces resistance and eliminates line twist.
When it comes to size of a swivel for trolling, most anglers want something that has a slightly heavier maximum strength than their leader line, but for bigger game fish you'll even see some of the charter boats going up another size larger. Sure, using a swivel that's right at the strength you need does reduce the size of the component with implications being reduced drag in the water and a more stealthy approach, however, it's really taking a chance when you hook into monsters.
For example, in Baja we've used 50lb class trolling gear with 120lb wind on leaders and selected a size 3 Pitbull Tackle Stainless Steel Ball Bearing Swivel w/ Two Welded Rings which has a strength of 220lbs. This upgrade in size of the ball bearing swivel is to counteract additional pressure from fishing once the leader has been retrieved into the spool of the reel or when a fish is at the boat and being handled by hand before gaffing. Additionally, the larger size swivel can be a bit better at stopping the line twist, however, all of the Pitbull Ball Bearing Swivels are really good at this because of their special dual rotation design.
Up until recently, we were still searching for that "perfect" ball bearing swivel. It was always a choice between a really big swivel for strength or a smaller swivel for stealth and reduced drag in the water, but it was never a very confident decision either way. That is, until we found the Pitbull brand of terminal tackle and their incredible stainless steel ball bearing swivels. Holy cow are these some awesome pieces of gear. These streamlined, dual welded ring ball bearing swivels provide a type of "dual rotation" which makes them unfathomably smooth and their size to strength ratio is unheard of. Seriously, take a look as these size to strength ratings:
These swivels are now the new standard for extreme, heavy-tackle fishing when using applications that would actually destroy other swivels. Some examples include fishing for giant tuna, trolling or chunking for big yellowfin or bluefin, drifting for swordfish or live bait fishing for blue marlin. Despite their incredibly high strength, Pitbull's swivels aren't just used with very heavy tackle. The smaller size allows anglers fishing all types of line ratings from 50lb to 500lb to feel confident using these swivels and know they will not fail under their maximum weight range.
Because they aren't a prominent or "sexy" piece of tackle, swivels are easily neglected. But, they are one of the most important components you'll ever use and therefore finding the right model is of the utmost importance. Fortunately, with the advances made in engineering, the Pitbull Ball Bearing Swivels have filled almost the entire category of high strength swivels - save for the 900lb range models.
Be sure to checkout the entire line of Pitbull Terminal Tackle and see what else they offer in addition to their revolutionary Ball Bearing Swivels.