While rarely given the consideration or credit it deserves, the eloquent barrel swivel plays a significant role in many saltwater fishing applications. Yet many anglers, especially novices or those who don’t care much about maximizing their time on the water, really don’t invest the required time or effort evaluating and incorporating the correct barrel swivel into their terminal connections.
Essentially, barrel swivels serve two purposes. Even though stealth is very important and an increasing number of seasoned anglers are turning to knotless connections whenever possible, barrel swivels provide fishermen a critical junction for easy line-to-leader connections. These can either be tied or crimped, or a combination of both depending on class of tackle or specific application. This junction is especially useful for beginners who lack experience connecting today’s modern super braids to traditional monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material.
Taking the size to strength ratio into consideration, incorporating a barrel swivel that’s just large enough to get the job done has merit and poses a reduced signature to nearby toothy critters looking to cash in on easy morsel
The second and perhaps most important purpose of a barrel swivel is to eliminate line twist that can lead to escalating problems, the least of which includes frustrating tangles. Line twist also robs anglers of casting distance and creates havoc on your main running line, which can result in premature tackle failure.
For most inshore and near-shore applications, a basic barrel swivel is enough to get the job done. The simple design comprises a tiny brass barrel swaged around pins that form eyes where the line and leader are ultimately affixed. Respected brands like SPRO and Sea Striker have introduced the same design utilizing stainless steel instead of brass, greatly enhancing rated strength to size ratio. Stainless steel swivels were actually inspired by the finesse fishing craze, where anglers scale down their tackle to fool more fish. They are low profile, super strong and compliment the low-visibility approach, where nearly invisible fluorocarbon leader and a thin wire hook are now the norm.
In any case, the uncomplicated, yet ingenious design of a barrel swivel is extremely popular due to its low cost and wide range of sizes. It is the primary piece of terminal tackle that I incorporate into my fish-finder rigs when targeting snapper, grouper and various mid-water pelagics like sailfish, blackfin tuna and dolphin. Rarely, if ever will the swivel be the first thing to fail. The only disadvantage to a basic barrel swivel is in its inability to turn freely under extreme loads, which is where ball bearing barrel swivels enter the equation.
For offshore anglers looking to best a beast, ball bearing barrel swivels are vital components that are specifically designed to provide both anti twist qualities along with superior strength. They are designed and manufactured with internal ball bearings that provide dual rotation and allow the leader to twist freely under extreme loads. Ball bearing barrel swivels are generally reserved for big game applications where powerful pelagic predators like large billfish, tuna and shark are primary targets. In every case, they cost a pretty penny, starting at about a dollar a pop and climbing to over $5.00 each for the really big stuff. Still, you get what you pay for and when trophy fish are the primary target, high quality ball bearing barrel swivels provide offshore anglers with peak performance. It’s money well spent!
Whether standard or ball bearing equipped, selecting the correct size barrel swivel is crucial to a balanced approach regardless of species or venue. Fortunately, the selection process does not need to be complex. A simple rule of thumb is to choose a barrel swivel rated for equal, or just greater strength than your leader material. Thankfully, manufacturing processes and materials have advanced to the point where strong doesn’t necessarily mean big and reliable barrel swivels are now more compact than ever before.
Taking the size to strength ratio into consideration, incorporating a barrel swivel that’s just large enough to get the job done has merit and poses a reduced signature to nearby toothy critters looking to cash in on an easy morsel. With that being said, I often step it up a notch and recommend you do the same. On my 30 lb. class trolling outfits, in conjunction with 80 lb. or 100 lb. leaders on my rigged baits and lures, I use tiny 150 lb. ball bearing swivels. Stronger than 100 lb. swivels, they provide a little more piece of mind and are actually more efficient in countering line twist. Following the same principle, on my 50 lb. class gear I’ll rig with 200 lb. test barrel swivels and I jump to 300 lb. barrel swivels on my 80 lb. class swordfish gear.
Heavy barrel swivels are also an option, but rarely utilized by the vast majority of Florida anglers. Once used mainly by commercial fishermen, these streamlined, tubular-shaped powerhouses are designed for extreme duty fishing when targeting giant tuna, broadbill swordfish and behemoth blue marlin.
Because they’re not a prominent piece of tackle, barrel swivels are easy to neglect. However, it’s important you treat them the same as with any other piece of tackle and rinse thoroughly after each use. I make it a point to inspect my swivels regularly to make certain they rotate freely. Also keep in mind that swivels wear out over time, so replace them regularly even if they appear to be operating perfectly. Doing so ensures they will perform as expected when the line comes tight.