IRT Q&A: Is cranking the bail to blame for knots in the line?

At IRT Reels, we’re dedicated to getting the truth. Every so often, we hear questions raised from customers and other fishermen and -women. To answer these, we turn to professional anglers with years of experience. This question is answered by IRT Pro Staff member Scott H.

Q: I'm having some issues with knots in my line. I was told it could be caused by cranking the bail -- is this true?

A: Some knots in the line occur when the bail is cranked closed, but that isn’t the cause.  The best analogy I can think of is anti-lock brakes.  Some accidents occurred when people locked up their brakes - but the brake pedal wasn’t at fault.  The majority were caused by driving too fast, failing to drive defensively, and poor maintenance.  Anti-lock brakes help avoid some of those accidents, but they don’t prevent all of them because they don’t do anything about the underlying causes.  The real key is avoiding the situations that cause you to need to jam your brake pedal.

I am convinced that wind knots are caused, almost exclusively, by line twist and slack.  Cranking the bail closed can cause some momentary slack, especially when the line isn’t under the roller; and that can allow twist-loops to form.  But it’s the line twist that takes advantage of that slack to spin into a knot.  Manually closing the bail is focusing on when the knot occurs, and not why the knot occurs.  For guys fishing natural baits, manually closing the bail may stop most knots in the line from occurring.  But fishermen like me – who constantly cast lightweight lures into the wind – see wind knots occurring in many more ways.  For instance, if I am throwing a 1/4 oz. spoon, and I develop significant line twist, just lowering my rod tip can provide enough slack to allow a twist-loop to form.  If that gets reeled onto the spool, the next cast will create a knot.  The answer can’t be to quit throwing spoons.

The key to reducing knots in the line, I believe, is minimizing the things that cause the line twist, and periodic maintenance. The key for you, I believe, is education. There are a lot of traditions and myths about wind knots, and a tendency for a lot of fishermen to blame it on the reel. Manually closing the bail may be a good technique for certain fishing styles, but it won’t eliminate all wind knot problems.

Below are a list of things that either cause line twist, or contribute to wind knots in some way.  When people are having serious wind knot problems, I’ve found that several or even all of these conditions are present at the same time.

  • Improper spooling.  Most people know that spooling line onto the reel in the direction opposite from the way it came off the manufacturer spool will create line twist.  A lot of people don't know that an over-filled  spool will exacerbate a wind knot problem tremendously.  Put a mark an eighth of an inch or so inside the outside lip to tell people "stop filling here", and you will reduce the wind knot problem.
  • Dry cranking a spinning reel.  When you continue to turn the reel handle while a fish is taking drag, it automatically creates line twist.  But when a fish is sounding, or simply pulling just below the level to cause the drag to slip, a lot of novice fishermen, as well as some good fishermen, will crank the reel.  That added pressure will cause the drag to slip, and create the same line twist.  It's harder to recognize, because if they stop cranking they don't see any drag slippage.
  • Casting into the wind.  Most people recognize that they get knots when casting into the wind, which is why they call them wind knots.  Casting into the wind can cause slack, but it can also create some of the line twist.  Most don't notice that a lot of baits, natural and artificial, spin when cast into the wind.  The wind knot occurs on a single cast, but it is often the 30+ casts before that created the line twist that led to the knot.  Note that a swivel cannot do much to help prevent line twist that occurs when the line is in mid-air, and in a somewhat slack condition.
  • Rod and eye issues.  The size, height, and placement of rod eyes have a big impact on how line plays off the spool of a spinning reel.  If line twist is present, and the line slaps on the eyes (especially the first two) or if it slaps on the rod itself, it slows the line down.  The line behind it continues to move, and creates slack.  The line bunches, and the twist takes over and forms a knot.  Some rods are built without considering eye placement, and some rod/reel combos simply cause more line slap than most.  Often you can take a reel that is producing knots in the line, transfer it as-is to another rod, and the problem goes away or becomes much less.
  • Swivels are also a part of the problem.  Many people believe a swivel will prevent line twist, and they quit thinking about it.  But even good swivels will pick up debris like sand and grass.  Salt crystals form inside them as they dry.  They need to be rinsed, blown out, lubed, and manually rotated periodically or it is just like no swivel is present.  I have heard many people insist that they don't have line twist, because they always use a swivel.  And that leads them to conclude that something else must be causing their wind knot problems.

A certain amount of twist is almost unavoidable.  Sooner or later, you really need to stretch the line out (many methods) and remove the twist that has built up.  How often depends a lot on fishing style.  It’s a pain, but so is changing the oil in your car.  The difference is that there are people who will change your oil for you.

I know some people will disagree with the above.  But here is a test: whenever someone is having frequent problems with knots in the line, keep everything the same but change out the spool for one that is freshly and properly spooled with new line.  The wind knot problems will go away - at least for a while.  Doing several of the things listed above can cause line twist to develop pretty quickly.  But wind knots rarely occur with fresh, untwisted line, even in the wind.  The biggest caveat to that is that an over-filled reel, on top of a poorly-matched rod (eyes), can start causing wind knots right away.  That is because loose loops of line can spring off the reel, bunch up against the eyes, and turn into knots in the line almost instantly.  When cranking the bail closed is causing knots, the first place I would look is the amount of line on the spool.

– Scott