Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Line Twist: Diagnosis. Still a Problem, But Maybe There is a Treatment?

Those of you who read this regularly, (and both of you know who you are), will remember that last season especially, I had a major problem with line twist.    It hit me whilst tench fishing, legering, and more recently it has again struck whilst I have been float fishing at distance with worms.

Line twist on monofilament can become a nuisance or even  a major disaster if ignored.   My tactics to date have always been to change the last 100 yards of line, every two or three trips. It hasn't really been enough, as a single day's fishing can impart a vast amount of twist to the monofilament. Well over a thousand twists is not a rare occurrence. Regular replacement of my line was possible because I use fairly cheap line. Actually very, very cheap, but it still seems a decent product, although it becomes quite a palaver every week or so, to strip 100 yards off each of three reels and then to reload them.

I suspect that much of the mumbo jumbo I read in the angling comics, comparing various brands of line and their resistance to twist, is just that: mumbo jumbo.   No monofilament line is going to be able to avoid line twist, none will be significantly better at it than any other brand.  It is  a problem that depends upon how it is used, and not how it has been manufactured. How supple the line is may have a small effect on how badly the problem manifests itself.

Line twist causes one major problem: the twist can show up near the rod or reel, by visibly twisting itself together, almost like a platting effect, but with two, not three component threads.  Worst case scenario is that these then form multiple twists, leading to tangles and knots, some large enough as to need cutting out, as the knots become ever more difficult or near impossible to undo.  Even if the major tangles are avoided, the twists can cause coils of line to leap off the reel, as if alive, adding ever more twisted line to the tangle risk. Such loops can then catch any projecting parts of the reel or  the rod rests. It is a problem that if unnoticed will quickly reveal itself once a fish is added into the mix.

Replacing mono with braid does not reduce the twist: but , braid being more supple, does allow far more twists in the line before it shows up as a problem. It will delay the onset of trouble. Of course being much more expensive it does nothing to reduce costs of replacement.

Because of my own problems, I have done considerable recent on-line research into fishing forums and the like, but find mainly that there is a lot of clap trap written about twist, by people who have obviously not thought deeply enough about it, or who have gone off at a skewed tangent and written absolute cobblers. Many simply repeat the mantra of others before them. None seem to have correctly analysed the problem.  So; having failed to get any satisfactory explanation or solution to the problem, it was time to do some deep thinking and analysis for myself.

Firstly: what is my objective?

I wish to fish, as much as possible, with zero or negligible twist in the section of line in the water. Put another way, when the line is cast out I do not want it to display any significant twist. It must not put me at risk due to being twisted.

Secondly: How is twist generated?

Line on a new spool, as manufactured, is entirely without twist.  So if it is transferred onto a centrepin reel, by putting an axle, say a pencil, through the spool, and allowing that spool to rotate as the reel is filled, then we will put no twist onto the reel.  All will be perfect.    If instead, we allow the line to slip off the side of the spool, then one twist would be added for every 360 degree loop of line as it comes off the spool.   The direction of twist depends from which side of the spool the line slips off.  Line twist on a centrepin is not what we want, and this therefore is not a method any angler would normally use when loading a centrepin.  The amount of twist that would be put onto a centrepin in this way would only be about one twist for every 6 or 8 inches of line. In normal use this would not present a problem for the centrepin, more twist is to be expected from simply retrieving a trotted float a few dozen times.

There used to be ( and maybe still is) a reel that purported to combine the best features of a centrepin, together with the free casting of a fixed spool reel.  It was a simple design, which reeled in exactly like a centrepin. To cast out the spool was rotated 90 degrees, to become side on to the rod, and the line then would come off the edge of a chamfered spool, allowing long casts to be made. It was called the Alvey Sidecast. It had a major design problem though, in that for every loop on line cast out and retrieved, one twist of 360 degrees would be added to the line.  Cast by cast, the twist would build up on the reel, and eventually show itself and cause problems.  Alvey recommended the use of a swivel to help counteract this, but swivels, even ball bearing swivels, do not work very efficiently in reducing line twist.   I had realised myself that swivels did not solve my own problems. I even went to the expense of buying some ball bearing swivels, only to find they were not much better than the bog standard article.   Swivels may help a bit, but they do not prevent twist.  There is simply too much friction involved, and added to contamination by bits of weed or grit, they soon allow just as much twist to develop as if they were not there at all.

The fixed spool reel was invented for ease of long casting, and the rotating bale arm was a method of solving the Alvey twist problem.  And it does an excellent job.

Use a fixed spool reel, without the bait runner, and without using the clutch, and you will generate no line twist (in the cast part of the line), as long as the end tackle does not rotate.

That was probably Newton's Fourth law of motion, but as he did not lay claim to it, it is all mine!

Line twist, on a fixed spool reel can be generated in several ways.

Firstly, when loading the spooled line onto the reel.
There are three ways to do this:

1)  Ill thought out
2) Totally wrong and
3) The correct way.

The ill thought out method, is to wind the line off the side of the spool, in such a way that the line rotates off the spool and onto the reel in the same sense. It is easier for you to try this, and watch what happens, rather than my trying to explain it here.  Doing this, if the spool and reel are of the same diameter, the line ends up on the reel with no twist at all.   "Job done" say those who recommend this method.   If the spool and reel are of different diameters, then there will be a residual amount of twist imparted to the reel.  If they are identical diameters we do indeed get a reel with no twist at all on it.   Perfect until we cast out.  Then once we cast out, we gain one twist for every loop of line that comes off the reel.   With a five-to-one ratio reel, if the reel recovers a yard per handle rotation, casting out 50 yards, we will have imparted no less than 250 twists to the cast line.   5 times 50.  And that twist would disappear as the line was reeled back in.  But the ideal is not to have any twists in the line that has been cast out, not the line once it is back on the reel. 

The totally wrong method is to have the line come off the OTHER side of the spool.  Do this and you put TWO twists onto the reel for every loop of line transferred.  And on casting out that 50 yards you still will again  have 250 twists in the cast line. 

Method three is to allow the spool to spin on a pencil as you load the reel.   This will result in one twist per revolution on the reel bale arm, but once in the water it will be free of twist .   Twist on the reel does not matter in the slightest!   Wound onto the reel, line twist has no negative effects at all. It is not being used, and the twists are in effect captured, trapped and contained. Method three is the way to go.

This photo shows how I load line onto a reel.  The fingers are acting as an axle and also control the tension as the line is loaded. 
The line passes through the first ring to make the process fairly easy. 
 I usually hold the rod butt between my knees. 

Many anglers will tell you to allow line to come off the label side of the spool.  This is wrong and based on a misconception. It would load the reel with no twist ( assuming spool and reel are the same diameter), but once you cast out you add one twist for every loop of line that comes off the reel.   About 5 twists per yard.

Using the method in the photo, when you cast out the newly loaded line, there will be NO twist in it.
Twist is almost certain to be added as you fish, but at least you start off clean.

Another way to generate line twist is to allow the reel clutch to operate.  Whether that be a fish taking line, the angler rather stupidly reeling with the clutch set too lightly, or the bait runner operating, there will be one additional twist applied to the cast out line, for every rotation of the reelspool.  Every loop of line that a running fish takes, adds one twist.   If you are snagged and attempt to reel in with a slack clutch, then every turn of the reel handle, on a 5 to 1 geared reel, will add 5 twists.  These twists are NOT removed when you reel in. They will still be there on your next cast. 

One method to reduce this would be to reel backwards when playing a fish, rather than to use the slipping clutch.  I play all my fish this way, and apart from the very occasional rapped knuckles due to my carelessness, it has worked perfectly for me. 

You could also allow the reel to rotate backwards, rather than using the baitrunner, but that is perhaps taking things a little too far.

Another way that twists are added is by using end tackle that rotates on the retrieve.   Feeders are very prone to doing this.  Baits, particularly big baits, will cause line twist on the retrieve. Even a couple of maggots can act like a propeller in reverse, generating twist as they are pulled through the water.   If you are lucky, then alternate casts will have the bait rotating in opposite directions, cancelling out any problems. I am never so lucky and find that such twists build up, and can build up very rapidly indeed.   After just 4 or 5 casts, line can become almost unusable.  Catch a fish every cast: no problem, the fish itself prevents any twist being added....unless is swims around and around in circles.  Cast frequently and reel back in without those fish: possible big problem.

Fish with a heavy lead, and keep the line taught, and fewer problems will present themselves, but the twist will still be there. I prefer to fish fairly light.

It may be that some twist may be generated on the cast itself.  The truth of this is hard to determine, but such twist is likely to be negligible, and so I will ignore it.

What can be done about twist, if you cannot, due to bait choices and legering, avoid it entirely?

Well, there is a lead that you can buy. Cast it out and as you reel in, it is supposed to rotate and reduce twist in your line.  It's called the Gardner Spin Doctor. In theory it works, but it has two problems:   because it rotates at a constant speed, as you gradually reel in the line, so it has a greater effect on twist reduction, the nearer the end tackle gets to you.   It does not redistribute and remove twist evenly along the length of the line.   I should point out here of course that reeling in a bait has a similar effect, putting more twists per meter into the line as you reel in and the hook gets nearer.   So maybe not a great problem, especially as, once you cast out again, the twists remaining will tend to equalise along the length of the line in the water.  A second problem is that the leads only remove twists in one direction, and I guess that such a lead is designed to remove twists due to clutch use.   The direction of that twist is predictable.  ( But do all bail arms, on all reel models rotate the same way?) The twist due to rotating bait or end tackle can be either clockwise or anti-clockwise.  So the lead would then be useful only perhaps half the time.

Another method would be to dangle a lead from a high building, tied to the end of your line and allow the twist to unravel itself.  this would work fine, but might take some time, and is hardly a convenient bankside solution.   And if you live in a bungalow, tough!

My own problem is due, I believe, almost entirely to the rotation of end tackle and baits.   Feeders or leads when legering, worms and similar when float fishing or legering.   So I cannot predict in which direction my twist will build up.   But I have had an idea.   

Use the reel to remove the twist!

Let's say that twist caused by use of the clutch on my reels is clockwise twist.   Clutch induced twist will always be in the same direction for any particular reel.  ( it is possible that on some other reel models the bail arm rotates the other way...I wouldn't know).
So if my baits have been applying anti-clockwise twists, then I can cast out my usual distance, use the line clip as usual, loosen the slipping clutch right off, point the rod down the line and wind away, thus cancelling out and removing 5 twists for every rotation of the handle, the clutch being so loose that the lead does not move at all.   As long as the lead does not move, I can remove all or most of the twist, by applying clockwise twist and then re-start my fishing.   I could guarantee the lead does not move by taping the reel spool to the bail arm.

If on the other hand my baits have been applying a cumulative clockwork twist, I can still use the reel to correct it.  After casting out, I can tape the reel spool to the bale arm to stop any relative movement between them, and then reel BACKWARDS to remove the twist.    So I have a fairly quick, bankside method of removing twist from my line, ( for twist in either direction), and no longer have the need to replace my line every week or so.  This saves me £1-29 for a spool, which would usually be enough to fill the reels on three rods, but more importantly, it gives me a bankside, quick and easy solution, to my problem. 

All I need to do is to decide in which direction to apply the correction, and how much of that correction to apply.  Examination of the twist loop which forms when a length of line is slackened will be enough to diagnose whether the twist is clockwise or anticlockwise.  So the direction of reel winding is fairly easy to work out.   
How many turns of the reel handle will be required is more difficult.  I could remove an amount of twist and then look to see how close I am to the twist free target, having a second, or third go until I get somewhere near the ideal of zero twists.   There is no point in going right down to zero, as the next cast or two will undoubtedly probably re-apply some twist.   
So instead I  designed an experiment.   I took a yard of my 8 pound line and applied first 10, then 20, then 30 twists to it.   You may think that these are very large amounts of twist to apply to such a short length of line, but my experience has been that when fishing I can generate many hundreds, if not a thousand or more twists in a few casts whilst fishing as little as 30 yards from the bank.  
Having generated the 10,20 or 30 twists in a tight length of line, I allowed it to slacken and looked at the size of the loop formed.   I was expecting the loops size to vary with the amount of twist: the more twist per unit length, the smaller the resultant loop. And so it proved. 30 twists in the yard gave me a loop size having an area of about the same size as a penny,  Twenty twists and the loop area was about the same area as a 50 pence piece, whereas 10 twists presented a loop size area similar in size to a 55mm lens cap.    See diagram below:
Approximate Loop Sizes Obtained From Twisting a Yard of 8 Pound Line. **

So if I get a loop size somewhere between that of a penny and a fifty pence piece from my cast line, I might then estimate that I have in the region of 25 twists per yard.    Multiply that by 30 yards and I have in total 750 twists.  One rotation of the reel handle on that 5-1 ratio reel gives me 5 twists, and so to remove the twists, a rotation count somewhere around 150 winds of the handle, in the correct direction, should see me reduce the problem to somewhere near zero, close enough at least to be able to fish on without a problem.

**Note that line of a different breaking strain would have given different loop sizes.

So that is the theory and the experimentation, and all that remains is to see what happens in the coming tench sessions.



  1. Replies
    1. But that's not the rant, which is still to come. That was just me getting annoyed that, after just two casts with a lobworm on float gear, I had more line twist than I could deal with. So I had to sort it, once and for all. And me being a scientific sort, I probably went a bit overboard.

  2. Some reels just seem to make it worse. But then again. I clearly don't think enough about fishing, or anything else for that matter. I am waiting for that promised rant. It promises to be very very good.

    1. Indeed you are right. Some reels will make it worse. The smaller the spool on a reel, the greater the problem will be. That hadn't occurred to me as I wrote that, but it is just simple maths. Spool half the size = twice the twist if you use the clutches. And the reduced speed of retrieve is certainly going to affect how fast a bait spins.