What Causes Wind Knots in Spinning Reels

  • Date: August 14, 2022

Getting wind knots and line tangles on your spinning reel is an unfortunate reality of fishing, especially when using braided lines. But there are ways to reduce the number of tangles you get.

Understanding what causes the wind knots on your spinning reel is the first step, and then using the effective solutions detailed below will help to minimize these happening.

How do wind knots happen in spinning reels?

Wind knots in spinning reels happen for a few different reasons, and they don’t always have to involve wind either.

The design of a spinning reel means that when you cast the line peels off the reel in big loops. This is why spinning rods have a much larger first guide (called a stripper guide) when compared to a baitcasting rod, to accommodate for this looping line as it comes off the spool.

Even though the stripper guide has been enlarged, it is still the distance from the spool to the stripper guide where the wind knots will happen. 

If there is a loop in the line on the reel, or if the line is laying loosely on the spool it will come off unevenly when cast, and then it gets all bunched up behind the stripper guide and that’s when the huge bird’s nest tangles occur.  

These tangles mostly (not always) happen when using braid main line. The advantage of fishing with braided fishing line is clearly evident these days, but the line is very prone to these ugly tangles.

Braided fishing line is not cheap to buy, and when you get a wind knot, most of the time you need to cut the line and discard it. This may mean losing 50+ yards of line at a time, which is not something you want to be 

Wind knots will occur when the line comes off the spool of the spinning reel either faster than the lure or bait is traveling, or when the line coming off the spool catches unevenly laid or loosely laid line as it peels off.

When this happens the line starts to bunch up behind the guide rings and forms into the big tangled mess that is every angler’s worst vision. 

This often happens when trying to cast into the wind, and the wind will slow the lure or bait down as it travels in the air, but the line continues to peel off the reel spool at the same speedy rate.

It can also happen if you use a longer leader and your leader knot catches a rod guide as you cast, which again will put the brakes on the lure / bait, even if just for a split second, while the line continues to peel off the reel unhindered.

This is more apparent if you use an ultralight spinning reel and a very light lure as it doesn’t have the weight to pull the line through the rod guide if the knot catches slightly. 

Does cranking the bail arm shut cause wind knots in spinning reels?

One of the most common causes of wind knots on a spinning reel is just after you cast and your lure or bait hits the water, and often there is some slack line. Then, when the bail arm is cranked closed with the reel handle when there is a lot of slack in the line, often a loop will form on the spool or over the spool lip.

Then when you cast next, this loop will get caught up in the guide closest to the reel, and the line will all bunch up and cause a big tangled mess.

It’s always so important to ensure there is some tension on the line first and then close the bail arm with your hand.

Make sure the line is running through the roller on the bail arm and start winding only when there is tension on the line. This will prevent any slack line from creating a loop and being wound onto the reel.

Avoid line twist

Braided fishing line is prone to twisting a lot, and this can happen right from the time your spool your reel with braid. 

When you have a lot of line twist on your spool then it will often cause the line to come off the spool in a very uneven manner which will lead to a dreaded wind knot.

It is really important that when you initially add braid line to your spool that you ensure it goes on without any line twist.

Casting distances will also be affected by line twist or uneven line spooling so it’s definitely worth knowing how to spool your spinning reel properly without any twist to prevent this from happening.

Uneven line spooling

Another issue that can cause wind knots is when the line is wound onto the spool unevenly, meaning that you may have more line towards the bottom of the spool than you do at the top. 

When this happens and you go to cast, the greater amount of line at the bottom of the spool will overlap the line at the top of the spool during the cast, which in turn will greatly increase the chances of wind knots.

If this is happening it will be because of the height of the spool on the reel. If the line bunches at the bottom of the spool it means the spool is sitting too high, and if the line bunches at the top of the spool then it is sitting too low on the reel.

Take the spool off, and if the line is bunching at the bottom of the spool it means there are too many washers on the shaft, so you can take one or two of the washers off the shaft, which should then mean the line will be wound onto the spool evenly.

If your line tends to bunch at the top of the spool it means you will need to add one or two more washers to the shaft, which will lift the spool up more. 

Many reels come with spare washers specifically for this purpose, and if you don’t have any they can easily be purchased.

Overloading the spool with line

When you are spooling your reel with new line the tendency for many is to load as much line on there as possible, often overfilling the spool.

If your line is overflowing the edge of the spool, then it will cause knots and tangles when you cast for sure. 

It is always important that you leave a small gap from the line to the front lip of the spool to avoid any overspill.

How to prevent irritating wind knots

Now you know what causes the knots, we now need to know how to prevent them from happening, or at least try and minimize the times that it happens.

Spooling your reel correctly

Spooling your reel the right way is the first thing you need to do in order to reduce the chances of wind knots.

If you wind the line onto your spool too loosely it will cause a lot of problems when you cast. You need to ensure there is a bit of pressure on the line as you wind it onto the spool.

You also need to avoid spooling your reel with twist in the line. There are tools that can help you do this, such as this excellent Line Spooler Machine from Piscifun.

It is advisable to wind the line on as tight as possible when you spool your reel, as it will loosen up over time with use.

Ideally, you want to have about a 1mm gap from the line to the front lip of the spool, so when you initially spool your reel and pack the line as tight as you can, leave a 2 or 3mm gap, as over time the line will loosen and you will still end up with that ideal 1mm gap and the line won’t spill over the spool and cause those nasty knots.

Casting in strong wind

One of the most common situations, when a bad wind knot occurs, is of course when casting in strong windy conditions.

The knots can happen when casting into a headwind, or when the wind is strong from the side, and also if you are casting in a strong downwind.

Casting into a headwind

If there is a strong wind blowing and you are casting right into the wind, the temptation is to try and launch your lure or bait across the Atlantic ocean with an almighty cast that tests every fiber of the rod! Don’t do this!

A much more controlled cast when casting into the wind will result in fewer wind knots. For you lure fishermen, you may want to increase the weight of the jig-head or lure as well if you will be casting into the wind a lot.

One of the most important things to do when casting into the wind is to avoid casting high into the air. You want to keep your lure or bait as low as possible, and to do this you should change your casting technique and use a side cast rather than an overhead cast.

Watch your lure / bait as you cast and then as soon as it hits the water, close the bail arm manually with your hand and then use your forefinger to feather the line and start winding so you avoid winding any slack line onto the reel.

Once you can feel the resistance of the lure you can start your regular retrieve as you will have the tension on the line you need to prevent winding loops of line onto your spool.

Casting into a side wind 

Casting into a sidewind can be just as bad as a headwind, and it causes a different problem as it can put a huge bow in the line between the end of the rod down to the lure in the water.

If you cast your lure high into the air, then the bow in the line will be exaggerated even more. So keeping the lure as low as possible when you cast is really important here, and using a side cast rather than an overhead cast will help you achieve this.

Use heavier lures than normal, and if you are fishing with soft plastics then use a heavier jig head so that you have a more direct and piercing cast.

As soon as your lure hits the water you need to close the bail arm with your hand, and get some tension on the line before you start winding in the line.

You can do this by using your forefinger again to feather the line initially until the line is straight and you feel the resistance of the lure.

By doing this, you will be applying just a bit of pressure on the line so it winds onto the spool more tightly and you’ll avoid winding any loose loops onto the spool.

Casting downwind 

Casting downwind can seem great as you can launch your lure or bait high into the air and watch it sail for what seems an eternity until it hits the water. 

But it is this moment when your lure or bait hits the water when the issues can arise. Your line will have been peeling off the spool at a speedy rate, and this won’t stop instantly on its own when your lure hits the water, you need to intervene and stop any more line from coming off your reel.

What I do when casting downwind is to use my opposite hand to the one holding the rod and hold it over the spool after casting. 

Then as you see your lure / bait close to landing in the water start to lightly feather the line, and as soon as it hits the water then put your hand over the spool to stop any more line from coming off. Close the bail arm with your hand and wind in the slack line quickly.

Feathering the line

If you have fished with a baitcasting reel before then you will be used to feathering the line as your lure or bait is about to hit the water after a cast.

It is also a very good practice to use this method with a spinning reel too, and you will find that wind knots will happen far less when you do feather the line when casting.

There are two main ways to feather the line with a spinning reel.

The first way is the more difficult of the two. This is where you feather the line with the forefinger of the dominant hand that you hold the rod with.

While your cast is close to hitting the water, hold your forefinger out so the larger loops in the line will feather against your finger and slow it down slightly. Then when the lure hits the water your close your finger on the line so there is no chance for it to bunch up behind the rod guide and cause a tangle.

The second, and more easier method of feathering the line is where you use your other hand to the one you hold the rod with when you cast.

Again as the lure is close to hitting the water after casting, you cup your less dominant hand over the front of the spool, still allowing the line to peel off but slowing it down.

Then when the lure hits the water you close your hand over the spool and front drag knob so it puts the brakes on and no more line can peel off the spool. This will prevent any loose coils from potentially being wound back onto the spool, which is the precursor to braided line knots.

Using either of these two feathering methods will prevent a lot of wind knots from happening.

Use a shorter leader line, or use a knot that won’t catch on the rod guides

If you are running braid to leader then you will have the two lines attached either with a swivel or with a knot.

If you have the main line and leader attached with a knot and your leader is fairly long, then often the knot will be wound past the rod guides. When you cast, this knot can often catch on one of the guides and this is when the dreaded tangles will happen.

If you are using a light braid line then as long as you have a neat knot you have trimmed the knot tags right down so nothing is left protruding then you will often be able to cast the knot through the guides with no problems.

But if you are using a heavier braid and leader, then the knot will be more pronounced and the likelihood of the knot catching on the guide during a cast is far greater. 

The Alberto knot, double uni knot, and the FG knot are all commonly used when tying mainline to leader. If your leader line is around a meter long then there should be no need for it to be inside the rod guides before you cast.

Can you untangle a wind knot in your line?

There are some backlash wind knots that will be way beyond repair. But there are a couple of ways that you may be able to untangle a smaller knot before you cast and it turns into one of the big bird’s nest tangles we all hate to see.

This first method I have used with success several times.

If you have a twisted loop that has been wound onto your spool and you see it before you cast, you want to try and pull this out.

To do this, loosen off your drag and then start to pull the line off your spool. More often than not you will be able to pull the knot out.

The second method works best with mono and fluoro lines, it may also work with braid if the knot is not so big.

Again this is very simple, and you just need to put the knotted area of the line in your mouth so you can apply some saliva onto it so it is lubricated. Then slowly but surely try to pull the knot out.

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