Why Does My Fishing Line Keep Coming Off The Reel & Why Do I Get So Many Tangles?

Spending time untangling and re-rigging simply isn’t what fishing is about. So, why does your line keep coming off the reel and causing tangles?

Generally, you either haven’t spooled the line onto your reel correctly, you are using a poor quality line with a lot of memory, or the line is too heavy for the reel.

But, there is a lot more to it than just these few points including types of lines, how you fish, and lots more.

Let’s get into the details so that tangles become a thing of the past and you can enjoy your time on the water without any frustrating pauses.

Why Does My Fishing Line Keep Coming Off the Reel?

One of the things that creates more tangles than anything is your line coming off the spool of your reel.

When this happens it can run out of the reel loose when you cast or hook a fish. This creates a bird’s nest (giant tangle), the line catches on the reel, and lots more things that are tangle related.

So, what is causing all these issues? The answers are below.

fishing line tangled on baitcasting reel

Your Overfilled Your Reel’s Spool

When you are filling up your spinning reel with any type of fishing line, whether it is braid, fluoro, or mono, if you overfill it, it will fall off the spool.

The reason this happens is simply because there is not enough space on the spool to hold the line, so it falls off.

You will end up casting coils of loose line instead of a straight tight line, creating a tangle. When you wind in your lure, the line will wrap over the reel, causing another tangle.

Luckily, this is a very simple problem to fix.

Always leave 1/8 ” of the spool empty and this will ensure the line stays put and doesn’t fall off.

You Filled Your Line with the Wrong Diameter/lb Line

Every spinning reel comes with a line rating and the amount of the line that works with the spool.

This will either be in a diameter as say 150 yards of 0.1 mm line or as a breaking strain say, 150 yards of 20 lb line.

Make sure you follow these directives as they are important. If you try to fill a reel that is rated to 20 lb line maximum with 50 lb line, it is not going to hold it and that line is going to fall off the spool and create tangles.

You Spooled the Line Onto the Reel Too Loosely

When adding a fishing line to your reel, no matter what type of fishing line it is, you have to wind it tightly onto your spool.

If you wind monofilament or fluorocarbon loosely onto your reel spool, it is going to uncoil and get wrapped up in itself when you cast, or when you wind.

When you wind braid too loosely onto your spool, it will also uncoil and create a tangle. But, when it then comes under tension, it will bite into itself. If you have a fish on the other end of the line, your line is going to snap.

We will discuss how to spool line onto a spinning reel properly in another section of the article.

Your Line Has Too Much Memory

Not all fishing lines are made equal and different types of fishing lines are affected more or less by memory than others.

Braided line, for example, has almost no memory while fluorocarbon has a lot, and mono sits in between them when it comes to memory.

But, some monofilament lines have a lot more memory than others, for example, and the same thing goes for fluorocarbon too.

If your line has memory, it remembers how it was stored, which is always coiled on a line spool or reel spool. When it holds this shape, it uncoils off your reel spool, becomes loose, and causes tangles.

But, it is easy to avoid. Always buy and use lines that have minimal memory on your reels and you should avoid this.

Lines can also gain more memory over time, therefore if you have an old line that is coiling due to memory, you should think about changing it or conditioning it to see if it has another season left in it.

tangled fishing line on spinning reel

What are the Other Reasons that Your Line Tangles?

Your Line is Twisting While You Fish

When you are winding your lure back in or trolling, it can spin. This usually happens when your lure’s hooks are tangled around the line and for a number of other reasons, like a chip at the head of the lure.

When your lure spins your line twists. Once it twists enough, it will twist together any chance it gets and that is on your reel, when you cast, and when you fight a fish. You end up with a serious tangle.

The best way to avoid this is to use a swivel, as the swivel spins for you ensuring your line does not twist. But, even swivels go bad and don’t twist when they need to.

The key is to notice when it is twisting before it is too late and remedy the situation by either adding a swivel, changing out a failed swivel, or untangling your lure before the twist gets too bad.

If the twist does get too bad, you have no choice but to untie everything and let the line untwist fully. The best way to do this is letting all your line out behind a boat as it drives along, letting it untwist, and then rewinding all the line back onto the spool.

This might save it, but it might not if it has twisted too much. If the twisting persists, then you should change your line for a new one, as the tangles will be endless otherwise.

Your Drag is Set Too Loose

When your drag is set too loose, your line is free to roll off your reel as the momentum of the spool continues, even when nothing is pulling the line. This creaks slack and gives the chance for the line to create loose coils.

The loose coils can eventually turn into a bird’s nest and become the worst tangles you have ever seen.

No matter if you are just pulling line off your reel to create some slack or to rig a lure, if the drag is too loose, a tangle can happen. It is only going to get worse when the line moves faster, such as when a fish takes, and the tangles only get bigger!

Make sure there is always enough drag pressure to ensure that your spool doesn’t continue to spin after the line is pulled off it.

This is exactly the same thing that causes backlashes when casting with a baitcaster. The tension on the spool was not great enough to stop it from rolling and letting the line coil into a tangle.

Wind and Slack Combined

When you cast your line, there is always a moment in the process where the line close to the reel has some slack in it. This usually happens when your lure lands on the water.

At this moment, a little bit of wind can take that slack and cause a tangle. Wrapping a loop around your reel, catching the line on the handle, or creating a wind knot are all things that can happen very easily.

This kind of thing happens a lot more with braided lines, especially thin braided lines, as they are much more easily moved around and manipulated. But thin mono and fluoro can also have these issues too!

When you are fishing on windy days, take a moment before closing the bail of your reel. Check for slack, create some tension, and wind the line neatly back onto your reel.

Also, never wind the reel handle to close the bail, as this catches the line in the wrong moment, and can wind a loop onto the line, creating a tangle. This is only worse when you have some slack and there is some wind to deal with.

Poor Casting Technique

Casting is all about consistent line speed through a technique to reach maximum distances with solid accuracy.

If you cast with too much power, at the wrong angle, or have your rod pointing in the wrong direction, you affect line speed.

When your line speeds up and slows down quickly, it gives it the opportunity for it to collide into itself and create a wind knot. The wind knot can then cause a tangle, and most certainly a weak spot in the line.

Not Keeping Tension when You Wind In

When you are winding in your fishing line, it has to go onto the spool with tension. If you don’t do this, you will end up with loose coils of line on your reel.

These loose coils will come off the spool too quickly when you cast or when you are fighting a fish and create a wind knot or a tangle.

fishing reels with different fishing lines

How do You Avoid All of These Tangling Issues?

So, now that we know what causes the tangles, we can learn how to stop them from happening.

Most of the solutions come from setting up your tackle properly, which is easy to get right once you know how. The other solutions come from being vigilant while you are fishing and correcting things in the moment.

Here are the solutions to stop your tangles once and for all!

Use the Right Fishing Line on Your Reel

Every reel in the world comes with a line rating. The line rating tells you what weight or diameter line and how much of it the spool is made for.

You can find the line rating on the side of the spool or in the tech specs of the reel.

Don’t spool your reel with a line that is too thick or too heavy, if it says a max of 250 yards of 30lb mono or 0.3mm diameter line, stick to the max or below. This will ensure it doesn’t unravel off your reel and create a tangle.

You also need to pick a line with minimal memory so it doesn’t uncoil off your reel. Buy quality mono or fluoro lines that are known for having low memory, or use braid as your main line as it has close to zero memory.

Once you have the right line, spooling it onto your reel correctly is the next step.

How to Spool Line Onto a Spinning Reel Correctly

There are a few key things to get right when it comes to spooling line onto a spinning reel.

You want the line to sit tightly on the reel and you want it to go on without any twist, and luckily doing this is quite easy.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Set up your rod and add your reel to the rod
  2. Run the line from the new spool through the eyes of the rod
  3. Open the bail arm of your spinning reel
  4. Wrap the line around the spool once and then tie an arbor knot
  5. Close the bail arm of your spinning reel
  6. Make sure the line is coming off the spool in an anti-clockwise direction before you start winding it onto the reel

The reason for this is to avoid any line twist. This is done by making sure the line comes onto the reel in the same direction it comes off the spool.

Spinning reels wind line onto the spool in an anti-clockwise direction, and therefore it should come off the line spool in the same direction.

  • Set the line spool on the ground with the label side down, or have a friend hold it.
  • Check the line is coming off the spool in an anti-clockwise direction, again.
  • Take a rag and dip it in line conditioner.

Only use purpose built line conditioner, this helps the line reduce memory and not form it for a while either.

It will also protect your line from damage when fishing with it too.

  • Hold the line in the rag and conditioner, between the reel and the first eye of the rod.
  • Use the rag to apply pressure to the line.
  • Start winding the line onto the reel.
  • Be sure to apply enough pressure consistently so the line is wound tightly on the spool.
  • Continue until the spool is full leaving ⅛ inch from the lip.
  • Check you spooled it on tight enough by pressing into the line on the spool. If it is soft, then you will have to re-do it, especially with braid.

Set Your Drag Correctly and Use the Ratchet

If your drag is set to loose when you pull the line off the reel, it can coil and bird’s nest as I mentioned already. Make sure you set the drag with enough tension before you pull it off the reel to avoid this.

This issue can also be solved by having the ratchet on. But, what is a ratchet?

The ratchet is the clicker which makes noise as the line is pulled off the reel. This not only tells you when a fish is taking line but it can also create enough tension on the spool to stop a bird’s nest.

All spinning reels automatically have the ratchet on, and it can’t be turned off. But, this is not the case on offshore reels.

fishing from boat in lake with spinning reel

Catch Line Twist Quickly and Use Swivels

Having a swivel between your leader and your main line is the best way to stop any line twist. The swivel will spin when your lure spins, and by doing so, your line stays straight and does not twist.

Occasionally, a swivel can catch and stop spinning. If this happens, your line will start twisting and you need to notice this as soon as possible.

When you pull your lure out of the water before making another cast, if it is spinning, your line is twisting. This is the case whether you are using a swivel or not.

If you notice this easily, you can add a swivel, change a swivel that has stopped working, remove a tangle from your lure, or replace a lure that is swimming badly.

All of these actions will ensure your line isn’t too twisted, and if need be you can always change the leader and the top section of the twisted line if it has gone too far.

Close Your Bail with Your Hand, Not the Reel Handle

When closing the bail of your reel after a cast, close it manually. If you don’t, and close it by winding the reel handle, it creates a moment of slack when a knot can be easily formed.

This will weaken your line and eventually cause a tangle you don’t need. Winding your bail arm closed is also not good for your reel and by not doing so, it will prolong the life of your reel.

Keep an Eye on when Closing the Bail on Windy Days

As I mentioned before, there is a moment of slack in your line close to the reel when your lure hits the water after a cast.

At this moment, a tangle can happen, particularly on windy days as the wind blows the slack line around.

Before you close the bail on your reel, be sure to check for any slack line being blown around. Carefully close the bail, then add some tension to the line by pulling it away from the reel. You can then wind in your lure as usual.

Stop Your Cast Using Your Hands

To avoid the moment of slack when your lure hits the water naturally, simply stop the cast using your hands.

To do this, simply catch the line and hold it against the spool just before your lure is going to land.

By doing this, the line stays tight until the lure hits the water and ensures no loops or wind knots are created. You do still have to close the bail with your hands and do so carefully.

Cast Correctly

By casting correctly, you will ensure a consistent line speed, avoiding wind knots and therefore tangles.

The three main things you can do wrong when casting are:

  • Using too much power. This causes your line to leave the spool quickly but does not transfer into the lure, creating inconsistent line speed and a wind knot.
  • Casting too high. Again, your lure will slow down in the air and the line will be racing to catch it up, causing a wind knot.
  • Not pointing your rod straight at the end of your cast. By holding your rod up, it creates friction as the line hits the guides, once again creating line speed inconsistencies.

If you cast at a lower 45-degree angle, without too much power, and point your rod at the end of the cast, you will avoid a lot of wind knots and tangles.

Keep Tension when Winding in Your Lures

If your lure is heavy enough, creating tension when you wind in your line is easy.

But, if you are using a pull-and-stop retrieve, or fighting a fish that changes direction, you will end up with a moment of slack.

The best way to ensure the line always has enough tension on it is by using your fingers to add extra tension to it before it goes on the reel when it needs it.

spinning rod with baitcasting reel and bait


Does casting my leader through the line guides cause tangles?

Yes, this does cause tangles and it is something you should avoid. This is also to do with line speed as your leader will leave the rod slower than your main line leaves the spool.

This ends up creating a collision of lines and a tangle. Always start your cast with your leader out of your rod tip.

Does choosing the right lure and leader matter when it comes to tangles?

Yes, it matters a lot. If your lure is small and your leader is heavy, it will cause line speed inconsistencies, and vice versa. Make sure you match smaller leaders with smaller lures, and heavier leaders with heavier lures.

How to untangle a tangled line?

Untangling a line is a bit of an art form, but luckily we get a lot of practice at it as anglers. On occasion, you can untangle it pretty quickly by pulling loops apart and unraveling what happened.

Sometimes, it is just not worth the time and cutting the line is what you need to do. It is a judgment call depending on how bad the tangle is and the situation.

Winding Up

Tangles are something we all want to avoid when fishing and luckily it is possible to avoid most of them. Simply follow the tips I have given you above, and one of the most important things is spooling your reel properly.

Please leave us a comment below if you have any questions, tips we have missed, or have some big tangle stories. We would love to hear from you!

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fishing on streams and lakes in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles and offshore, there are not many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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