4 Notes on Fly Fishing Knots

Here are some notes on knots to give you some knot know-how.

The only thing trickier than reading that sentence is trying to tie a tiny tippet (the size of a human hair) to the eye of a tiny hook. If you’re new to fly fishing, tying your tippet to your fly or (worse) tying your tippet to a leader can seem daunting. And time-consuming. And frustrating.

Here a few notes that will simplify the process and get you fly fishing.

1. Try this at home

Don’t wait until you’re on the bank of the Lochsa or the Hoosic for your inaugural attempt at securing your fly to a tippet with a knot. Try this at home.

If you’re trying to learn a brand new knot, use a small rope or piece of yarn or string. Tie the knot onto a key ring or an eye bolt. Then, you can graduate to tying actual monofilament (which has a mind of its own) onto an actual eye of a hook.

Practice may not make perfect, but practice does make progress.

2. Learn two or three basic knots.

There is a downside to buying a booklet of fly fishing knots. The sheer number of knots you can tie will overwhelm and discourage you. But relax. You can get away with two knots—one for tying your fly to your tippet, and the other for tying tippet to your leader.

The first knot to learn is the improved clinch knot. You will use this to tie your tippet (or the end of your leader) to your fly. This is a tried and true pattern which I use whether the hook size is a #20 (tiny) or a #6 (large). I will not drive you crazy by trying to describe how to tie it. Instead, watch this video. For the record, I prefer eight turns rather than five—especially if I’m using small (in diameter) tippet.

That’s really the only knot you ever need to tie a fly to a tippet or leader. But here’s another one I started using a few years ago because it is so simple. It’s the surgeon’s loop. It’s quicker to tie than an improved clinch knot, so it’s a bit easier when your hands are cold. You’ll waste a bit more tippet material, but that’s really the only drawback. I’ve used this with small flies and large flies. Here’s a video to show you how it is done.

Finally, to tie a piece of tippet to a leader, I recommend the double surgeon’s knot. It’s easy to tie after a few practice times. Just watch this video and learn it!.

Yes, there are other knots. But you can’t go wrong with these. I’ve used them for years and have landed a lot of large trout on small flies and tiny tippets. So I know these work.

3. Use the river as background.

One of the frustrations you’ll face when you try to tie a knot is seeing the tiny loop(s) you’ve created and seeing the tiny tag end you’re trying to push through the loop(s). I tried all kinds of background — my waders, the sky, green leaves. Then a friend pointed out the obvious. Use the river as a backdrop. It works surprisingly well.

4. Moisten your knot.

Last, but not least, moisten your knot with a bit of saliva. When monofilament is tightened, the friction generates enough heat to weaken the monofilament. That’s why you want to wet your knot. If you forget, the next big trout you hook might snap off.

Alright, you now have the know-how you need to tie knots without being fit to be tied (sorry!).

4 Replies to “4 Notes on Fly Fishing Knots”

  1. Great stuff. Tying a good knot is the difference between landing and losing a fish. I was on the river with a teenaged client. We fished hard all day, it was getting late, the trip had ended 30 mins earlier but we were having a good time. So after 8 1/2 hours on the river my client wanted 1 last cast. He wanted to try a new fly. As a guide I like to teach my clients the knots I use and have them tie them. I want them to learn. In this case it was getting dark and he wanted to tie a quick granny knot. I explained to him that every cast you make is with the intention of hooking a fish. Take the time to tie EVERY KNOT correctly. He tied a very good Palomar knot. Cast out his line and hooked a 26″ brown trout that took him for a ride. After the photo and the release I reminded him that he wouldn’t have landed that slob if he tied the granny knot.
    Take the time to tie good knots. Practice them and they will come easy.
    I like the Palomar knot. It’s very quick and easy to tie. Davy knot for Brook trout. I use the clinch sometimes. I like the triple surgeons knot leader to tippet.

  2. Since commenting the last time I have been fooling around with different knots. I still use the davey knot for #18 and smaller. The double davey for larger flies. I have started using the Orvis knot and it is simple to tie and very reliable. I think it is worth learning.
    As a guide, the clinch knot works well. I would skip the extra step in tying the improved.
    A big helper is tippet rings. Highly recommend them. Even with brand new leaders. I will slide my fingers along the leader to where I feel the leaders starts to taper, I will then cut the leader there. I tie on a tippet ring. Then attach the thinner section of leader I just cut off. When I change flies this will ensure I don’t get into my butt section. You will save on leaders as you can use the butt section over and over.

  3. When using saliva, spit on the knot or onto you fingers – NEVER put the line in your mouth for ANY reason (biting the line off also….) You may subject yourself to gardia (beaver fever) and that is a very long healing process. A guide passed along to our group that he spent 3 months in the hospital – with 2 of those in ICU !!!!

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