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!).

Keeping Monster Trout on the Line

I’ve lost my share of big trout. There, I admitted it. I’m weeping as I write this. Okay, not really. But I remember feeling sick a few times when I let a monster trout get away. There was the day when my sixth-grade son hooked a monster brown on a size #18 red brassie. I urged him not to panic, but apparently I did. I hurried towards the fish with my net, and it made its escape by wrapping the leader around my leg and snapping off the fly from the tippet.

Thankfully, I have not let all the big ones get away. I’ve landed my share of large trout, too. Here are four tips for keeping monster trout on the line:

1. Moisturize the knot you are tying.

That’s a nice way saying, wet the knot with your spit. Saliva will not weaken your leader material. It will prevent it from losing its strength.

When you pull monofilament tight, the friction creates heat that can weaken the knot or the line around it. So put the knot it your mouth to moisten it before you pull it tight.

2. Keep your line tight.

A fly fishing friends signs off on his emails with “Tight lines.”

It took me a while to figure out why that’s such good advice. Slack in your line makes it easier for a hook to slip out of a trout’s mouth or for the trout to shake it free — whether you have a 22-inch rainbow or an eight-inch brookie.

The most vulnerable time, perhaps, is right after you hook a fish.

You want to reel in the extra line, and that’s important. But keep the line tight while you’re reeling in the extra line. Once you’ve done that, the fish will be working against your rod, and you can adjust the drag setting on your reel to allow for more or less tension.

So how do you keep the line tight while you are reeling in the excess? It’s not that difficult to do when you try it, but it’s maddening to try to explain with words!

So practice while someone is holding your line. Or tie it to your leader to a porch railing or your child’s tricycle (but not to your black lab’s collar unless you have a lot of backing!). You can figure it out from there.

3. Practice “home field advantage.”

Your home field is the run in which you’re fishing or the shallow water near the shore. The trout’s home field is an undercut bank, particularly if there is a log nearby. So don’t let the trout head to its lair. Pull it sideways to keep it in the area where you can handle it. If you can get it into the shallow water near the shore, that’s all the better.

4. Guide the trout into your net.

An old adage says that most accidents happen at or near home. That’s true for landing trout. It’s when you get the trout near your net that the danger of losing it increases. So don’t go stabbing at it with your net! Lift your rod and pull it into the net. Don’t bother swiping at the trout with your net.

Also, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. If the trout suddenly darts away from the net, just keep it in front of you and bring it in for another attempt at landing it.