best knots for fly fishing

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Knots for Fly Fishing

By Mark Sassi

Many things need to happen before one can be successful on the river. Proper casting and presentation of your rig along with being able to read the water are a few parts of the equation. The third part is selecting the right flies for where you are fishing related to the time of the year. The final piece of the equation is being able to efficiently tie a few required knots.

If you can cast properly and tie the right knots but don’t have the right bug selection you won’t be successful. If you can tie the right knots and understand how to read the water and have the right bugs, but you can’t present the flies the right way, you won’t be successful. If you can read the water and you can select the right bugs and you can cast properly but your knots aren’t tied properly, you won’t be successful.

In this installment, I wanted to focus on a few of the best knots that will up your chances of being successful. Keep in mind that there are many different knots that can be used alternately for each of the connection points. It’s all about finding a knot that works for you and through repetition it becomes second nature.

Best Knots #1: The loop on your fly line

Until more recently, anglers needed a specific knot to connect the leader to the fly line. Today most fly lines have a loop at the end of the fly line and with leaders already having a loop on it at the butt section end, it’s an easy connection. Simply pass the leader loop through the fly line loop then feed the leader all the way back through the leader loop. That connects the two pieces of different material using a loop-to-loop connection. The knot anglers once used is called a nail knot. For most anglers, it was complicated even if you had the correct tool to help you do it. 
Some say that this connection gets caught up in your guides, but ultimately it’s a very efficient connection. If you have to change leaders quickly, you don’t have to deal with struggling to tie a nail knot on the side of the river.

Best Knots #2: The Clinch Knot

Anglers also need a knot to connect the tippet to the leader and another knot to tie the flies on. At this point, you have a 9-foot leader and you’re ready to tie on a fly. One of the most well-known knots for fly to leader is called the clinch knot or the improved clinch knot. There are many other knots you can use to tie your fly on to the end of your leader, this just happens to be the one that I use. It’s also the one that I share the most with clients and customers.
To tie the clinch knot, take the tip of your leader and pass it through the eye of the hook then wrap it back around itself five times. Then, pass the tip of it back through the first loop then wet it down with saliva or water. Gently cinch it up then trim off the tag end. One area where knots tend to falter is that they are weakened when they are tightened because of friction and heat. Moisture reduces friction thus reducing the heat that weakens the material. Moisten every knot every time!

Best Knots #3: The Double Surgeons Knot

The final knot is called a double surgeons knot.
Its application is to add tippet to the leader as the leader gets shorter. Let’s say you have a 9-foot 5x leader. As you fish, over time your leader will get shorter due to changing flies, snagging and breaking off, etc. Eventually, your 9-foot 5x leader will become a 7-foot 3x leader. It won’t be able to provide the same purpose anymore as it did when you chose to use the 9-foot 5x leader. You want to build your leader back to roughly 9 feet. You will need to add the correct x-diameter tippet to the end of the leader to get it back to the 9-foot length. Peel off about 15 inches of 4x and with the double surgeon’s knot connect it to the end of your leader. Now your leader is roughly 8 feet with a 4x diameter. Then peel off about 15 inches of 5x and connect it to the 4x. This will get you back to the 9-footish 5x leader you originally started with.
Obviously, you can just take off the old leader and replace it with a new one, but adding tippet is more cost-effective and better for the environment.
Another tippet application is when you are fishing more than 1 fly. Whether it’s a dry/dropper or a nymph/emerger, the clinch knot will be used for this. First, peel off about 15 inches of the correct x-diameter tippet. Attach it to the bend of the hook on the fly that is already attached to your leader using the clinch knot. Then attach your second fly to that tippet using the same clinch knot.
There are many one-off situations like attaching fluorocarbon tippet to mono tippet, etc., that we will cover in a future post. In the meantime, are you ready to grab some new fly lines? Visit our shop!

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

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Tyler Banker

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