Efficiency: Part 1 – Knots

by | Mar 6, 2015 | 2 comments

“You can’t catch a fish without your fly in the water.”

Efficiency has become a game for me; it’s something I enjoy; it’s something I think about when I’m not fishing, and I’m constantly trying to improve on a system that keeps my flies in the water and the downtime to a minimum. The methods and solutions that I’ll present in this Efficiency Series are personal ones; it’s what works for me, and you will no doubt find your own path based on your own objectives and preferences.

Ultimately, I think the key is to really think about what you do as an angler; focus on the things that rob you of productive fishing time, and then have the discipline to change some things.

Knots are probably the most basic skill of a fisherman.

Think about it: you can’t catch anything without tying something to the end of your fishing line, and when you do hook a fish, the only way it’s going to stay attached is if you have tied strong, solid knots in all the important places.  So tying good knots is the first point, and tying quick knots is the second, but what I’d really like to stress here is to take the time and learn to tie your knots fast.

If you can’t tie knots quickly, then everything else about your fishing will suffer. You’ll avoid changing flies because tying the knot takes too long; you’ll avoid adjusting the length of a rig because tying the knots takes too long, and you’ll stress about snags and tangles because retying those knots takes too damn long. Even for those who tie knots rather swiftly, somewhere in the fishing brain a miscalculation is often made, mistakenly deciding that adjusting the length of tippet or changing flies would be a waste of time. If you can get your knot tying speed ramped up to maximum efficiency, then the hesitation to change rigs or flies, or even to make that dangerous cast under a willow tree, will go away.

Davy Knot

I don’t think you can beat the efficiency of the Davy Knot for attaching the fly. It’s the best knot I’ve found because it’s lightning quick to tie, small, and — if tied carefully — the tag can be so short that it wastes no material and doesn’t need clipped. With practice, you can tie this knot in five seconds, and you can get fly changes down to about ten seconds.

Orvis Tippet Knot

This is the knot I use for leader/tippet connections when I want to fish a fly on a tag dropper.  I prefer it over the Surgeon’s Knot for this application because I can use the bottom (new) piece for the tag, therefore saving material on the upper line.  You can’t really do that with a Surgeon’s Knot. I also like the angle of the resulting tag that the Orvis Tippet Knot leaves me.

In this video from In the Riffle the red piece is the upper/existing line, and the yellow piece is the lower/new line.  To make a tag, you can keep the red line short, and use about 5-6 extra inches of yellow line to make the knot. You can get this knot down to less than ten seconds; add in just a few seconds more to pull off a length of tippet from the spool, and you still have a very short procedure.

Surgeon’s Knot

Since the Orvis Tippet Knot takes slightly longer and is just a bit more complicated, I still sometimes find myself tying a Surgeon’s Knot to join two pieces of material when I don’t need a tag.  I use a double Surgeon’s because I simply don’t see the need for the triple Surgeon’s.  Just think of all the seconds of life wasted with that extra turn ….

Blood Knot

I’m stubborn enough that I still tie my own leaders; consequently, I can tie a Blood Knot pretty fast.   I use the Blood Knot for any material bigger than about 8-10 lb because the knot is much smaller and cleaner than a Surgeon’s Knot.  On occasion (usually after a break-off) I find the need to use a Blood Knot in smaller diameters, and while it’s more difficult, it’s a skill that I’m glad I have.

The point is … trimming down the time spent tying knots will improve your fishing. Does saving twenty seconds while tying up a new rig really make a difference? Well, you could add up all those twenty seconds into the minutes saved during a day and make that argument — five minutes extra with your flies in the water might produce the biggest trout of your life.

However, I would argue that the more important reason for knot efficiency is all about perceptions.  I think when we know we aren’t at our best with a task, then it feels like we are wasting time, and so we avoid it. But, if you get the knots under your fingers and tie them fast, then you will confidently remove a fly or rig that isn’t working, tie the knots, make the changes, and get into more fish.

Soon, green leaves will be on the trees. Let’s go fishing.



Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Have you ever tied on a tippet ring and then tied the tag ABOVE the tippet ring using a clinch/davy knot, like you describe in this post (https://troutbitten.com/2018/02/16/fly-fishing-strategies-add-line/)?

    Seems like it gets to the same place as what you describe in that post without wasting leader material (i.e., a benefit of the tippet ring is not losing leader every time I tie on a fly/knot), while still creating a 90-degree-ish angle for the tag. It also allows you to continue to adjust the length of the tippet to the point fly (or switch out pre-tied rigs) without having to cut off and re-tie more than just the clinch/davy knot to tippet ring.

    Would love your thoughts on that.

    • Hi Charlie,

      Yes, I’ve done that. I’m glad you linked to the add-on line post. That’s exactly how I would do it.

      Basically, if you find it easier to put a tippet ring there, then I would certainly do it. That’s fishing — 101 ways to do anything and do it well.

      Personally, using the tippet ring there, as you describe, doesn’t save me time or material. More time because more knots and more tying in tippet rings if/when it all breaks off too. Doesn’t save material either (for me) because if I want a new tag, I jut use the add-on line solution above the knot. Know what I mean?

      Hope that helps.



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