Loop to loop is bad — Try attaching your leader to the fly line this way

by | Mar 6, 2019 | 73 comments

Sometimes the worst things become the most popular. The industry standard for attaching a leader to a fly line is the loop to loop connection. It’s supposed to be easy. And it’s certainly more accessible to most anglers than tying a nail knot. But the loop to loop has a couple inherent failings that cause major problems. And there’s an easier way to attach a leader to a fly line without ever tying a nail knot. Can you tie a four turn clinch?

Some guys are so thoroughly sold on the loop to loop system that I’ve seen clients show up for a trip with a hand tied loop in the end of their fly line because it wasn’t manufactured with a welded loop. Of course, that makes a bad problem worse. And I recommend promptly cutting off that monstrosity and committing to the nail knot. You have to love yourself first.

Hand tied fly line loop with a loop to loop connection. Worst thing ever. Don’t do this.

Some new guys might not remember when fly lines shipped without loops on both ends. About a decade ago, the trend started with high end lines, and it filtered down to the rest. Ninety percent of fly lines these days come with welded loops. (I made up that figure myself, but it seems about right.)

Honestly, I clipped all those loops off until a few years ago.

The first welded loops were bulky and overdone, and I just couldn’t get past the extra mass at the end of a fine fly line taper. But a few years ago, my favorite line appeared with a slim loop right out of the box. And it was hard to argue that such a lean loop could affect the cast much at all. So I kept it. And instead of slicing the loop off, I tied my clinch knot directly into it.

Oh yeah, the clinch knot . . .

Probably the most seldom used method for attaching a leader is also the simplest. I’m a problem solver at heart. So when I wanted to remove the sometimes thirty plus feet of Mono Rig and swap out for a standard length leader, I started using a simple clinch knot to a tippet ring. You can find that method here:

READ: Troutbitten | Get me back to my fly line — Connecting and disconnecting the Mono Rig

And when the slim loops appeared in the fly line, I ditched the nail knot and the extra lead piece of Chameleon and the tippet ring. Then I tied straight into the fly line loop.

Another look a the clinch connection to the loop. That’s pretty clean.

Why Loop to Loop Sucks

Alright, here’s my Costanza’s Festivus — Airing of Grievances against loop to loop connections. It’s a short but punchy list.

The loop to loop is a clunky connection that hangs up in the guides far too often. No matter how well it’s tied, any perfection loop in a leader still has that blunt end, waiting to bang into one of your rod guides as you strip line through. The clunky bump of the handshake between the two loops sticks in the guides as well. Worse yet, it’ll probably hang up as you stretch out with a fully flexed rod in one hand and a net in the other, straining to reach for the Namer you just fought for five minutes in heavy current. That wild trout of a lifetime decides to take one last joyride. He bolts, the perfection loop sticks on a guide for a split second, and the tippet snaps. You suck.

Even without a trout attached to the end of your line, the loop to loop connection slows down any shooting or stripping line with its constant friction in the guides.

My second point is a gripe from long liners, specifically. In fact, if you’re swapping out a leader much longer than about ten or twelve feet, it’s a pain to bring the full length of the leader through the small fly line loop to attach the new leader. And when you pry the loops apart to change out (which can take some time by itself) you must run the full length of leader through the fly line again. Is it really a pain? I suppose not, but it’s inefficient, and it makes me irritable. And if I’m using a long Mono Rig, there’s no way I’m running thirty plus feet of a leader through the little fly line loop when I can so quickly tie a four turn clinch.

So let’s get to that . . .

Why the Clinch Wins

A simple clinch knot is all that’s needed to attach the leader to a fly line loop. Treat it like the eye of a fly and tie it in. Don’t “improve” the clinch knot with that final move back through the loop either — it’s unnecessary and adds bulk.

The slim profile is exactly why this method works. A clinch knot has the same look as a blood knot. It’s just wraps around the line with no added bulk to create any hard angles or hang in the guides. And you don’t need more than three or four turns. In the heavy diameter of a butt section, a few wraps is all that’s required. Wet the knot before you snug it up, and it will hold. I promise.

Just as important is how quickly leader changes are made with the clinch connection. Clip off the old and tie in the new. Easy peasy. And there’s no leading of long butt sections through the small fly line loop. Ahhh.

It’s almost springtime. Photo by Bill Dell.

If you’re following along mentally here, you’ve likely realized that every leader change will shorten the butt section. Yup. That’s true. I lose about a half inch with each leader change. I’m careful how I tie the knot, though. Even if you lose a full inch with every leader change, who cares? On the long leaders, like a Mono Rig, it takes a lot of leader changes for that to make a difference. On standard length leaders, it matters sooner, of course. But for me, it’s an acceptable trade for some remarkable efficiency and a slim design. And if you tie your own leaders, you can simply change the butt section if it gets too short for your liking.

There Are Other Ways

If you’re a Troutbitten regular you know by now that I’m a nut about efficiency and design. It’s not enough for something to be quick. It has to work right too.

Attaching the leader to the fly line via a clinch knot works for me. But I should mention that I purposely design my leaders to keep any fly line connection out of the guides. That’s why my Mono Rig is so long — because I like slinging streamers across the river to the opposite bank without anything but the butt section of my leader in the guides.

READ: Troutbitten | Streamers on the Mono Rig — More Control and Contact

The only connection I’ve found that hangs in the guides less is a needle knot. But you can’t perform that magic trick on the river. Also, tying a nail knot requires its own set of contortions, and even if you can tie a clean one on the river, it wastes a lot more leader material when tied. I’ll also argue that it’s no slimmer than the clinch knot to a loop in the fly line.

Anyway . . . ban the loop to loop. Kick it out and close the door.

Photo by Bill Dell

Fish hard friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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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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73 Comments

  1. I was seriously thinking about putting a nail knot on the end of my line on my carp rig: 8’3″ 7 wt Fenglass. The length of the leader compared to the rod inevitably always had my loop to loop in the guides at the end of the fight. This is a much cleaner and simpler idea. Thanks for the push!

    Reply
  2. Try a Single Davy knot – easy, fast, and a micro-footprint smaller than the clinch!

    Reply
    • Thanks Rick.

      I’ve tried the Davy there but I don’t care for it. I find that the Davy in thicker diameters like a 20 lb butt section slips a little. (Davy Wotten will tell you the same thing, I believe). So in thicker diameters, it’s important to do the extra turn and do an “improved” Davy knot. But . . . that extra turn makes the knot less barrel-like, and it hangs up a little more. Admittedly, the difference is slight. As you said — micro. I just like the way the 3-4 turn clinch forms almost a tapered barrel. That’s me.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Over time, do you find that the 20 lb chameleon has a tendency to cut trough the fly line loop?
        Fair point on the Davy. Have you tried a three turn Uni-Knot? With a Uni-Knot you can double it through the fly line loop and spread out the pressure.

        Reply
        • Yes. The leader cuts a small slit in the fly line coating, so it ends up actually gripping the (usually) braided core. And in a couple years of doing this, and MANY leader changes, I haven’t had that core fray at all. It’s a good thing.

          Reply
          • I just finished a series of test knots using old fly line and 25 lb. Chameleon. The single Davy holds fine but not a smooth profile. The Clinch looked good but I found that a two-turn Uni-Knot looked and felt even better than the Clinch; no slippage either. Personally I fish home-made furled leaders which have a Shorb loop; this makes for a very smoot loop to loop connection as their is no knot to get hung up on the guides.

            When playing a trout with the line/leader connection inside the tip top I pay close attention and can proactively position it safely out side of any danger or give a tug that helps get it through the tip top – on my terms.

            Great topic for a cold, snowy winter night here in upstate NY.

  3. I’ve always used a nail knot to connect my butt section to the fly line and smooth it off with some UV, Knot Sense, super glue, etc.

    Reply
    • Cool. I agree that’s the smoothest way. But what’s you’re method for changing leaders on the river?

      Reply
      • Im the same as bruce. As for leader change, I just change at a tippet ring located at the end of a 9′ butt section. Taper down for dries, sighter to tippet for nymphs. Keepin’ it simple these days. Loose a little bit of sag from the fly line due to the shorter leader style (16′ total for nymphs), but I got to tell you man, most of the times even at 16′ I only have a foot of fly line out, and the times I do have to do longer casts I just deal with the sag as best as possible. The simplicity to me has made my fishing so much more relaxing and fun again, worrying about every bit of drag, and executing precise casts with 25′ leaders and a 2.0mill bead got tiring! I still catch plenty of fish, and have more fun doing it. If someone stuck a gun to my head and said catch as many fish as possible, I would go back to the ultra long set up, but until that happens I’m going to keep it simple and enjoyable. OF course this is just my opinion, and I change my mind about leaders every two weeks it seems, but this is my groove for now.

        Reply
      • I also use the nail knot for any line I consider mostly for dry fly fishing. I think the nail knot transfers energy best to the leader. As you mentioned the loop to loop knot fails miserable with dries even for bass and panfish.
        I use a sighter butt section of 18 inches or so. After a few seasons I still have 15 inches left on my butt. 😉

        Reply
      • I use a tippet ring at the end of my sighter and attach my tippet to it. When I want to fish a dry fly I carry an extra spool with a dry fly leader.

        Reply
  4. Good Stuff Buddy. I have been using the clinch knot to connect for years mostly because that was the one knot I was conformable with coming from the spinning world. I recently started to use the loop knot because “its better ” LOL , I found the same issues you spoke of. I hate when knots catch in the guides of a rod. ….

    Have you tried any of the other solutions to creating a loop to the end of you fly line such as using a fly tying bobbin or fly line backing ? If so how does it affect casing with the additional wight the thread and UV materials create.

    Reply
    • Hey Bill,

      Yeah, I whipped some loops in fly lines a bunch of years back, but I never liked the results. They were always more bulky than simply tying a needle nail knot:

      https://midcurrent.com/videos/tying-a-needle-nail-knot/

      From the fly line I used ten inches of Chameleon as a lead to a 1.5 mm tippet ring. And at that ring is where I changed out leaders. I still use this method sometimes:

      https://troutbitten.com/2017/03/21/get-me-back-to-my-fly-connecting-and-disconnecting-the-mono-rig/

      Reply
      • I would like to use a ring for subsurface fishing. Does the ring cause the leader to sink on dry flies? I know this would be easiest on river to change. But I still think for dry flies, the ring might cause it to sink, and on casting another bend point which transfers less momentum. Just my humble opinion, I don’t fish dries enough for it to be scientific.

        Reply
        • No, I tippet ring won’t sink the leader. I use 1.5 mm or 2 mm rings. No problem at all.

          Reply
      • So what is your current setup? You don’t use few inches of 20lb chameleon with microring all the time as the basic setup anymore?
        I am using this: flyline with loop + I change leaders with clinch knot on this line (tappered mono 9’ for dries, furled tappered leaders, 30’ tapered camoufil French nymph leaders, mono with indicator), but the loop seems to be cut with the leaders and they are attached almost only to the inner core of the loop. Should I be worried? 🙂

        Reply
        • Hi Karel,

          Nah. These days, the welded loops have gotten so good and so slim that I trust them. I have zero issues just clinch knotting to the loop. It’s the best solution by far, for all the reasons I mentioned in the article.

          Regarding that small slit in the fly line coating where you tie in the clinch, you WANT that to happen. It’s a good thing. You SHOULD be connected to the fly line core because that’s the strength of the fly line. The coating has no strength at all. So, no. Do not be worried about that. Love it.

          Cheers.
          Dom

          Reply
  5. I’ve been secretly cutting the loops off my leaders for quite a while now. I didn’t tell anyone for fear that I’d be labeled as some kind of fly fishing malcontent. I’ve been using the uni and the clinch; I never know which one will show up until my fingers start the process. It’s nice to know I have company…

    Reply
    • Good stuff.

      Reply
  6. Yep, been using it since your post about it some time ago. Think I have tried about all leader line connection over the years, but yours is my norm now.

    Reply
  7. Good stuff, Dom.

    My fly line these days tends to be cheap running line. I attach my leader to it by forming a tiny loop (1/8″) and cinching it down with 10lb. Fireline uni-knotted and super glued. The resulting loop is not much bigger than the eye of a big hook, but there’s plenty of room to tie on a length of Maxima Chameleon. It’s also super smooth.

    Reply
  8. Thanks for the affirmation. I’ve been tying my leaders directly to the loop via the clinch for a few years…..always hoping no one notices. Now I can be free!

    Reply
  9. Now, of course, my butt to fly line connection is kind of irrelevant since I use about 30′ of mono. It never comes into play unless I fall asleep and a 30″ brownie takes me far away. Ha!

    Reply
  10. You have shamed me into acknowledging that the stupid loop to loop things I have been tying for years were a product of a rigid indoctrination that never made any sense at all. How many times did I just want to tie a clinch onto the slim new loops on my line? But no, I was inhibited by conventional foolishness disguised as wisdom. Thank you. I’m free.

    Reply
  11. Had never considered a clinch. I generally clip both loops and go with a nail knot, but on stream a nail knot can be frustrating. I’m ready to try anything that keeps me fishing rather than fumbling with lines. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
    • Try a Uni-Knot. Works great as a substitute for a traditional nail knot. Actually pretty easy to tie on stream if necessary. The Uni is also my go-to for backing to fly line.

      Reply
  12. Looped leaders are best invention since sliced bread, you just love trying to be different. C’mon man, drop the god complex, you should quit fishing and become an engineer.

    Reply
  13. I still have the loop to loop but solved this problem via your suggestion of a longer butt section when throwing streamers. Now I just have 50 ft of butt section and never see the loops!

    Reply
  14. Interesting. I’ve been using a Whitlock super glue splice for years. No knot at all, and the slimmest profile possible. The Al Caucci super glue splice works too, for knotted leaders. I don’t change leaders for the season, but use one spool for dry flies, another for nymphs. I carry the extra spool in the back of my chest pack. I love Trico fishing, and I don’t want ANYTHING that might catch and pop my 7X if I have a big fish on. I like Domenick’s idea, and agree it’s better than loop to loop, but I’m probably too old to change on this one.

    Reply
  15. I’m a Uni knot man too, in Britain we call it a grinner knot. I don’t why so many people recommend four or 5 turns when 2 or 3 turns has never let me down even on fine tippet material.
    I’m also not a big fan of welded loops and cut them off, I just don’t trust them.

    Reply
    • I know what you mean. It took me a while to buy in to the welded loops.

      Reply
  16. I attach a 6-8″ length of leader butt with a needle-nail knot. I attach a 2mm tippet ring to that, and tie the leader to the tippet ring. I don’t recall the tippet ring catching in the guides. But, I don’t usually have any fly line in the guides with a mono rig.

    Reply
    • I usually start the day checking my emails to see if I have any clients needing help. I then go to card talk as 🙂 I love reading your stuff . It is so informative and gives me confidence to try these things you write about as it’s obvious you know your stuff . I have a question that does not pertain to knot connections. I’ve tried the mono line system using 20 lb amnesia. I have arthritis in my hands and don’t seem to be able to stretch the line enough to straighten it out. Does Chameleon straighten out better than amnesia ?
      Thanks
      JC

      Reply
      • My suggestion would be use the Amnesia for a butt section 12-24 inches, then tie on 40 feet or more of mono is 2, 4, 6, pound whatever you prefer. I can land 10 pound steelies on the 4 pound test mono rig, during winter of course when they are tame.

        Reply
      • That’s nice. JC.

        No, I can’t say that Chameleon is easier to straighten out than Amnesia. Personally, it doesn’t seem to take much to straighten out mono for me. But I understand what you’re saying about arthritis. You could wrap a long stretch of the leader around a tree and stretch it that way, leaning with your body weight a little . I’m sure you’ll think of something.

        Good luck.

        Dom

        Reply
      • Ha. I probably got the idea from you.

        Reply
  17. Another great article Domenick!
    I can think of one exception to use the loop to loop. I use it for swinging big flies for steelies. It is easy to change out onstream and my leaders are usually sinktips with different sink rates. Also I don’t care that the fly lands with a splash. My leaders are also only 2-4 feet in length. But now that I think about it, a welded steel loop would work even better if I can find one the right size. I’m continuing to evolve. Thank you,

    Reply
  18. Dom, I like this. Thanks. I will certainly use it for most of my rigs. Thinking about using your suggestion on my spey and skagit lines, the loop to loop connection between the shooting head and Mow tips are particularly gnarly. The idea of connecting them with a very short piece of mono with clinch knots to each loop comes to mind. What do you think?

    Reply
    • I don’t think I’d like the way that performs. Separating the mow tip and the skagit line with a piece of mono in between will give you an undesirable hinge.

      For what it’s worth, I think loop to loop is great in those situations. My beef with the loop to loop is leader to fly line when it’s in the guides.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  19. Definitely agree with the loop annoyance! Once again, you are super insightful. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
  20. If it’s not under water ,it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t have to go through any guides. KISS (keep it simple stupid)

    Reply
  21. Hi Dom, noob question: I’ve read your post on being able to change back quickly to a typical fly line and leader set up, but if I’m going all in on the mono rig, do I need a fly line? Have a new reel that I was just gonna put backing on and tie butt section to that (nail knot or similar). Thanks!

    Reply
  22. What, no feats of strength? George, quit complaining and wrestle your father! All kidding aside, great idea which I will try. Thanks

    Reply
  23. I have not dared do this on my floating lines. Since the braided core gets in contact with water I thought it would make the line sink. Am I wrong in thinking the braid will gradually wick up water or is this based on a misunderstanding of how fly lines are made?

    Reply
    • Great question. Try it with some old floating line. The line leader section is usually problematic when it comes to floating to begin with. Thanks for getting my curiosity churning.

      Reply
      • Got me thinking about how to test.
        1. Cut off two lengths of line from the back of an old wf line.
        2. Use UV Glue to seal the ends.
        3. Lay both in water for 2 hours. Check if they float.
        4. Attach Maxima 0,45mm/0.020inch to the middle of one of the lines, cut it off and repeat until you see the braid. Attach one last time. Cut it very short.
        5. Lay both in water.
        I do not know when I will have time to test though.

        Reply
    • Personally, I find the tiny bit of water on the braid to be insignificant for flotation. And there’s likely more contact with water on the blunt end of the fly line on a nail knot, unless you seal it off. Anyway, I just don’t think it matters. The braid will not wick in that much water, in my opinion.

      Dom

      Reply
      • You are right. I did the test outlined above, with a RioTrout LT. After 2 days in water there was no difference. Both lenghts still floating.

        Reply
        • Nice. Now you just have to repeat the test 99 more times to come to a scientific conclusion. 🙂

          Reply
  24. A few decades ago, I used to buy these little steel eyes that had a needle point with barbs. You pushed the needle into your fly line tip and had a metal loop that you could clinch knot the leader to. I loved that. Sleek and never hung in the guides. But the line always cracked right at the end of the little needle due to the hinging there.
    Then the loop to loop came around and I started doing that. (Newer, must be better, right?). Wrong. Found all the same issues that you identified.

    Now it’s needle knot. I cut off the welded loop and do your 12” section of leader butt with tippet ring. But on next new line, I may keep the loop and try the clinch and lose the tippet ring. One knot is sleeker than three knots. Thanks.

    Reply
  25. Guess I’m about to swear in church. I use a braided loop at the end of the fly line. Under tension the loop is not much thicker than the fly line. Smooth through the guides. The braid is as flexible as the fly line and the leader doesn’t cut into it as it can with the fly line. There braided loops for floating and sinking lines. Just be sure to use the right one. They last forever.

    Reply
    • If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. — SC

      For me, the braided loops flex too much.

      Reply
  26. There has been some great discussion on here recently.

    Reply
  27. Pointing out the shortfalls of loop to loop connections had some merit but missed one vital point, knot strength. Any conversation on connections should include it. Years ago I was tarpon fishing with Florida guide Jake Jordan. Buddy Ted was up and hooked a large tarpon on my 12 weight rod. I attached the fly line to the backing via a nail knot. The 100 pound plus tarpon parted my fly line at the backing connection. Ted lost a large tarpon and I lost a fly line. I also got a lecture large fish knots versus small fish knots. An Albright knot or loop to loop connection was recommended. Recommended emphatically.

    Has anyone done any testing on your suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks. And I understand your point. But remember, this is Troutbitten and not Tarponbitten. We are not fishing for 100 pound fish. And yes, rigging for large species like that will be very different, at times. I don’t try to cover all of that here.

      The article above is about dealing with two troubles:

      One — changing leaders on the stream, quickly and efficiently.

      Two — having a very clean connection from fly line to leader that won’t hang in the guides.

      While fishing for Tarpon, I suspect that neither of those troubles apply.

      Breaking strength of the nail knot vs needle knot vs clinch knot to the loop are largely irrelevant in trout fishing, because (in most situations) our tippet will break LONG before any of those leader to line connections do.

      Know what I mean?

      Dom

      Reply
  28. Almost any method of connecting the butt of the leader to the fly line should do, provided you test the connection to failure and record the results. I normally tie a nail knot with the leader butt because of it’s low profile, sometimes I size the connection with fly tying thread, tapering the mono and stripping the fly line end. For almost 60 years I have been looping my tippets on and off a loop knot tied at the end of the tapered leader, this loop to loop connection should be jerk tested to assure that the class tippet fails before the leader connection. My only exception is pre tapered trout leaders.

    Reply
  29. I’ve been playing with a mono knot (to the flyline loop) that’s almost a clinch, but I “loop” the mono into the fly line loop as it would be for loop to loop, then do the wraps for a clinch, passing the end through the “v” of the mono below the flyline loop. It clinches nicely, and is easy to cut off without worrying about cutting the flyline loop. I believe (without proof) that it is less likely to cut into the flyline.

    Reply
    • Cool stuff.

      But I don’t mind it cutting into the the fly line. It cuts a little slit in that loop, and I WANT that. Then I’m connected to the core, the braid, of the fly line.

      Cheers

      Dom

      Reply
  30. Can this be used for backing to fly line?

    Reply
  31. Can this be used for backing to fly line?

    Reply
  32. Being of similar attitude about my fishing, though I don’t fly fish, I’d like to share a knot i only learned of a few years ago… the Worlds Fair knot! It holds in all lines, it’s the smallest , lowest profile knot I can think of, and easier to tie than any other knot I’ve used.

    Reply
  33. Also, I do find loop to loop occasionally useful, and when I do make one, I use a modified method of my own… that being I put a half twist in the loop so it looks like a figure 8. pass the line thru the bottom loop from the back, over the cross, then thru the top loop from the front.
    Depending on line size & stiffness, you may want to use this twist on both loops or only one.

    Reply

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