Fly Fishing Tips: #52 — Clip it, unravel it and retie it

by | May 12, 2019 | 26 comments

The nymphing was good. Although trout ignored caddis on top, they were eager underneath, darting and swirling in multiple levels of the water column. An occasional wild brown trout broke the surface, but Dad and I knew better than to switch to dries. The rise forms were nothing more than the backs of trout poking through the surface after taking emergers a few inches underneath. It was a fun morning.

I stood midstream, watching rays of scattered sunlight highlighting a haze of pollen from budding plants. They’d finally found enough warmth to make a break for it in this late spring season, and the air had the sweet smell of blossoms, mixed with damp earth.

After a few perfect(ish) drifts in likely water with no takers, I brought in my line, clipped the tippet and adjusted, creating the tag for my upper nymph a foot higher than it had been. As the trout grew more active, it seemed their swirls of activity were happening higher in the column.

I tied the knots and watched Dad fishing thirty yards upstream. A few good drifts, and Dad set the hook among the dancing caddis. But the hook found a rock underneath rather than any trout’s jaw. He waded a few steps upstream to get the rod tip ahead of the flies and then pulled. The flies popped out, followed the flexing rod tip and landed in a leafless tree limb. Dad’s frustration showed as he now tugged the rod tip back down toward the water. A few pulls later, two nymphs and a Dorsey yarn indicator wrapped around Dad’s rod tip and fouled up.

From his shaking head and dropped shoulders, I could tell Dad was into one hell of a mess.

READ: Troutbitten | You’re in too far now

He walked the rod back to the bank, laid the reel on a stone, peered through his glasses and started working on the muddle of line and tangled flies. I kept fishing but was distracted enough by Dad’s struggles that I lost track of my goals. Five minutes later Dad hadn’t moved, so I waded upstream to meet him.

“I know, I know,” he said as I approached. “I should just cut the whole thing off and start over. But I almost have it.”

Dad tugged on a dangling piece of line among the swirled mess of tippet. I walked up to him with my nippers in hand, grabbed the first nymph and clipped it off. As he began to protest, I clipped off the second nymph, then slid the Dorsey and rubber band away from the line, storing each of them in the working box attached to my vest.

“Hey, come on, Dom,” Dad objected. “I said I almost had it.” But when I unraveled the line, tied the flies back on and reattached the Dorsey in about a minute, Dad nodded.

“Crazy how you do that so easily,” he chuckled.

But that’s what he always says.

I see this all the time, and it shocks me how many good fishermen think they’re saving time by untangling a maze of monofilament and flies. They use forceps and fingernails. Some even carry needles specifically for the job of picking out would-be knots.

Most guys see their options as a pair of choices: either cut off the whole thing and re-rig with new lengths of tippet, or try to salvage it all by spending enough time working the messy knots and tangles free.

But I promise you, there’s a third option. And it’s much better than the other two.

Snip off the flies. Remove any split shot, and take off the indy, if one is attached. Get everything off the line, leader and tippet, and it all works free pretty easily — usually. Fluorocarbon especially seems to have a magical ability to unravel in the face of even the nastiest mess, once all the attachments are removed.

It works. I promise. It saves material and time. Lots of it.

Tie the flies back on with a Davy and wade back into the flow to fish among those dancing caddis.

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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26 Comments

  1. I, too, used to sit on that bankside rock and pick away. It’s the way I was raised; clean up your messes. It took too long, I knew that. The day I finally got disgusted enough to defy the catechisms of my grandfather and clip off the whole offending mess was a revelation. Truly a Homer Simpson moment for me: “D’oh!” Clip it off, tie on another, go fish. So much easier.

    Reply
    • Cheers

      Reply
  2. As you are wont to say, Dom, “right on.”
    Alex

    Reply
    • Yup

      Reply
  3. I started doing that when I starting using the Davy. Before that, I avoided retying anything like the plague. Now it’s a no-brainer.

    Reply
    • Whatever knots we choose, it’s best to tie like lightning!

      Reply
  4. Yep! Good advice, once again. I’ve noticed more and more guides using this procedure.

    My other plan is to carry made up rigs in a fly wallet (or multi CD case) Clip the tangle to salvage the flies and tippet ring later that night and you are one knot away from a new rig. The whole idea is to maximize your line’s time in the water. (“You can’t catch fish unless your line is in the water.”)

    Just be careful unfurling the pre-made rig. Otherwise you will have TWO TANGLES!

    Be safe. Fish big.

    Reply
    • Ha. Good point.

      Reply
  5. Domenick, yes, clipping before untangling saves time and nerves! I’m now using a double Davy all the time, though, after a buddy, who I trust fully, spend many hours and yards of tippet testing the Davy against the double Davy. His conclusion was that the double is always stronger. And it just takes a second more to put in the extra step. Looking forward to fishing with you next month. Just hope the streams come down a bit.

    Reply
    • I also use the double Davy, I use my forceps to tie it in seconds.

      Reply
    • Whenever the hook eye wire has a large diameter the Double Davy must be used to prevent slippage. That extra turn only takes an extra second or two so don’t take chances.

      A simple comparative knot strength test can be conducted by tying the two competing knots at each end of a length of tippet. Grip each hook using pliers and apply tension until one knot fails. Repeat several times and you will soon discover which is the better knot for your specific tippet material, hooks, and even your technique.

      If you are looking for a super fast and reliable splicing knot check out the relatively new Infinity Tippet Knot on youtube.

      Reply
      • Thanks, I’ll take a look at the Infinity knot. Tor leader to tippet I typically use a Ligature Knot, as described in Art Sheck’s book Fly Fish Better. For me it has proven to be the strongest leader to tippet knot I’ve tried so far, and I especiallly like it for 7X when Trico fishing. It’s a bit of a pain to learn, but after a few years it’s gotten much faster. I don’t use it when I need a tag though, not knowing if pressure on tags would blow up the knot. For tags I’ll use a triple surgeons, or a blood knot.

        Reply
  6. YEP! Been doing just that for years with the messy ones!

    Reply
  7. I discovered this technique a couple year ago and it works “mostly”, if you don’t end up with tippet, that doesn’t look like you took it out of the trash bin? I’m on the water a LOT and it’s just as fast to cut and retie for me, you should probably be adjusting 5-10 times at least a session, if you cover a lot of water anyway.

    Reply
  8. Domenick,

    Thanks for your continued great tips!

    Reply
    • Cheers, Norman.

      Reply
  9. The davy is well known to be a very weak knot and to break at well below test strength. Not to say this is not a good knot to use, the tippet & time saved may make it well worth while. I take advantage of it’s “poor properties” by using it as the knot to attach my flies to the tippet. However I always use a stronger knot (trilene knot, etc) to attach my fluoro tippet to my tippet ring at the end of my mono rig. This way if I get hung up and need to break off, the break is always at the level of the attachment point of the fly & I just have to tie a new fly on rather than rebuilding my whole fluoro tippet section. Saves time.

    Reply
    • I get your point there, and that’s a good strategy.

      I do take issue with the assertion that the Davy is “well known to be a very weak knot.” In my fishing circle, it is not known to be weak, but a strong and reliable knot. It serves us well.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Curious if you have seen the “objective” data on the original Davy knot where breaking strengths of various knots are tested under pseudo-scientific conditions (i’ll grant you that it is not perfect). This has primarily originated in the saltwater fishing community although there are examples of this in the fly fishing community as well (see links below). The testing in the saltwater community scared me away of using the Davy on a regular basis for my surf fishing with bait…in that situation anything from 1 to 50lbs can pick up your bait and if your leader is 30lb test fluoro you need the best performing knot possible. Obviously the knot testing conditions are not analogous to real world fishing situations either. Knot strength is minimally important in the type of trout fishing I do anyways.

        https://www.yellowstoneangler.com/gear-review/tippet-shootout-seaguar-grandmax-trouthunter-orvis-mirage-riopowerflex-pline-dairiki-varivas-sa-climax-maxima-froghair-stoft-umpqua

        http://www.troutnut.com/topic/8216/Homage-to-Louis-the-Davy-Knot-revisited

        Reply
        • Good stuff, Greg.

          You said:
          “Knot strength is minimally important in the type of trout fishing I do anyways.”

          I pretty much agree with that. I know what you mean there.

          Regarding that Yellowstone test link. I didn’t read but just scanned. The first thing I see is the hanger hooks they tied the knots to. That wouldn’t really work with the Davy Knot. Too thick. For me, I use the Davy knot up to about a size 6 hook. After that, I use other knots because the wire is too thick. Also regarding the saltwater tests. I don’t use the Davy in thick diameters either. Anything over about 12 lb, and I use a different knot.

          That’s just me, but like most of us, I have my reasons.

          A while back I wrote an article about the Davy knot, and people questioned it’s strength then too (as they do with any knot). Davy Wotten sent me some test result links, and I’ll see if I can dig them up again.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          THanks for the links.

          H

          Reply
  10. Just wondering if the Davy knot can be used off the bend of a hook for dry and dropper? Been using clinch knots but they can be a pain in the …

    Reply
    • Depends on the size of the hook wire, really. On most of my trout hooks, down to about size 8, I use the Davy, and yes, I’d tie off the bend with it. If it slips while tightening, then you’ll know the wire is too thick for the standard Davy knot.

      Cheers. Dom

      Reply
  11. This is such a great tip that can’t be repeated enough. Even though I know better I still catch myself getting sucked in. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Thanks, Dom. Works like a charm. Not only does it save time, it limits frustration, which makes for better casting after getting things sorted. Cheers!

    Reply
  13. Always a dilemma in the past, and have thought of doing this, now I will definitely be trying this.

    Reply
  14. I was doing a search for “lighting” and this posting popped up. Oh does it resonate. This is my experience with my buddy. I clip the flies off, unravel and retie. He throws the rod down in frustration or cursing or both and pulls out new leader or tippet and reties. Painful to watch but now comical. I’ve helped him in the past for which he is thankful. He’s years and years ahead of me in time and years on the water except on this. I’m now using the Davy and he continues to use the improved clinch. His eyesight is getting worse (as is mine) and often misties and loses flies. I’m going to try to teach him the Davy and since my name is Dave maybe he’ll use it.

    Now back to my lighting search. FYI found a great desktop led lamp on a-zon for just under 20 that is the bees knees. Terrible name for a great light, Crystallin
    Gold97 True-Color LED Task Light, but what a difference it has made.

    Reply

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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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