Six Knots to Know for Trout Anglers on the Fly

by | Jan 31, 2021 | 39 comments

One simple thing can change an angler’s enjoyment and success on the water, maybe more than any other — knot tying skill. But I meet too many otherwise excellent fly anglers who complain about knots or lament the amount of time it takes to make tactical transitions on the river.

I stand by my assertion that fast knot tying is achievable to anyone. And like so many things in life, success comes down to practice. How many times have you tied a blood knot? Have you sat down away from the water and tied dozens of knots, trying to find a better way to make the turns? If it takes longer than a minute, then you’re wasting time. And if something isn’t easy, you won’t want to do it out there — nobody does. So you avoid making the necessary changes, and you fail (catch no trout) when you could easily succeed (catch a bunch of trout).

For trout anglers on a fly rod, the barrier for entry stands at two knots: the Davy Knot and a Double Surgeon’s. Once those are learned, four more knots can round out the list: Clinch Knot, Blood Knot, Uni Knot and Orvis Tippet Knot. With these versatile knots under the fingers, every trout angler can meet any situation with the best tools.

What, when, why and how? Here’s a rundown of the knots to know.

Davy Knot

Attaching the fly is the exciting part, right? All the other leader knots set up this final moment. When attaching the fly, we want a knot that is strong, easy to perform and wastes little material.

That’s the Davy Knot.

I’ve detailed my affinity for the Davy in a previous article. There’s nothing more efficient than a Davy Knot.

You can tie it with a little as a quarter inch of waste. So it saves material, and that saves time.

At three moves, the Davy is as fast and simple as it gets. And the low profile knot allows flies to flex more at the tippet.

Any complaints about knot strength are usually solved by being more careful when cutting the tag. The tag should not be pulled while clipping, as it will unseat the knot. Remember, the Davy is just three moves, after all. So don’t undo it by pulling the tag — not even a little bit.

READ: Troutbitten | Learn the Davy Knot — Here’s Why

Surgeon’s

Two overhand knots. Could it really be that elementary? I didn’t know the Surgeon’s knot until I’d already been using a Blood Knot to join materials for years. Woody Banks of Indiana Angler chuckled when he saw my blood knots in the skinny tippet section of my leader. And he immediately showed me a better way.

I use the Surgeon’s Knot to join material diameters of 2X or less. In thicker material, the knot is a bit too clunky to slip through the guides well.

Two overhand knots. Yes, it really is that simple.

READ: Troutbitten | Efficiency: Part One — Knots

The Clinch

The Clinch Knot is probably the world’s most popular fishing knot — and for good reason. It’s easy and effective.

My Dad taught me the Clinch before kindergarten, and I still use it for attaching material to tippet rings. I like the bit of taper, compared to a Davy.

When using thick diameter mono to attach night flies or extra large streamers, I most often use the Clinch because the Davy tends to slip in diameters larger than .011”. I could use a Double Davy here, but I use the Clinch Knot. I think, just for nostalgia.

I also use a three or four turn Clinch Knot to attach my leaders to the fly line. Yes, that’s right. Here’s what I mean:

READ: Troutbitten | Loop to Loop is Bad — Try this instead

Blood Knot

This is probably the hardest one on the list. But, like any knot, it becomes routine once your fingers know the motions.

I use a Blood Knot for joining material diameters larger than 2X. Blood Knots form the junction in most of my hand-tied leaders. And I occasionally use it for thin diameters when bad things happen astream, and I must splice tippet with the flies attached.

I heard a tip from Joe Humphreys so many years ago that made learning the Blood Knot easier. The pinky and ring fingers are the holders, and the thumb, index and middle fingers are the workers. Think about that. In truth, It applies to many different knots. The holder fingers keep the main line out of the way, and the worker fingers perform the motions.

Orvis Tippet Knot

While the Surgeon’s knot is fast and functional, it has one main failing. Tag flies cannot be tied on the upper-facing tag, or the knot will break. Instead, tag flies must be attached to the down-facing tag of a Surgeon’s Knot.

That down-facing tag is made from the mainline end, and not the added in end. (The same is true for a Triple Surgeon’s, by the way.) So adding a tag this way costs about six inches of the mainline tippet section. And that’s inefficient.

On the contrary. The Orvis Tippet Knot allows for the up-tag to function as the dropper for the tag fly. It will not break when used this way. The tag length also comes from the added in line. That’s perfect, because you need only waste an inch or less of mainline to attach a new piece of tippet and have a tag length as long as you like. Life is good.

The Orvis Tippet Knot is what I use for creating dropper tags. I use the Surgeon’s Knot for all other junctions in tippet material.

READ: Troutbitten | Tags and Trailers

Uni Knot

In truth, the Uni Knot could cover all your knot needs on the stream. It’s useful for attaching flies and is a bit stronger than the Clinch or Davy. It also works well for joining materials. (Most refer to this variation as the Double Uni Knot.)

I don’t use the Uni Knot for these cases, because it simply takes longer to tie. So I prefer the knots listed above. But the Uni Knot is a problem-solver. And I use it in two specific cases, on a daily basis.

When my dropper tag becomes too short, I often add a new tag with a Uni Knot. I call this an add on line, and the Uni Knot slides down to butt against the existing knot, creating a new tag. It’s an excellent, quick solution.

READ: Troutbitten | The Add On Line

Lastly, I use the Uni Knot as a stopper knot. The Backing Barrel that I employ so frequently is formed as a Uni Knot. And I often use a Uni Knot of 3X nylon, with the tags trimmed, to make a tiny, moveable barrel to stop split shot from sliding on thin tippet.

READ: Troutbitten | The Backing Barrel and Sliding Stopper Knot

Know Your Knots

The above list is not meant to be a comprehensive list of options. Instead, these are the knots I use on a daily basis. And while the list could arguably stop at two, it would be missing some of the useful knots that round out my list. Your list is probably different than mine, and if you have a solution for every situation that you face, you should keep it.

Most glaring is my purposeful omission of any loop knot. I’ve removed loops from all my leader rigging, so I have no need for a Perfection Loop. Likewise, I rarely use loop knots for attaching streamers because, after many years of testing, I don’t believe they make a difference. But a Non-Slip Mono Loop is my occasional tool.

It really takes no more than the above six knots to get things done on the water. Practice all of these until your fingers have a memory for them. Keep tippet spools and old flies on your coffee table, and tie fifty knots as you relax in the evening. All it takes is repetition. And once you have a knot down, you’ll never forget it.

Finally, wet every knot, pull tight all the ends, and trim those tags tight. If the knot is seated well, there’s no reason for stubby tags.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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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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39 Comments

  1. These 4 knots do it all:

    As you stated, the Davy knot has slippage issues in larger hook wire diameters. The Double Davy knot has solved that problem. Using the “pinch method” it can be tied in just seconds.

    (Nostalgia aside, the Clinch and Improved Clinch knots should be relegated to the list that includes horse hair tippet, silk fly lines, and click pawl fly reels)

    Four different tippet splicing knots can all be replaced with the superior Infinity Tippet knot.

    The Non-Slip Loop knot should be included for heavy tippets/streamers and for creating leader loops.

    The Uni-Knot is a superior substitute for the Nail knot when joining backing to fly line.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Clinch is for leader attachment.

      The “superior Infinity Tippet knot” is the Orvis Tippet Knot. But I would not use it for thicker leader diameters. Too clunky. That’s why we need both.

      A Nail Knot is essentially a Uni-Knot with a nail.

      Dom

      Reply
      • The ITK is NOT the same as the Orvis knot. Simpler, faster stronger.

        Reply
        • It actually is. They both result in an infinity or figure eight look. The Orvis Tippet Knot has one more turn through the hole.

          Dom

          Reply
    • Try a Jack’s Knot. It toes in five sure itseconds to tie, uses very little tippet, and is very strong in all lines. Make sure that it is tied the corYourect way. See YouTube video Jack’s Knot tied Correctly. You can also make a non-slip loop knot using it

      Reply
    • I too use the Double Davy Knot for attaching the fly. I tried the Davy Knot a long time ago. It slipped. I fully accept that it was probably my mis-tying somehow that caused it to slip, but I couldn’t have that. I then discovered the Double Davy. It doesn’t slip on me at all. I neva’ looked back! I haven’t tried tying the Davy in several years. I imagine it can be done more quickly while also leaving a shorter tag. I usually get about a 3/4 inch tag the way I tie the DDK. That’s acceptable to me. It’s superior reliability trumps everything.

      Reply
    • Great article. The Davy Knot is objectively the best knot on the river, and no one can convince me otherwise. I have landed some hogs in heavy current on 5x tied with a Davy to #22 nymphs. I’m sure there are technically stronger knots, but it’s very reliable and absurdly fast and easy to tie–which means you can change when needed and catch more fish.

      Honestly, the only knots I use these days are the Uni and the Davy in almost all my setups. The Uni attaches the leader to a tippet ring, a Davy attaches the tippet to the ring, and then it’s Davy knots all the way down the line because I am usually tying off the bend of the first fly. No complaints.

      I will say, though, that the one place I disagree here is on streamers. I think loop knots provide better hook-up ratesbwhen strip setting. My theory is that the little bit of additional motion allows the hook to sink into the mouth at an angle rather than being pulled straight forward with a standard knot.

      The best knot I’ve found for streamer loops is the old-school jam knot. It’s basically just two overhand knots. Couldn’t be simpler.

      Thanks for the read!

      Reply
  2. Thanks Dom, very helpful. I am efficient at the clinch and surgeons, but you make a strong case to learn the others. The other knot I use often that you didn’t mention, is the perfection loop. I actually use it for two things, 1. When I need to make a loop to loop connection, which you don’t do, you clinch know to the loop, and I also use it to put a streamer on my tippet if I want it hanging off a loop. I know I should probably be using the non-slip loop knot for this, but… I can tie the perfection loop quickly, and I haven’t lost a fish yet, so I have been too lazy to learn the other. Maybe 2021 will bring a change.

    Reply
  3. For practicing knots, I’ll save a sufficiently long section of used tippet after a day fishing. People at the park where my kids play have asked, “Are you making jewelry?” I love the Orvis Tippet Knot dropper, and the Davy Knot for flies. The Davy has reduced my laziness when it comes to changing flies — with minimal tippet loss, there’s one less reason not to do it.

    I’ve done little tests using a ruler to figure out where various knots seat in comparison to where I start them. It’s probably slightly different for everyone. My blood knot ends up 1.5 inches from the initial crossing point, on each section (they both get longer), and my Orvis Tippet Knot cinches down 3 inches toward the point, making the upward tag significantly longer than it initially was, and the point section shorter (for a 7 inch tag, I start with a 4 inch one). Knowing this has helped me curse less.

    Thanks for another cool article. And yes, we should capitalize knot names.

    Reply
      • Domenick. Give this a try for a slidable dry dropper.See what you think.Tie a short section of tippet onto your main line.Using a 2 turn clinch knot.Bite or trim the upper pointing tag off.Then half hitch your dropper round the main line below. Then half hitch round the main line above.Pull tight & you have
        a strong slidable dropper sticking out at 90 degrees .Seen this knot from a comp fisher.Best one i have used for dry dropper.

        Reply
          • Yes used your one for a few years.Both are good.The knot.i mentioned you don’t need the barrel below.Haven’t been using this new one long.But it seems strong & durable. Time will tell.Cheers

          • Excellent. Let me know how it works out.

            Dom

  4. Pitzen knot for tippet to hook. Easy and much stronger than the Davy knot.

    Reply
    • Hi Kerry,

      The Davy is strong when tied well. It saves material and saves time. The Pitzen is many more moves and wastes more material. I acknowledge that it is stronger. Sometimes, I don’t care about that. Our priorities are likely different.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Okay, alright, I’ll try the Davy again! But man, if it slips, I’ll blame you! Seriously, though, one time I criticized the Davy on a forum. Davy replied to me! “Mate, it doesn’t slip if if you tie it properly.” The two points, though, you’ve convinced me it may be worth tying over the AT LEAST SOMEWHAT MORE RELIABLE Double Davy is in speed of tying and in the very short tag end. Both of those details make me more reluctant to change flies probably more than I should be. The DD is quite easy to tie AND IT DOESN’T SLIP, but if I understand you right, the Davy is quicker and easier. Now the thing is, I can live with it being slightly weaker, for the points you’ve made about that. I cannot live with it if it’s going to be unreliable, ie, slip.

        Reply
  5. Dom, after a buddy spent weeks testing the Davy vs. the Double Davy, and found the doubled knot to always be stronger, I always double mine. I’ve broken a few Davy knots with big fish, and one study found the Davy to be relatively weak in comparison to the clinch and other typical knots. A favorite Delaware guide uses the Duncan; I’ll check it out, and I appreciate your comment on the Orvis. I’m going to learn it for droppers!

    Reply
    • Hi Louis,

      Thanks for the input. For me, the Davy is about time saved and material saved. That’s why I use it.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
    • The Duncan (loop) knot is the same as a pre-cinched Uni-Knot. If you want to use a loop knot the Non-Slip is the strongest available. Using the Double Davy makes the weakest link in your system the tippet splicing knot you select. Give the Infinity Tippet knot a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the ease/speed and strength.

      Reply
      • In truth, I WANT the tippet-to-hook knot to be the weakest in my system. I don’t want to break off somewhere further up the leader.

        Reply
        • If you go with a relatively weak tippet-to-fly knot (like the Davy or Clinch) to ensure it’s the weakest link then you will risk losing more fish to break-offs than with a max strength knot t-t-f knot.

          I’ll take a stronger “weakest link” every time.

          Reply
        • It seems to me that a break off at the hook gives the fish its best chance of surviving. I’ve seen fish continue to fight against a length of leader still attached to the hook to the point of exhaustion, which can’t be good for their chances. Also, this leaves less trash when you have to break off on a snag.

          Reply
  6. A question, not a comment. When you tie the uni as an “add on” what tag do you use for the dropper? The top or bottom tag?

    Reply
      • Learned a lot from your article but the Humphreys holder worker tip was tops. BTW, got the G3 vest. Sorry to retire the Columbia but excited to have the new buck. Get more stickers ready.

        Reply
  7. Dom, your timing on recycling this article is perfect! 2 reasons…Heading out for a week of wade fishing the lower Arkansas River with buddies today and, more importantly, your explanations of the “when’s” and “why’s” have convinced me to think beyond my “2 knot arsenal.” As always…thanks Brother!

    Reply
  8. I’m a little confused by the “ That down-facing tag is made from the mainline end, and not the added in end.” maybe I’ve been doing it wrong…I run the main tippet straight to point fly, and use the bottom tag of a second piece of tippet, triple surgeon knotted higher onto the leader, for the dropper. I’ve been doing it wrong again, haven’t I?

    Reply
      • Thanks for that. The mono rig has been blowing my mind, thank you.

        Reply
  9. So this one has been bugging me a while and I just revisited this. I’ve seen the Orvis tippet knot tied two different ways, both of which are posted on the Orvis website. One (how I’ve been tying it) is the video you showed in this article and the other https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GytDgOTfIWY is the other way I’ve seen it tied with an extra loop around the line prior to doubling through the created loop. Any thoughts on this? Which way do you end up tying this knot? Maybe I’m missing something. I want to make sure I have been tying the correct knot. I’ve seen videos show it done both ways but maybe they’re the same but I’m having trouble seeing how.

    Reply
    • I’m bothered by this as well! Curious to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.

      Reply
      • I’m confused on which is the more appropriate way to tie the orvis tippet knot—the way shown in this article or the other way with the extra wrap shown in the Pete Kutzer video

        Reply
      • I promise, it’s the same knot and tying procedure in both of those videos, just a different perspective.

        Reply
    • Curious about this as well.

      Reply
    • Thanks for your question. Respectfully, both videos show the same knot, just at different angles. Essentially, one video shows knot loops down and the other up. Knot videos can be confusing that way. I always recommend finding the way you naturally tie your other knots, looking critically at the video, sometimes with a mirror image kind of perspective, then learn to tie the new knot.

      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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