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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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