Six Knots to Know for Trout Anglers on the Fly

by | Jan 31, 2021 | 24 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.

Buy Simms boots here, and support Troutbitten

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.

 

** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.

 

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

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

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.

Apparel

Stickers

Books

George Daniel’s new book,
Nymph Fishing.
Purchase here to support Troutbitten.

More from this Category

Levels, Resets and New Beginnings

Levels, Resets and New Beginnings

The frequent chance for a purely new beginning is one of the joys of small to medium sized rivers. It keeps us hopeful. Forgiveness comes at the next level — across the next lip. This is the time for a deep breath and renewed determination. Because in the next level, over fresh trout that are unwise to our presence, all of our plans will come together. This we believe . . .

Leaders in the Troutbitten Shop

Leaders in the Troutbitten Shop

Troutbitten leaders are now available in the Troutbitten Shop. These are hand tied leaders in four varieties: Harvey Dry Leader, Standard Mono Rig, Thin Mono Rig, and Micro-Thin Mono Rig. Standard Sighters are also available, and they include a Backing Barrel. The Full Mono Rig Kit contains each of the three Mono Rig leaders.

All Troutbitten leaders come on a three-inch spool, making long leader changes a breeze.

Design and Function of the Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig

Design and Function of the Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig

Here, finally, is a full breakdown on the design of my favorite leader. It’s built for versatility without compromising presentation. It’s a hybrid system with an answer for everything, ready for fishing nymphs on both a tight line and under an indy. It fishes streamers large and small, with every presentation style. It’s ready for dry dropper, wet flies, and it even casts single dry flies. All of these styles benefit greatly with a tight line advantage.

Anglers in contact are anglers in control. It’s fun and effective, because we know where the flies are, and we choose where they go next . . .

VIDEO | Streamers on the Mono Rig: Episode 2 — Casting

VIDEO | Streamers on the Mono Rig: Episode 2 — Casting

The Troutbitten video series, Streamers on the Mono Rig continues with Episode Two, covering the unique possibilities and the demands of casting.

Fishing streamers on the Mono Rig offers anglers ultimate control over the direction and action of their flies — all the way through the drift. And while small streamers may need nothing more than a nymphing-style cast, mid-sized and full-sized streamers require a few changes in casting to get the most from the technique . . .

You Need Contact

You Need Contact

Success in fly fishing really comes down to one or two things. It’s a few key principles repeated over and over, across styles, across water types and across continents. The same stuff catches trout everywhere. And one of those things . . . is contact.

. . . No matter what adaptations are made to the rig at hand, the game is about being in touch with the fly. And in some rivers, contact continues by touching the bottom with something, whether that be a fly or a split shot. Without contact, none of this works. Contact is the tangible component between success and failure.

Streamer Presentations — The Touch and Go

Streamer Presentations — The Touch and Go

Want to get deep? Want to be sure the fly is low enough? Try the Touch and Go.

Sometimes, I don’t drift or strip the streamer all the way through. Instead, I plot a course for the fly, looking through the water while reading the river’s structure. And I look for an appropriate landing zone for the Touch and Go . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

24 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
  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
  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
  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

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Apparel

Stickers

Books

George Daniel’s new book,
Nymph Fishing.
Purchase here to support Troutbitten.

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.

Pin It on Pinterest