Knots come with opinions. They come with failures and with baggage. And they usually come recommended by someone else. You try the knot, and it works or it fails you. So you keep it or move on.
But because the world’s collected information (and opinion) is now at everyone’s fingertips, many anglers use another approach — research. Instead of tying the knots and fishing, they read about them, find charts and videos, look for breaking strength tests and failure rates for fluoro and nylon, comparing and contrasting a time-cost/benefit analysis that factors knot strength, difficulty and reliability.
I’ll be candid. A lot of that might be overthinking things.
Find a knot your buddy recommends. Learn to tie it at home. Fish it hard for a few outings, and see how you like it. Maybe that’s all you need to do.
That said . . . here comes some advice and a long-jump down the rabbit hole of knot strength. I think it’s appropriate, because there seems to be a common anxiety about trying new knots, and a fear of the simplest knots breaking.
I love the Davy Knot. And I’ll use this as Exhibit A for knot anxiety. Why? Because there’s a widely circulated myth out there, claiming the Davy isn’t as strong as the others.
Is it? But . . . does that really matter?
From Your Fingers or From Mine?
Some of the knot tests that you’ll turn up with a Google search are pointless. They really can’t be relied upon, for a bunch of reasons that we’ll get to in a moment.
A while back I did my own tests for the breaking strength of fluorocarbon tippet material. It wasn’t a knot test but a tensile strength test. It was unscientific, it happened at my fly tying desk, but I trusted my results because I did it myself.
If you don’t have an expensive, scientific machine for testing tensile, then your stats for breaking strength are dubious at best.
Even with such a machine, data about knot strength is suspect. Why? Because knots are personal. How you tie your Clinch might be a bit different than how I tie mine. Sure, we each take five turns around the main line and then finish through that loop. But maybe you’re more careful about how you tighten the knot. Maybe I burn mine a little with too much friction. Maybe the angles are a little different.
Let’s get back to the Davy for a minute: The Davy Knot will fail if you pull on the tag at all while tightening or clipping. Inevitably, when people tell me their Davy Knots fail, this is the problem. Just a slight pull on the tag accidentally loosens the knot. And with so few wraps in a Davy, there’s really no room for error. It’s one of the simplest knots out there, but it must be tied with precision.
Gear fishermen will tell you this all day — some knots are great for nylon and bad for fluorocarbon. Some knots are an excellent choice for small and medium diameter lines but bad choices for thicker lines. And some knots are not a good choice for large diameter hooks. (The Davy is one of them.)
It’s silly to expect one knot to do everything. And it’s folly to compare knot strength without factoring everything in.
Many years ago, I had a spool of Dai Riki nylon. It was sold on brown spools and green ones — two varieties. I liked what they called “Dynamic” on the green spools best, but I bought a spool of brown because it’s all my local fly shop had. How could it be much different, right?
I painfully remember sitting on the bank the next day, after trying to tie a simple Clinch Knot with that stuff, over and over. Nothing complicated — just a Clinch. But every time, the knot slipped as I tightened it. I tried wetting the knot as usual, and I tried it dry. I tied with more turns and less. I cinched down fast and slow. It was maddening. And I cannot remember another time when I was so frustrated and exasperated on the water.
I still don’t know what was wrong with me or that tippet. But, I’ll be damned if I couldn’t tie a good knot with it when I tried a month later, either. So I threw out the brown-spooled stuff and stopped thinking about it.
What’s my point? Sometimes, certain materials just aren’t a good fit. There are intangibles in this confusing sport, and often, it’s better just to accept them.
Does Knot Breaking Strength Matter?
Sure it does. But for me, it’s not the most important thing.
In my rigs, I have multiple knots, from the fly line to the fly. Set aside the fact that I tie my own leaders and there are many knots, tapering down to a thinner line. Instead, let’s look only at the tippet section.
In my favorite Harvey Dry Leader, I have knots at 3X, 4X and 5X, then to my fly. (That’s very general, but hey, just for conversation.) Those knots are Double Surgeon’s Knots and I do not want them to fail before the Davy knot to the fly. If I hang in a tree, I want the knot at the fly to break first. If it breaks anywhere else, I’ll lose more material and more time on a rebuild.
Likewise, if I add a nymph dropper to the dry, I would like the knot at the nymph to break on a snag instead of the knot on the dry. Makes sense, right?
How about a nymphing rig with two flies, with one on a tag dropper? The same principles apply. I build my rigs so the weakest point of connection is at the point nymph. And I can achieve that with material and with my knot choice.
It’s helpful to have that control.
Back to Me and You
Knots are personal. Your Davy might be stronger than my Clinch or my Uni-Knot, and that might be for a variety of reasons.
Personally, I don’t believe any of the knot strength tests because there are too many variables. And what I know about the performance of my favorite Davy, for example, conflicts with the myth of its inferior breaking strength. My Davy’s are strong. But I don’t know about yours. That’s for you to find out.
So find your system. And choose with purpose. Learn by experimenting rather than believing in some online chart. Trust your fingers and your choices.
Fish hard, friends.
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