Being a versatile angler comes down to changing things. And on the river, that means tying knots. Maybe the situation calls for a fly change, requiring just one knot. But maybe we need to change leaders and tie a few knots to rebuild a tippet section, modifying it to suit the situation.
Knot tying is a basic skill for every angler. And perhaps nothing holds more fishermen back from taking the next step.
Good anglers need the facility to tie knots, with ease. Because if it isn’t easy, you won’t do it. None of us will.
I meet a lot of anglers with excuses for why they’re bad at tying knots. But the truth is, I think they haven’t thought through the difficulties and then found the right solutions.
That’s what this article and video are here to address. I have fifteen tips for you. This is my best advice for tying quick, clean, strong knots.
And regardless of your experience level, there are likely a couple points here that you haven’t considered. Because we all find our own way of doing things, our own systems, our own tips and tricks. Regardless of an angler’s experience level, we can all learn from each other when it comes to our systems, rhythms and efficiencies.
Watch the video, and then find a breakdown of all fifteen tips below. And if you have your own knot tying tips, leave them in the comments section below.
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A Few Simple Knots
Basic knots, tied well. That’s what you need. Knots for connecting lines and knots for connecting flies, those are your categories.
This is trout fishing, so you don’t need complicated knots like a Bimini Twist, a Palomar or a Pitzen. If you like those knots, and you tie them well, don’t let me stop you from tying them. This is about finding your system and your own enjoyment. For me, keeping my knots simple wins the day.
Here are my choices:
For merging lines together
- Blood Knot
- Double Surgeon’s Knot
- Orvis Tippet Knot
For attaching the fly
- Davy Knot
- Clinch Knot
- Non-Slip Mono Loop
Honorable mention goes to the Uni-Knot. Learn that one, and you can really do everything with it. Hence, the moniker.
Holders and Workers
Decades ago, I learned this from Joe Humphreys on a VHS tape. The thumb, index and middle fingers on your hands are the workers. And the ring and pinky fingers are your holders.
This concept applies to all knots, all the time. Holding extra line out of the way with your holders allows the workers to do their job.
Watch the video above to see this in action.
Don’t Save Material — Save Time
The most valuable thing in your life is time. So save it.
For years, I tried to save tippet material by tying knots with just a few inches of slack. Later, I tried to save tippet, because I wanted to get multiple fly changes from a short piece of tippet.
Both of these issues are solved by learning how to tie simple knots (like the ones listed above) with extra slack, then tightening them down with short tags.
Pinch the Loop at the Hook Eye
When attaching a new fly, run line through the hook eye, and then grab the loop with your workers. Let the holders hold the fly, concealed in your hand. The workers are then in charge of the loop diameter and manipulation.
Gain control by pinching that loop.
Gotta See It
I had forty years with perfect eyesight — that was fun. Now I wear contacts, cheaters or both to really see the knots I must tie.
I fought the change for about a year. Then I surrendered and found a system. I use Clic Readers on any fly about #14 and under.
Whatever it takes, do it.
You can’t tie what you can’t see. So once you have the necessary correction or magnification (if needed), then find the right background to provide contrast against the monofilament in your hands.
This is easy. Glare and light backgrounds usually provide poor visibility, while darker backgrounds make your work visible. Find that contrast.
Use Both Hands and Learn the Finger Roll
You might be very right-hand dominant. That’s fine, but have the discipline to use both hands.
Don’t handicap yourself. Take the time to learn the basic motions with both hands. And the most basic motion in knot tying is the finger roll.
The finger roll is a simple pass of the line from one worker finger to the next, over and over.
Watch the video above for a good look at the finger roll. And learn it with BOTH hands.
Use Your Mouth
Sometimes you need a third hand. Using your mouth allows for reposition of leader pieces or holding part of it out of the way. It’s also how we moisten every knot before tightening.
Knot tying tools slow you down more than help out. Reaching for a tool or your forceps will never be as quick or efficient as relying on your fingers. Those are your ten best tools.
Once trained, nothing is faster than your fingers.
What To Pull
Every knot has its own particulars. And how a knot is best tightened is critically important.
Most knots should be tightened by pulling on the main line only. Pull on the tag of a Davy or a Clinch, and you’ll unseat the knot. But other knots, such as a Double Surgeon’s, must have all four ends tight before clipping.
Speed of Seating
The speed at which you tighten a knot matters. Too fast, and you might burn the line and weaken the knot. Too slow, and the material can unravel before the knot tightens.
Learn the various speeds for each knot. The differences can be subtle, and the material matters too.
Align and Tighten
There are two steps for tying a good knot. First, make the wraps and motions, then tighten the knot.
Alignment of those wraps and loops is part one. Do it right, then take a look at it. If the alignment is ready, then moisten the knot and tighten.
Clip Tags Flush
Tags on knots are unnecessary. If you’ve tied a good knot, then learn to trust it. A good knot won’t slip, so clip it flush.
Tag ends, especially in leader sections, hang up in the rod guides. Tag ends tangle the leader and grab vegetation too. So clip ‘em flush.
Fewer Turns In Thicker Diameters
Knots should be variable, suiting the diameter of the line they’re tied with.
A Clinch Knot, for example, needs just three or four turns in fifteen pound mono, while a good Clinch needs five to six wraps in 5X.
The same holds true with a Blood Knot.
Too many turns in thick material weakens the knot, because the extra wraps don’t have room to tighten down properly.
While standing in water, don’t allow tension from the line in the current. Tension only makes things harder for the holder fingers, and too often the line slips through and closes the loops and turns prematurely.
I still make this mistake every day.
Practice knots at home and be ready on the water. There are enough daily challenges on a river, and we don’t need the added frustration of failing knots. Build confidence at home, at work or anywhere else besides the river.
Tie a hundred Blood Knots, and you’ll have the finger roll in both hands. Tie a hundred Davy Knots, and you’ll learn the trick of tightening down all that extra slack leaving just a tiny tag to clip.
Learn to tie clean knots and tie them fast. Because when you can, it’s a lot more fun on the water.
Fish hard, friends.
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