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.
READ: Troutbitten | Six Knots to Know for Trout Anglers on the Fly
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.
READ: Troutbitten | Efficiency: Part 1 — Knots
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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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
I don’t use the pitzen for tippet to fly, but for tippet to tippet ring it can’t be beat…i want my strongest knot at that junction. There is a method to tie it with forceps that makes it so easy, literally 3 seconds…
exactly agree .. I use the knot called pitzner /penny/16/20 both ends leader and mainline the the tippet ring.. Davy knot still easiest for small flies.
pitzen pitzner pretzel knot .. just try them all lol
There ya go.
Finding contrast – rotate so that you’re tying in your shadow.
Ooooo. I like that. Thank you.
Bangin’ video. Very utilitarian, very well done. Straightforward and to the point. Love it. Thank you.
Thank you! That’s the idea!
Knot tying is often overlooked but it’s so fundamental to success. I’ve never been a good knot tier, and at my age (66) sometimes it can be a challenge. I spend time at my kitchen table tying the same knot over and over. I figured out the contrast thing some time ago; game changer. I use 3.5x magnification readers on the water. I guess what I’m saying is if I can tie a #24 Adams on a 7x tippet, anyone can!
Thanks for another great video and article Dom. I find that being good at just the few knots has allowed me the freedom to change tactics as often as I need to rather than just sticking with something that isn’t producing. Rigging is my least favorite part of fishing, but definitely a skill that must be cultivated. In the winter in particular, I do use forceps often with the Davy because its such a quick wind and pull that its only slightly slower than my fingers, and in the winter my fingers thank me. One question though, I could swear that when I start getting into 5x and smaller diameters, the clinch knot seems to pull out often. Has that been your experience, or am I not using enough turns, or just need more practice? On thicker diameter line I’ve not had this happen, so pretty sure the knot is right. I’ve heard varying opinions on this.
I need 5-6 turns on a Clinch in 5X.
The Knot-Needle is a great tool. Learn to use it and you won’t go back.
Good stuff. Glad it works for you. I have one of those. Learned to use it well. But I went back to my fingers. I just like the freedom of not needing anything more.
Great stuff Dom. When learning new knots its good to tie with a piece of rope or string to practice so that you fully understand how the knot works before moving to tippet. You can learn the movements of tying the knots, untie, tie again and again. Do this while watching tv and you can get to the point where you tie them without thinking and find the best way for you to tie them. When you are fishing you don’t even have to think about it.
My tip is embrace rigging, own it, take self pride in it. I watched an Utah guide rebuild my 3 fly bounce rig about 15 years ago and remember thinking “I could never do that”. 8 knots including flies and weight, even if I could I wouldn’t.
It was because I sucked at all things rigging and I finally owned up to it. And I disliked it because I sucked. I decided to practice and learn 2 basic knots and to tie them well. But I really started embracing rigging, enjoying executing great knots. Proud my flies were exactly 18 inches apart, etc….
I’m still learning but the more I celebrate each separate skill executed correctly the more friends I have
Never to old to learn a new twist! Thanks
Awesome article and video!
2 additions to Gotta See It.
1. I carry a red mini sharpie on my nipper-zinger to use to color the tip of fine 6x floro tippet. It helps thread the invisible 6x tippet through tiny size 20 hook eyes.
2. In low light situations using a light really helps. I’ve had success with both small “finger lights” and rotating cap lights clipped onto my fly vest.
Patt of the holders and workers is learning how to pass the tag end of the tippet from one hand to the other, and use the tip of your finger to push the tag end of tippet through loops.
On a clinch knot I like to pinch the fly eye while I do the wraps around the main line to keep a good sized loop open, which makes it much easier to pass the tippet through the loop. Otherwise that loop can get small and difficult to get the tippet through.
While I agree your fingers are the best knot tying tools, learning how to tie the Davy with forceps (I use ones with a curved tip) is useful in really cold weather when your fingers lose dexterity and feeling.
It also helps if you have a problem with the fingers on one of your hands, which I experienced a few years ago. Tying knots with my forceps was the only way I could do it for about a year.
Ha – good tips, but I hots ctrl/f and did not find one mention of spit or saliva! It’s your best friend in more ways than one.
Ctr f. Nice. Moisten your knots is under the Use Your Mouth section.
Just went back to the video to watch you tie the Davy again – your method is much smoother than mine. Unfortunately I can’t study the exact procedure because when I pause the video a pop-up advertising other videos appears and hides your hands. Common problem with almost all videos. Wondering if there’s some way, on future videos, to reposition the pop-up to avoid the problem. Thanks.
Good thought, but that’s out of my control, really.
I still practice tying all those knots on my living room coach.. I also using up really old tippet materials years old doing knot strength tests as well as comparing the old tippets to the new tippet materials
by far the fluorocarbon is stronger than any copolymer .. although I can do the latest new knot 16/20 ( also goes by the name pitzner penny knot) I find the fast easier
I find the Davy knot to be most efficient fastest easiest and very reliable for small flies.. I bet there are experienced out here that would say the the 16/20 is stronger and could very well be to an extent of repeated stretching stress ..fish/snags/etc. but the truth is the Davy knot is my go to always last few seasons.. after forty years tying clinch knots the double Davy is good for bigger fish /tackle like bigger flies heavier tippet.. the single Davy if tied right is plenty strong for the typical trout stream fisherman .. holds up well
agree about if all these knots are tied correctly ,should always clip as close to the knot tag end,, with the exception you pull test and so this all depends on which knot.. specifically the leader blood knot yes agree also the number of turns .. I only use three to four with mono over 10lb test even 6 lb 8 lb four turns each side is fine for leader connection blood-knots
I recall seeing a beadhead image on your site with a tag that was about as long as the diameter of the bead.
Ever since that time I have left a similar sized tag on when I attach tippet to fly.
After reading this article I am guessing that you do NOT suggest having a tag of that length on a beadhead. Is that correct?
I’ve been struggling with the Davy knot and finally got a knot needle. I learned how to tie it with my bare hands after watching you tie it 3 or 4 times. Awesome, thanks so much!
Upon buying my first pair of reading glasses: The long arm of Father Time reaches out when you attempt to read the fine print. (or tie a #22 fly!)
Uni knot was originally the Duncan Loop.