For anglers of all kinds, knots form the critical link between you and the fish. Without properly tied knots, you are completely wasting your valuable time on the water- and fly-fishermen are not exempt.
As a full-time professional fishing guide, I am extremely critical about knots because I need my clients to land the greatest percentage of fish possible. My reputation and livelihood depend on it. As a rule, when a paying customer steps foot onto my boat, the first thing I do is cut everything off the end of his or her fly-line and start from scratch. I simply don’t trust their connections. On the rare occasion that a client’s knots do appear to have been tied correctly, I simply put them to a quick test. I do this by hooking the fly to a BogaGrip, having the client grab the fly line a couple of feet above the nail knot, and slowly pulling at both ends until the scale on the Boga reads within a pound of the tippet’s breaking strength. If the knots hold, then the leader connections are good, and we can comfortably fish with confidence.
We all know that with juvenile fish, you might be able to get away with less than perfect knots. However, when you put in many hours of hard fishing and that giant tarpon of a lifetime finally engulfs your pattern, anything less than a perfect knot will instantly part. I would bet my boat on it! For newcomers to the art of fly-fishing, to avoid these unceremonious break-offs, take note of the following series of knots and practice them until you can tie them perfectly. For the sake of ease, we’ll commence at the fly line and terminate at the fly. Keep in mind, there are many variations of each knot and many other knots that accomplish the same tasks. Although I spend more than 200 days per year on the water, the following connections are the only ones I have 100 percent confidence in.
Fly line to butt section of leader
Rule #1: When connecting your fly line to the butt section of your leader, always use leader material that is similar in diameter to your fly line. This insures proper turnover when casting. Here is a simple formula a good friend taught me for determining precisely what size butt section to use. Take the weight of the fly line and multiply it by 5. If you have an eight-weight fly line, a 40lb. butt section would be ideal. If the equation equals a 5 meaning 35, 45 or 55, round up to 40, 50 or 60lb. leader.
The only knot you need to know when connecting fly line to butt section is the nail knot. You may have overheard experts call it a tube knot. I, like many, used to tie this knot with the help of a nail or small tube, which is what instructional knot-tying books recommend. Instead, head to your local fly shop and purchase a TIE-FAST Knot Tyer. This nifty device makes tying a nail knot an absolute cinch. Just remember to apply four or five wraps with heavy line test and six or seven wraps with lighter lines.
You may run into a problem with certain fly lines such as those manufactured by Scientific Angler; a nail knot may strip the surface of the fly line off the core. Maybe you, too, have lost a few fish to this problem in the past. A simple remedy is to first create a loop in the end of your fly line. For this you can use the same nail knot tool.
Take the end of your fly line and fold over about three to five inches. Tie two or three separate nail knots over the doubled fly line about a quarter of an inch apart. This will create a small loop no more than half an inch in the end of your fly line. From here, a surgeon’s loop in the end of your butt section will join the two together.
Building a leader system with similar size line tests
Once you have your butt section connected, say 40lb., you will then want to taper it down to a length of 30lb. with the use of a blood knot. The whole key to a blood knot is to get the correct number of wraps. Always apply fewer wraps on the heavier side versus more wraps on the lighter line. Wet it down, grab both ends of the main line, and cinch the blood knot tight. When cinching down a blood knot, the whole key is to avoid touching the tag ends. If you do, this will throw off the balance of the entire knot. The blood knot can be utilized with lines varying as much as 30lb. in difference.
Attaching heavy leader to light leader
The only purpose of connecting heavy leader to substantially lighter leader is from a class tippet to a shock tippet, otherwise known as a bite tippet. Do this with an improved blood knot. For the purpose of this piece, let’s continue describing a tarpon leader. If you are rigging up for silver kings, you may have a twelve-weight to a 60lb. butt section that may be six feet long. Attached to the butt section is a two foot length of 40lb. which will help your leader turn over more softly. For the greatest challenge, most guys these days use 20lb. tippets, which will be tied to the 40lb.using the standard blood knot mentioned earlier.
Using a Bimini Twist, double the 20lb. before connecting to the 40lb. The Bimini doubles the 20lb. line’s diameter, making it nearly equivalent to the 40lb. Now you can tie these together using the same amount of wraps, usually four or five. On the opposite end, leave about three feet of 20lb. leader. This is your class tippet and will be tied with an improved blood knot to a piece of 80lb.shock leader for protection against Mr. Tarpon’s rough lips.
Double over a foot of the 20lb. and tie it to the 80lb. using a standard blood knot. The double line is what defines the improved blood knot. Always wet the knot when cinching it down, and with the improved blood knot, make sure to hold onto both pieces of the 20lb. when cinching tight. The improved blood knot is by far the strongest and smallest knot for this application.
Attaching the bite tippet to the fly
The whole idea of fly-fishing is to fool clever fish by making something that is artificial appear alive. An essential ingredient for making this happen is a loop knot. A loop knot imparts a great deal of extra action to the fly because it allows the fly a level of freedom. There are two loop knots that I recommend, though both are actually the same knot with one small variation. The first is the Homer Rode. I use the Homer Rode when attaching line tests of 50lb. or heavier.
For line strength ranging from 10lb. to 40lb., I prefer the mono loop knot. This is actually just a variation of the Homer Rode. This knot will not slip out or break light line. The difference is at the end. Instead of finishing it off with one wrap around the main line, apply three wraps within one loop around the main line. With either variation, if you tie the knot correctly, the tag end will point backwards towards the hook. Think ‘weedless’.
The only time I would recommend a clinch knot when fly-fishing is if you are sight-fishing in water less than eight inches deep and weedy. In this scenario, it is so shallow that a loop knot will often cause the fly to catch too much vegetation. Tying the fly directly to line will help facilitate holding the fly just above the weeds and directly in the strike zone.
Tight-loops and successful strip-strikes- I will see you on the water.