fly fishing knot

You just hook a fish of a lifetime!  It’s running like crazy and then makes an amazing jump, lands in a crazy splash, and starts to spin out more line.  Just at that moment your line goes limp.  F#!-*^k.  You strip back your line to check your fly, only to see a little curly cue on your tippet – YOU NEED SOME HELP WITH YOUR FLY FISHING KNOTS.

Don’t freak out.  Stay calm.  It can happen to anyone right?  Yes, there’s no question that is true, but I want to save you a little pain today and share some of the best knots to use for fly fishing.  

I remember at a young age telling my dad that I wanted to learn how to tie knots.  That evening, before one of our big float trips, he turned on the lamp, gave me some leader and showed me a few of the basic knots. I remember sitting there for hours practicing the knots.

I grew up around a fly shop and  learned a lot about people, teaching, terminology and everything fly fishing.  Which knots to use and how to tie them were always common questions.

I share some of the most common knots that work for most fly fishing situations.  Click on any of the curated videos in the list to get a better feel of how each one is done.

5 Knot Tying Tips

  1. Start with heavier leader or twine when practicing to start off.    Its larger and easy to work with.  After you feel good about tying with the larger diameter stuff, switch to the smaller sizes. 
  2. Lubricate your knots – Spit on them
  3. Pull the knot together quickly 
  4. After finished, pull on the knot thoroughly to assure its strength
  5. Cut the excess leader when complete, but leave a tag no longer than the width of the hook eye

10 Fly Fishing Knots

 

Leader to Fly

Let’s start from the Fly end and work our way back toward the reel.  When tying your leader onto your fly, I love the Open Clinch knot when swinging flies.  This knot gives your fly more movement and keeps it from getting turned at a bad angle.  Here’s a link with more information on the Open Clinch knot.

 

fly fishing knots
Photo credit: alaskaflyfishingonline.com (http://www.alaskaflyfishingonline.com/tips/tip1clinchknot.html)

 

Another related knot that will work well in most situations is the clinch knot.  Here’s how to tie the clinch knot.   If you want to add a little more strength, try the improved clinch knot.

Tying Leader to Leader

I use the blood knot most often when tying leader to leader, but the surgeons knot may be a more popular knot.  Here’s a link that shows you how to tie the blood knot.  You will utilize this knot when you have to add tippet onto your leader or when you have a major wind knot mishap and have to add large sections.

Alternatively, the Surgeons knot is a very good knot that may be a little easier for some.  Here’s a quick video to show you how it’s done.   The double surgeon’s knot is very common as well and adds a little more strength.

Double Fly Setup

Using two flies can be a very effective way to nymph fish because it enables you to fish different patterns at the same time.  But, you do have to appreciate the risk in getting tangled more often.  If you can handle this risk, let me show you what I use.

The easiest double fly rig to setup is to tie your second fly off of the bend of the hook on the lead fly.  A second method is to tie a dropper loop. 

The dropper tangles up a little less often but requires a little more effort to tie.  After tying the main part of the dropper loop, just add another piece of tippet onto the loop and tie your fly to this.  

Here’s a link that covers both of these knots. 

Tying Leader to Fly Line

Now, as we work our way up the leader to the fly line, there are a few more knots to talk about.  I use the nail knot most often when tying my leader to the fly line.  

If your fly line is set-up with a welded loop at the end, you can tie a loop onto your leader then attach the two loops.  The perfection loop is one method for making a loop in your leader.  Heres’ how its done.

After you tie this not in your leader, you connect the leader loop with the fly line loop and pull it together.  Net Knots walks you through the process here.

Tying Fly Line to Backing

You won’t use the line to backing knots as often as the leader knots, but they are important to be aware of.  The Albright knot and the nail knot (see above) are effective for securing the fly line to your backing.  You can also add a rubber based cement over the top of these knots for a smoother surface, but is not critical.

Tying Backing to the Reel

The very first knot you tie when setting up your fly reel with a line will likely be the arbor knot.  

The arbor knot will allow you to get a secure fit and minimizes any slippage from the get go.  If you ever have a fish spool you out to where this knot is exposed, you are in for some serious trouble.  So, make sure to have plenty of backing on your reel so you don’t ever get to that point.

I remember an old story my dad told me about a guide trip he was on where a steelhead hit his clients fly and went screaming out down river.  It spooled out the entire fly line then went snap!!!  

The guy had no backing.  He fished for small trout and had no idea about backing and what it was used for.  A tough lesson to learn for anyone on their first steelhead.  Take a look at FlyFishingwithDougStewart.com more more of these stories.

Knot Tying Resources

  1. RIO covers many of the knots here with videos.
  2. This site has a bunch of great animated videos that will help clarify anything I didn’t cover here.
  3. Orvis lists the top knots here and how to tie them.
  4. You can find the basic knots at scientific anlglers’ site here.
  5. Net Knots also has a bunch of great information at their site.

Bonus Knot

I had to throw in one other knot that isn’t a fly fishing knot but one I use all the time while outdoors.  The Bowline Knot.  Used for boating, this one works great for many different outdoor situations.  Anytime you need a loop knot that will be easily undone, even after pulling a car with it – The Bowline is the Best.

Conclusion

Start with one of the fly fishing knots above.  Find the knot that you need the most help with.  Are you having trouble tying your leader to the fly line?  Look at the section above and a knot video that will help out.  If you have any questions, click on the button at the bottom to join the newsletter.  You can reply to my emails with any questions.

 

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I'm Dave Stewart, a passionate fly-tying mentor, course teacher and writer. I want to take risks, meet interesting people, go hard, challenge myself and explore the world.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Perfect timing! Just got back from my 2 night/3 day flyfishing trip and am determined to nail all of the critical knots. My guide gave the tip to get a bunch of line and practice the knots a bunch during NFL games. After 3-4 he said I should have them down pat.

    The two he showed me a lot were the double surgeon’s knot for adding line and the improved clinch knot.

    Going to start practicing based on this list!

    • Nice work. The double surgeon’s and the improved clinch are both great all around knots. If you are going for steelhead I would also recommend practicing the open clinch knot since the movement will help entice additional strikes. Keep with it man and let me know if you have any questions.

  2. admin – Thanks Stephanie! We came across two of these guys tevarling together by a stroke of luck. I had never been able to get so close to coyotes in the past. The two of them couldn’t be more different. One was very wary while the other was bold. While I was on a desolate road I saw the two of them in the distance so I slowed down to get a better look. As I slowed, they began to approach the car. The bold one circled in front of the car until I stopped. The one had obviously come accustomed to handouts and had developed this technique to stop the cars for a little snack. So he paused for a moment waiting for me to give him something as I stole this image, then annoyed with the lack reward wandered back off to the desert.

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