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Basic Fly Knots

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We asked a room full of anglers, "What are the best fly-fishing knots?" Two hours later, the debate was still going on! From disagreements about fly fishing leader knots to arguments about the strength of a turtle knot, there were many opinions to consider.

However, there were a few knots that literally everyone said they rely on. Those are the knots we'll cover in this post.

The knot you use to attach a fly to your tippet is the most important one to perfect because you'll tie that one more than any other knot. We'll work our way down to the business end of the rig, but first, let's start with the best way to connect your fly line to your leader.

Line-to-Leader Connection

A Nail Knot is a great knot for connecting your line to your leader because it creates a smooth transition. To be blunt, it's a pain to tie, and you may only do it a few times in your life. That's because the key to your line-to-leader connection is actually a knot called the Perfection Loop. It allows a loop-to-loop connection between your fly line and leader.

Note: If your fly line ends in a built-in loop and you buy leaders that have a Perfection Loop already tied on the butt end, then you can skip ahead to The Loop-to-Loop Connection section.

If your fly line doesn't have a built-in loop, you'll need to attach a piece of heavy mono (ideally, the butt end of a used leader). You permanently attach one end to your fly line, trim it short, and add a Perfection Loop to the other end.

Essentially, you're creating a stub that lets you easily add and remove leaders. Proceed by using the Nail Knot.


Steps to Tie a Nail Knot

  1. Lay a tube or nail alongside the end of your fly line. Position your mono line against the fly line and tube/nail. Leave about 10-12” of tag end.
  2. Make 6-8 close wraps, working left to right, around the leader, line, and the tube/nail. Pass the tag end through the tube (or the space made by the nail) and remove the tube/nail.
  3. Pull the tag end to tighten the coils, then pull the tag end and mono to seat the knot firmly onto the fly line.
  4. Trim the tag end close to the knot.
  5. With your used piece of leader or heavy mono firmly attached to the fly line, trim it down to 4-5", then tie a Perfection Loop.


Steps to Tie a Perfection Loop

  1. Form Loop A at the end of the line by passing the tag end behind the standing line.
  2. Make one turn around the standing line, forming Loop B. Hold the whole thing in place and take another turn around the line, this time crossing on the topside of new Loop B.
  3. Hold the tag end in place and pass Loop B through Loop A.
  4. Pull Loop B up until the knot jams tight, then trim the tag end.

You'll tie the exact same kind of loop at the end of the leader you plan to use (if it doesn't already have one). Then, you'll be able to use a loop-to-loop connection to join your fly line and leader.


The Loop-to-Loop Connection

Once you have two loops to work with, one at the end of your fly line, and the other at the end of your leader, you can go ahead and attach your leader to the fly line. To do that, you'll use a loop-to-loop connection.

Slip the leader loop over the fly line loop. Run the leader line all the way through the same loop. Pull the lines in opposite directions to lock the loops together.

Leader-to-Tippet Connection

When you learn how to tie a fly to a leader, you're dealing with the smallest end of the leader, called the tippet. The best knot for connecting the tippet to the leader is the Surgeon’s Knot.


Steps to Tie a Surgeon’s Knot

  1. Lay the tippet and leader on top of one another, overlapping by about 4".
  2. Form a simple loop.
  3. Pass both the tag end and the entire tippet through the loop two times.
  4. Moisten the knot and pull all four ends tight.

How Tippet Rings Can Save You Money

As you switch flies during the day, your tippet will eventually get too short, or, it may become damaged and need to be replaced. That means you'll need to tie the Surgeon’s Knot several times during an average fishing trip.

Every time you do, you'll lose a little bit of your leader.

To avoid that, you may want to use a tippet ring. It's a tiny (2-3mm) ring that you can tie to the small end of your leader. Every time you need to attach a new piece of tippet material, you'll simply tie directly to the tippet ring. (Both connections to the tippet ring call for an Improved Cinch Knot.)


Tippet-to-Fly Connection

The best knot for connecting the fly to the tippet to the Improved Cinch Knot.

  1. Thread the end of your tippet material through the hook eye. Double back and form 5 or more turns around standing line.
  2. Bring the end of the line back through the first loop—the one that formed behind the eye—then pass it through the big loop.
  3. Wet the knot and pull on the tag end to form tight coils. You may have to slide the coils tight against the eye with your fingers.

Knots for Adding a Dropper Fly

When conditions call for two flies rigged in tandem, you can attach the second fly (the dropper) directly to the lead fly using an Improved Clinch Knot.

Simply think of the bend of the hook like it's an eye that you would normally tie on to. Measure off 12-24" of tippet, attach the second fly, and you're good to go.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you've ever had to quickly retie part of your rig while hungry trout rise all around you, the importance of knowing how to tie fly fishing knots is not lost on you.

Wet your knots before slowly tightening them. This will help ensure that the knot forms correctly during that final step. Pull hard on the knot to verify that it's right. Most knots are very close to 100% of the line’s strength, so, unless you can break the line with your hand, you shouldn't be able to break the knot.

When you're in a hurry to get your fly back in the water, on-stream conditions can mess with you. Wind, low-light conditions and the tendency to rush can all make knot tying harder.

One way to address that problem is to become automatic when tying these knots, at least the Improved Clinch Knot. The steps will become second nature if you practice under ideal conditions, like when you're sitting around watching a ball game on TV, for example.

We hope this quick tutorial on fly-fishing knots will help you on your next fishing trip. We wanted to give a quick thanks to Dale from Fishing Refined for creating this article along with the graphics.

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