Fly Fishing Knots (Tips & How to Tie)

by | Dec 2, 2018 | 0 comments

The best fishing knots are measured by experience. The top choices are also based on the individuals’ ability to tie a quality knot.

Every fly angler develops their favorites over time and arguments commonly develop when the topic of “which is best” arises.  Some like to consider the gear they are using when they choose their knot.

The knot tier’s ability trumps the type of knot in most cases but we definitely have our favorites and those that we believe are the best.

The top choices also vary by region. Saltwater anglers, bass anglers, pike anglers and trout anglers all have different knots they prefer. The following list is a well rounded grouping of our most common choices with a few extra thrown in to satisfy species and water types we don’t encounter on a regular basis


Tying Fishing Knots – Basic Tips

Tying fishing knots in a consistent and efficient manner is difficult for beginners. Practice through repetition is the key to consistent knots. The importance of a quality knot is often overlooked until you lose a couple of great fish and begin to recognize the need for a bulletproof connection.

Practice at home to develop speed and accuracy with your knots. The best bet is purchasing a spool of cheap monofilament for practice. You can also use string for an easy to control practice medium.

Test each knot with a hard pull before you decide it is a good knot. This will teach you to recognize small details that cause knots to fail. One of the most common details is a clinch or improved clinch knot with overlapping wraps.

This happens when you tighten the knot. Look at the bottom wrap to ensure it is consistent with the other wraps. Any one loose wrap on a clinch knot will cause the knot to break.

 

Where to Begin?

Begin tying fishing knots that are common and relatively easy. You do not need to learn every knot in the book and tying one or two really well is the best bet for security. Learn the clinch knot for your go-to and learn a simple loop knot for big streamers and heavy tippet. Also learn a simple surgeon’s or blood knot for connecting tippet and you are prepared for everything that you’ll need on the water. Tie your nail knots and other complex knots at home and take your time. The latter is designed for semi-permanent connections and you do not typically need to tie them in a pinch. Use a magnifier or magnifying glasses in the field and in practice for consistency. Only use the magnifiers if you have trouble seeing and first attempting working without them. This will force you to focus and improve your feel for the knot tying process.

 

Trouble Seeing?

If you have trouble seeing, use magnifiers in the manner mentioned in the previous section. Tying fishing knots by feel is also an option. We know several anglers who have lost vision over time but they continue to tie bullet-proof knots. If you watch closely, these guys are mostly tying by feel. Again, the only way to make this work is through repetition. Practice, Practice, Practice!

 

Knot Tying Tools

Tools are very useful for tying fishing knots. Use threaders if you struggle with small diameter eyes and fine tippet and use a nail knot tool. The nail knot is pretty easy to complete with the assistance of a tool. Also consider pre-tying several rigs at home. This will reduce the overall need for knots in the field. If you really struggle and plan on nymphing or fishing streamers, use a small swivel to assist with fly changes in the field. The swivel is not common for fly fishing but it is useful for anglers who struggle with poor vision and shaky hands in the field. Use a small swivel to clip a bead head wooly bugger on the end of your line and fish it on the swing for a simple and effective system.  Consider picking up a quality knot tying tool on Amazon.

Conclusions

Tying fishing knots is a difficult task in the beginning and it may be one of the things that turns some anglers off the sport. Be persistent, practice and most importantly, be patient. If you experience a high level of frustration, take a deep breath and slow down. Take a look around at the landscape and surroundings,relax and start over. Eventually, you will be turning out perfect knots in a matter of seconds. Your coordination will improve, your finger dexterity will improve and knot tying will become a second nature skill.


Fly Fishing Knots Tutorials

If you are new to fly fishing knots you have probably come to the realization that you must learn how to tie them quickly and accurately. There is not much difference between fly fishing and regular knots and the exact knots that you use will depend on what you are comfortable with.

We are dedicating this section to the basic knots that everyone should know. We will also tell you when and why these knots are used. We will start with instructional pictures but eventually will add a video series.

Scroll Down to begin learning how to tie fly fishing knots and click on the headers for step by step instruction.

1. How to tie an Albright Knot

This knot is simple and effective for attaching your backing to the line. It is not used often but it is effective for connecting lines of different diameter. Click the header for the full albright knot instructions.

The Albright Knot is primarily used to connect the backing to the fly line. The knot can also be used to connect different diameter mono and we have seen it used to connect leader to the fly line (not our first choice).

The knot is pretty easy to tie and it is typically tied in advance of the fishing trip so it does not need to be rushed. Take your time and get it right to create a bullet proof knot.

Step 1

Create a loop in the fly line or largest diameter line. Place the tag end of the backing or smallest diameter line through the loop. Pull plenty of extra backing through the loop because you will need it in the next step.

 

Step 2

Wrap the backing around the loop and itself. Make seven tight wraps moving towards the top of the loop. The less space you leave between the final wrap and the top of the loop, the easier it will be to tighten.

 

Step 3

Place the tag end of the backing through the loop and pull on the backing and the line to tighten the knot. Clip the tag end. The wraps are the most difficult step and the finishing step is very easy. You can tie this knot quickly if needed but you are better off taking your time to make a perfect finish.

 

Additional Tips

Coat the completed Albright knot with some UV Knot Sense to create a smooth and hard finish. This step is not necessary for strength but it prevents the knot from hanging on the wrapped backing and fly line on the reel’s spool. You will appreciate the smooth coating when a big fish runs you out and the line does not jam on the reel and break.

You should also test the finished knot by applying some pressure on the line. This is a good idea for every knot you tie to make sure it does not slip or snap under pressure. Knowing your connection is done properly gives you more confidence when fighting a heavy fish.

Additional Albright Knot Tips

1: Unwind 2-3 feet of fly line from the plastic spool it came on (make sure you unwind the end marked “this end to reel”). Start by doubling back a couple of inches of fly line and hold the loop with your left thumb and forefinger. From the right, insert about 10 inches of the backing through the fly line loop.

2: Push the tag end of the backing through the loop on the side opposite where it originally entered so both backing strands exit on the same side of the loop. Pull on the standing part of the backing to remove the loop you were holding in your left hand. Pull both ends of the fly line backing.

3: Pull gently on both ends of the fly line loop with your left hand; squeeze the knot with the fingers of your right hand and work it down to the loop end, but not off the fly line. Get the knot a little wet. Hold the standing and tag fly line strands in your left hand, and the tag and standing backing strands in your right hand. Pull as tight as possible. Clip off the tag end of the fly line and the backing.

4: You’re now ready to wind the line over the backing onto the spool. A friend can help by inserting a pencil, or something similar, through the hole in the line spool and holding it while you wind the line onto the reel spool. Once the line is fully transferred to the reel spool, you should have approximately a quarter inch between the line and the outside rim of the spool.


2. How to tie an Arbor Knot

The Arbor Knot is easy to learn and easy to execute. The knot is used to secure the backing to the fly reel spool. Although it is easy, it must be done properly to prevent the knot from slipping off the spool.

 

Step 1

Tie an overhand knot in the tag end of the backing. We usually tie a double overhand knot just to make sure it grabs when tightened on the reel. Feed the line around the reel spool.

 

Step 2

Wrap the tag end around the main stem of the line one time. This step is similar to tying an overhand knot without pulling anything tight.

 

Step 3

Wrap the tag end around the newly formed loop. The tag end should now be facing away from the reel spool. Maintain tension on the tag end while you pull the main stem to tighten the knot around the spool. The knot is complete and you are ready to tie an albright knot to connect the backing to the fly line.

A Word of Caution

This knot is easy to tie but it is also easy to lose control when tightening. Be sure to slowly cinch the knot and maintain even pressure. Guide the overhand knot against the tightened knot to prevent it from slipping through a gap. Once it catches, you are good to go.

If you are having trouble with the knot slipping while tightening, do a double wrap around the spool before tying the arbor knot. The double wrap helps it catch and lock around the slick spool.

Additional Arbor Knot Tips

1: Tie an overhand knot on the backing end and tighten it. Insert this knotted end between the reel foot and the arbor, circle the arbor, and pull the knotted end out so it’s next to the standing part of the backing. Tie a second overhand knot with the tag end around the standing part of the backing.

2: Holding the reel in your left hand, pull on the standing part of the backing with your right hand, snugging the knots against the arbor. Trip the tag end, and wind the backing onto your reel.

3: Make sure the line feeds from the guide on the rod to the bottom of the reel. If not, you’re winding in the wrong direction. Make tight, smooth layers across the arbor as you wind on the proper amount of backing.


3. How to tie a Clinch Knot

We use it more than the “improved” version and it is our top choice for an all-round trout fishing knot. We use it regularly for dry flies and for most fine tippet situations. It also works great on heavy nymphs and streamers. This is one of the most common knots out there and you should have it down for a fast, easy and solid connection.

Improved Clinch Knot

This is a common connection that is used by conventional and fly anglers. When you learn how to tie fly fishing knots, place this one at the top of your list. It must be executed to perfection to hold the fly to the leader and prevent breaking on a fish.

The Improved Clinch Knot is standard for fly fisherman. The knot is used to tie the fly to the tippet and it is a strong connection. The other alternatives are to use the standard clinch knot (our typical choice) or an open loop knot. There are numerous options for the fly connection but these are the ones we use on a daily basis and if tied properly, they will rarely fail. Read on for the instructions or watch the video below.

Step 1

Insert the tag end of the line through the eye of the hook. Pull a couple of inches of slack through to tie the knot.

 

 

Step 2

Make 6-7 wraps by turning the tag end around the main stem of the line. Make sure you are not wrapping it too tight. This will make the loop at the base of the wraps to small to continue with the knot.

Step 3

Put the tag end through the loop at the base of the wraps. If you want to use the standard knot, pull it tight at this point. We use the standard because it is quicker, easier and in our opinion, just as strong.

 

Step 4

When you pull the tag through the base loop, it creates another loop adjacent to the turns. Pull the tag through the new loop and pull the knot tight. The improved knot is completed and you can clip away the tag end. You can either pull the knot tight slowly or you can moisten it with water or saliva to prevent the tippet from burning and weakening. We also recommend that you give the knot a quick test pull to ensure the wraps are aligned. Sometimes the base wrap will be loose and the knot will slip.

 

 

Additional Clinch Knot Tips

1: Make five turns with the tag end around the standing part of the tippet, winding away from the hook.

2: Push the tag end through the opening between the hook eye and the first wrap. This creates an open tippet loop over the wraps. Push the tag end through this open loop and pull slightly until the knot begins to close.

3: Get the knot area slightly wet. Alternately pull on the standing portion of the tippet and the hook until the knot snugs up against the hook eye. Trim the tag end.


4. How to tie a Blood Knot

The blood knot is our top choice for tippet to leader and tippet to tippet connections. While we still use the surgeon’s knot for the easy and quick connection, the blood knot seems stronger and it is much better for off-set diameter connections. It is easy to tie using a pair of forceps to maintain a nice opening in the center of the twisted sections. It is a pretty fast tie and we like it for the consistent performance.

Are you a blood knot person or a surgeons knot person. We use both and love the blood knot. It makes a solid connection and works well with different diameter tippets. Click the header to learn this valuable knot.

Blood Knot Instructions

The blood knot is very common for connecting two sections of tippet or tippet to leader. This is one that you want to practice at home to gain efficiency in the field.

You will need to tie it quickly in a variety of conditions. The other alternative is the surgeons knot but we prefer this knot for connecting slightly different diameter tippets. We will use it to build and rebuild leaders in a pinch and it is rare that the knot breaks or slips.

Step 1

Place the main stem of the line and the new line facing in opposite directions. Give yourself plenty of slack to complete this knot.

Step 2

Make 4-5 wraps with each end of the line. You can pinch the center of the knot to keep a nice loop for the tag ends. Feed the tag ends through that center loop. You can feed them through in opposite directions or in the same direction as long as they are in the same center gap.

Step 3

Pull the knot tight. We like to pull the tag ends with our teeth while pulling the main lines away from each other. You can wet the knot and pull it down quickly or you can pull slowly with a dry knot. Clip the tag ends to complete the connection.

 

Quick Tip

Use a pair of forceps to hold the central loop in and open position. If you have forceps pinned on your fly fishing vest, you can quickly twist the line on each end and complete the knot in seconds. This takes a little bit of practice but is an easy and quick way to complete a blood knot.

Moving On…

Now that you have your leader connected to the tippet you can move on to the improved clinch knot for the tippet to fly connection. If your leader is not connected to the line, go back to our nail knot instructions or use it combined with a perfection loop to create a permanent butt section for quick connections


 

5. How to tie an Orvis Loop

There are a few variations of this knot and all are solid loop style knots. We use the loop for our big bugs. This includes large nymphs, streamers, pike, bass, saltwater and anything that requires some serious shock resistance. The loop also allows the fly to have extra range of motion. We typically use it on everything heavier than 4x with the exception of dry flies. This is one of the best fishing knots you will find.

There are a couple of different loop knots to learn and they are handy connections. The loop can be used to add motion to streamers and nymphs and it can be used for leader and line connections. Loop knots are not too hard to tie and they are worth your time.

Fishing Knots Loop Intructions

There are numerous fishing knots loop styles available to make various connections. The open loop is great for allowing movement of the fly and a perfection or overhand loop is great for connecting leaders to fly lines. One common system is to use a nail knot to attach amnesia line or leader control to the fly line. Add a perfection loop to the end of the amnesia and you have a permanent butt section for loop to loop connections. If you spend a lot of time on the water and burn through leaders, this is a great system.

Perfection Loop Instructions

Step 1

Cross the line over itself to form a loop. Pinch the loop between your forefinger and your thumb to hold it in place. Make sure you leave plenty of slack on the tag end to complete the knot.

 

Step 2

Wrap the tag end around the loop one time. Hold on to the tag end to keep the unfinished knot from falling apart. The loop formed by this wrap will be pulled through the initial loop to finish the knot in the final step.

 

Step 3

Make another wrap with the tag end but slide this wrap in between the first two and pull it to make the wrap smaller than the two initial loops.

 

 

Step 4

Pull the loop from step 2 through the first loop and tighten the knot. Give it a good test pull to make sure you have tied the knot properly.

 

 

Step 5

Create a long loop in the end of the line. Make two overhand wraps with the loop. This is not much different than the standard overhand knot.

 


 

6. How to tie a Nail Knot

Although it is not a direct connection, this is one of the best knots to have in your arsenal. It is easy to avoid as a beginner but don’t be intimidated. The knot is not extremely difficult and tools are available for assistance. The nail knot is the best option for extremely tough, semi-permanent connections. It is a work horse and is suitable for your backing to line connection, line to leader connection and for tippet to leader connections when you need a thicker knot to hold beads.

I remember the frustration when learning to tie this knot on a toothpick many years ago. The Knot is rock solid and every angler should know how to tie this one. It has a variety of uses, primarily for connecting the leader to the line. It can also be used to connect the backing to the fly line and to connect sections of leader material. Fortunately there are tools that make this knot much easier than the toothpick did.

Nail Knot Instructions

The nail knot is one of the strongest you will encounter. It is used for a variety of different connections. We use it to connect the backing to the line, leader or permanent butt to the fly line and to make connections with heavy sections of mono.

We learned to tie this knot on a tooth pick but the new knot tying tools make it very easy to get a perfect knot. Read on for the instructions.

Step 1

Place the tag end of both lines facing in the opposite direction. Place a straight object like a nail or in this example, a pencil between the two lines. You can also use a fishing knot tool to make the process easier (highly recommended).

Step 2

Wrap one of the lines around itself, the pencil and the other line. You will wrap the backing around fly line, leader around fly line and the smallest diameter mono around the larger diameter mono. Make 6-8 wraps and pinch the wraps to keep everything together.

 

Step 3

Take the tag end of the line you wrapped and slide it back through the wraps. This is the most difficult step and it is where the knot tools really shine. Simultaneously slip the knot off the pencil and pull it tight. You can crank on it pretty hard to ensure the knot grabs. Once it does, it is very difficult to break. Clip the tag ends when you finish.

 

Additional Nail Knot Tips

1: Hold the tube and the end of the fly line with your left thumb and forefinger so about two inches of the fly line and the tube sticks out to the right.

2: With your right hand, form a two-inch loop in the heavier end of your leader. Pinch down and hold this loop with your left thumb and forefinger next to the tube and fly line. Use your right hand to grasp the short leg of the leader loop and make 5 snug wraps over the tube and fly line. These wraps should touch each other, and be at least a half to three quarters of an inch from the end of the fly line. Then slide your left thumb and forefinger forward to hold the wraps so they don’t unwind while you work the tag end of the leader butt through the tube from right to left. Carefully remove the tube by sliding it to the left. Semi-tighten the knot by pulling gently on both ends of the leader. Don’t pull on the fly line!

3: Get the knot area a little wet, inspect the knot wraps for smoothness, and tighten the knot by simultaneously pulling on both ends of the leader so it “bites” into the fly line. Then pull hard on the fly line and leader to set the knot. Finally trim both the leader tag end and the fly line end.


7. The Double Surgeon’s Knot

What’s it for?

Attaching the tippet to the leader

How to tie a double surgeons knot

1: The Double Surgeon’s Knot requires the leader and tippet to be placed side-by-side so they overlap (for about six inches) with ends facing in opposite directions. Pinch the standing leader and tippet tag end with the left thumb and forefinger and use the right hand to tie an overhand knot with the leader tag end and the tippet.

2: The entire length of the tippet must be passed completely through the overhand knot loop; even though the leader tag end is only about 5 inches long. Don’t tighten the completed overhand knot.

3: Grab the completed loop with the left hand and make another pass through the same overhand knot, passing the full length of the tippet and the leader tag end through a second time.

4: Draw the loop down by simultaneously pulling on leader and tippet. Get the loop slightly wet; grasp the leader and tippet tag on the left with your left hand, and the tippet and leader tag on the right with your right hand. Pull all four ends simultaneously to snug the knot tight. Trim the tag ends.

 

Conclusions

There are many more options out there for general fly fishing in freshwater, but the latter options have you covered. They are all pretty easy to tie and they are very strong when tied properly. We think they are the best fishing knots but you may disagree. If you have something you think is better and it works, stick with it. We have caught big fish on light tippets with different combinations of these choices and although they have failed in a few situations, it was more user error than anything.