Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing
We are always attempting to improve and learn more about how to fly fish. Fly fishing techniques are varied with time tested and proven strategies combined with attempts at fooling fish using new ideas.
Learn the basics, expand to learn advanced techniques and experiment along the way to form your own innovative style. There is always something new to learn and someone new to learn it from.
If you are learning how to fly cast, the fly casting technique is best spent watching Capt Chris Myers video. We have put together advanced techniques, location recommendation, fly tying and also gear tips as well.
Beginner Fly Casting
In this section, you will find articles about a variety of techniques that are effective. Some are fundamental while others are new and exciting.
Nymph Fishing Basics
Nymph fishing basics includes the act of imitating the subsurface form of insects and crustaceans. Numerous styles and techniques exist with some being very simple and others requiring advanced skills. In this article, I will cover the basic concepts, bugs, popular flies and techniques to get you started. When you are ready for a more advanced approach, there are great inexpensive advanced fly fishing books available.
The rigging possibilities for nymphing are endless. You can rig a single fly, two flies, three flies and so on. In many states and countries, 1-2 flies is legal and anything more is illegal. In some states, there is no limit and three flies is a common option. Fishing three or more flies allows you to fish at a variety of depths but the numerous flies also lead to more tangles, more lost flies and more damage to the fish when they wrap on the line. Your best rigging options include two flies and some simple knots.
This nymph fishing basics rigging option uses a large fly followed by a smaller fly. Tie two feet of tippet off the bend of the large fly and a second clinch knot to the smaller fly. This setup is easy to use, easy to adjust and difficult to tangle. The large fly will sink the rig quickly and the small fly will ride just off the river bottom. While there are numerous other rigging options, this a great one to start with for your nymph fishing basics.
Choosing flies is one of the most difficult propositions for a beginning nympher. You are always skeptical about what you cannot see. Starting with some very general attractor patterns is the best way to go. Once you gain a grasp on the specific insects and timing, you can make some adjustments to meet the specific
Rubberlegs – This fly is simple, available in numerous colors and it sinks quickly. It is great for weighting your nymph rigs and it is a proven fish catcher. If you are tying flies, it is a very easy pattern to produce.
Kauffman Stone – This is a more specific stonefly imitation but it works well as a general fly for trout. It works especially well where stoneflies are prolific but will also get the job done other situations. Ultimately, it is a large meal that trout love.
Stonedaddy – Doug Ouellette’s Stonedaddy is my favorite stonefly/baby crayfish/weighted fly for nymphing. It sinks like a rock and fish love it. It is the perfect point fly for freestone rivers.
Prince Nymph – This is a great pattern that will catch trout just about anywhere. You can use a #12 or larger as your primary weight or you can go smaller for a trailing fly. Using the Prince as a trailer is the most common option. The Peacock Body is very attractive and this thing will often work even when your technique isn’t quite right.
Pheasant Tail – The PT Nymph works well in a beadhead, flashback or plain version. It is a great trailing fly and will work in general and insect specific situations. It is a great mayfly impression with the slender abdomen and short thorax. It works great as a March Brown, BWO, Gray Drake and just about any mayfly nymph.
Hare’s Ear – Like the Pheasant Tail, this fly is a great for general and specific use. The pattern is very buggy and it works great as a fatter mayfly or even a small stonefly.
Other Patterns – There are thousands of other patterns available. These are some of the most proven standards that will catch fish anywhere.
Nymph fishing with an indicator is a good place to start. The advantages are depth control and visual strike detection. The indicator is especially useful in slower water where tight line nymphing is difficult to control. They also help in areas with limited space for casting and runs that require a longer drift. The basic approach is to lob the indicator rig upstream, mend line to compensate for different current speeds and achieve a drag free drift through the desired lie. Ultimately, your ability to read water will have a great impact on the success of your indicator nymph fishing.
Tight line, high sticking style nymphing is a great way to catch trout. The technique is feel based and does not require any visual aid. Using this approach requires some practice but it can greatly improve your success. Indicator fishing often results in missed strikes. Feeling the subtle takes really makes the difference in some scenarios. The basic tight line approach requires a long leader (15 ft.) for sensitivity. Lob the rig upstream, allow it to sink for several seconds and maintain light contact through the lie. Set the hook on any change of pressure that may be a fish. As with any fishing, your success is greatly impacted by your ability to read water.
Go out and work on the basics. These simple techniques can really produce beneath the surface. When you are ready to advance to the next level, pick up my eBook and read through the material. It will really give you a deep look into the techniques that produce big fish.
Fly Fishing Small Streams – Technical Fishing for Wild Trout
Anyone who has fly fished a great small stream is sure to return as often as possible. The big rivers and stillwaters with bruiser trout are always going to draw you in but the small stream has a different appeal.
It is a place where you can find solitude and pick apart the water in precise fashion. While small streams are diverse and some yield big fish in deep pockets, it is rarely size that you are chasing.
The smaller waters are ideal when you want to escape the summer heat and crowds of the river valley, and when you want to set foot in the backcountry.
Reading the small streams is not difficult but making an approach can be tricky. The fish will inhabit any and every break in the current including undercut banks, downed trees, drop pools and the pockets formed around boulders.
Fish are also found in shallow riffles and along current seams that provide some protection from predators and supply a steady stream of oxygenated water and food. In many streams, it does not matter where your fly lands, but it must not spook the fish.
Approaching the Water
Approach every stream with the assumption that the fish are easily spooked. While this may not seem to be the case as 8-12 inch trout fight over your fly, you could be missing a 16-18 inch fish that is put down by your presence.
This means you should not stomp along the bank in meadow sections and you should
make a cast the places a solid buffer between you and the run. Also watch your shadow and keep a low profile.
One of my favorite small stream approaches is to stand right in the middle of the stream or on a bank and work my way against the current, making three casts followed by two steps.
The casts hit each bank and midstream with additional casts being made to cover any exceptional holding water. This system allows you to cover the water thoroughly and
at a steady pace. Once you find your rhythm, it is easy to lose track of time and fish until dark.
Avoid Casting Shadows
Shadows are not a big issue on forested streams where natural shadows are the norm. This is especially true on cloudy and partly cloudy days. Sections of water that are exposed to the sun in a consistent manner make fish wary of shadows.
Casting a shadow with your body is something to avoid but you must also monitor your cast. False cast to the side and deliver your final cast to the area where you expect to find a fish.
The upstream approach works really well with a roll cast and the system saves a fair amount of energy. Lay down a presentation, strip to keep pace with the current for a few feet and make a roll cast to the next spot.
You can do this all day without casting shadows and it keeps you out of the bushes and stream-side vegetation. The minimized presence pays off big when you hit an unexpected deep run that is holding a bigger than average fish.
Unless the stream receives high angling pressure, fly selection is not a major issue. Choose patterns that are durable and fun to fish. For trout, I typically go with a Yellow Humpy or a Stimulator.
If the stream has windy meadow sections, I use a foam hopper and I always carry a few parachute adams for any mayfly situation. It is also a good idea to carry a few bead head nymphs like pheasant tails, hares ears and prince nymphs for slow days.
The addition of the nymph can triple your catch rate but I only use it when necessary as a single fly is fun and simple. Also keep a couple of streamers in your box. Any wooly bugger, zonker, slump buster or weighted streamer will do.
You may run into beaver ponds with a deep hole or an unexpected canyon run that is way deeper than the rest of the stream. Every so often, one of these runs holds a whopper that will rock your 3 weight and send you spinning.
Timing Your Fly Fishing Trip
In most cases, fishing the small streams is limited to the peak summer season. Access to the backcountry is limited and snow melt makes things difficult. There are regional exceptions and spring fed waters can be productive all year.
Although the summer is prime for these waters, there are short windows of great action in the spring and fall if the stream feeds a fish filled lake or river. Focus on the lowest sections of the stream as the spring rainbows or fall browns move through
on their way to spawning territory.
Only catch them in transit and keep it sporting (don’t fish the redds). The window is usually short and in some drainages, the fish will cover many miles before stopping to spawn. You might run into them one day and find that they have vanished the next.
Gear Selection for Fly Fishing Small Streams
Light Gear is Common for Fly Fishing Small Streams.
Gear is simple for the small stream angler. A 3 weight is sufficient for most but you may want something even smaller for some waters or something slightly heavier if you know big fish inhabit the area.
I like a 4 weight glass rod as a compromise for small waters and potentially bigger fish. It is delicate, flexes on the little guys and won’t break on the big ones. Use a small reel and line to match with a 7.5 foot leader for most places.
Slick water spring creeks may require a 9-11 foot leader. I carry one fly box, floatant, nippers and a backpack with the usual snacks, water, camera, rain jacket and treats for the dog.
Related: Best Backpacks for Fly Fishing
Throw in some bug spray and sunscreen if you use it and hit the trail. The lighter you pack, the easier it is to scramble around and cover ground throughout the day.
Related: Fly Fishing Tackle Box Reviews
Exploring the Backcountry
Small waters are often overlooked and overshadow by destinations. If you put in the time and really explore the drainages in your area, it is possible to really score a sweet spot.
While the excitement makes you want to share, keep it to yourself and disguise your pictures to avoid landmarks. Many smaller waters are sensitive to pressure and opening your mouth may be the end of the great fishing you have discovered.
How to Catch Trout – Reading the Water
Trout are habitual creatures and anglers who learn their basic needs and habits can score just about anywhere. There are some rivers that are unique and some trout, namely the trophies, that act different than their smaller brothers. They are more difficult to locate and catch.
For now, we are going to focus on the common trout. Apply these principals for long enough and you will run into some of the bigger specimens because although their habits may differ, many of the needs overlap.
The temperature of the water has a major effect on trout. Cold water moves them to slower water and reduces activity while optimum temperatures of 56-64 degrees have them feeding and moving regularly.
Warmer temperatures snuff oxygen out of the environment and place great stress on the fish. If the water is icy cold, wait until midday to start fishing and focus on the slow, tailout sections of runs.
The fish seek easy, deep currents as their metabolism slows. Hit all the hot spots when the temperature tops 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You can carry a thermometer to monitor the water temperature or you can make an educated guess based on the amount of feeling left in your finger tips.
Trout require oxygen to survive and seek oxygen when the water reaches critically warm levels. Look for broken water during the summer months to find trout.
Steep grades and obstacles create breaks and provide oxygen to the fish. The really heavy water can be very productive during the warmest months on a trout stream.
Trout will hold in a variety places in a river system. As noted earlier, the deep tailouts on a run are productive during the winter months but they can also be vacant during the summer. Trout hold in areas where they can obtain oxygen, control their temperature, eat a steady stream of food and avoid predators.
Follow the Food
The latter criteria for trout is standard and effective but if you are left with one thing to consider, follow the food. If there is an abundant food source, the trout will be in a position to gorge. They will risk predation and stress if they can gain calories.
Types of Holding Water:
Riffles are generally 4 inches to several feet deep and they have an even, broken current. The riffle is full of oxygen and insects and is great summer habitat for trout.
Runs have a concentrated current with one or more seams. The current may cut out a bank on a bend or run down the middle of the river. The current creates a deep channel and the fish will sit on the seam, where the fast current meets the slow current.
This allows the fish to conserve energy while picking up food and oxygen in the current. Boulders and obstacles to the current provide additional holding water in runs.
The eddy is a circulation piece of water, often found in the top corner of a run. The eddy commonly has a collection of foam where insects gather and trout feed. The circulating current can be tricky for presentations but it provides a conveyor belt of food for trout.
Boulders and Pockets
Boulders create several pockets and currents for trout. The break in the current is ideal for energy conservation and food is pushed in and around the boulder as well. Fishing the boulder pockets is a proven technique and something to remember when you learn how to catch trout.
Structure includes everything from downed logs to undercut banks. Fishing structure can be challenging with snags and tight presentations but it often holds some of the largest fish.
Anything that provides a break in the current and secure it from predators is considered structure. It does not always hold the most valuable position for food collection but many of the nocturnal, predatory fish will occupy the structure during the day.
The material presented above is sufficient for learning how to catch trout in most rivers but also consider things like shade and light. Bright days can be difficult and fish seek shade and cover from the sun. The sun blots out their vision and ability to spot prey. Focus on heavier water when the sun is extra bright and take advantage of cloudy days as the bugs and fish are often very active.
Stillwater Basics for Trout
The title says basics but this article has some depth for stillwater anglers. Learn how to unlock the stillwater mystery and catch some of the hottest trout around.
Stillwater fishing present a great opportunity for fly fisherman. Some anglers take full advantage of the powerful fish while others side-step the lakes and only focus on rivers. Adding some stillwater techniques to your profile makes you more rounded angler and opens doors to great fishing when the rivers are blown with runoff or just not fishing well.
Healthy lake environments grow large, powerful trout that test the best drag systems. Lakes are also very active environments and when viewed through a technical lens, they are not boring by any means.
Just like rivers, you must learn to read the water, follow the food sources and make excellent presentations. When you find the right combination, it is consistent action for hard fighting fish.
Nutrient rich lakes provide a diverse assortment of food for trout and other game-fish. Most lakes have healthy populations of mayflies, midges, damselflies, dragonflies and baitfish. You will also find scuds, snails, reptiles and terrestrials as important food sources in some environments.
The food available to the fish is dependent on the time of year and general water temperature. The food available also has a major impact on the depth and general location of fish.
Midges, namely the big chironomid variety, are available throughout the year and you will frequently see them emerging. This is especially true when the wind is strong enough to break the surface tension. The choppy water makes it easier for the bugs to break-through the film and successfully emerge.
Mayflies are available in a variety of shapes and sizes but the focus of many stillwater fishing anglers is the Callibaetis. These gray body bugs emerge in strong numbers
and you will find fish sucking them off the surface throughout the day.
The damselfly is available to the fish as a nymph and adult. The nymphs wiggle their way to the shoreline and crawl out of the water. They shed the exoskeleton on dry ground and transform into adults. The damsel hatch provides a great opportunity to target aggressive fish in shallow bays.
The height of many hatches is evident as the bugs crawl on your boat, clothes and anything they can attach to before shedding some skin. The adults are available on the surface as cripples when birds clip their wings and send them on a crash course. In some instances, the adult will use cattails and other vegetation to crawl underwater and lay eggs. Try sinking an adult damsel pattern sometime and you may be impressed with the results.
The dragonfly is much larger than the damsel and it does not make a mass appearance. The big nymphs do provide a solid meal and the occasional adult will become a meal. The woolly bugger is a simple and effective presentation for a dragonfly nymph.
Wind Pushes Food Into this Bay
Stillwaters are not exactly still. The water is in constant motion and currents determine the placement and direction of food. Windy days are some of the best on lakes because you can easily read the currents.
Look for scum lines and windswept shorelines to locate the abundance of food and fish. Casting directly into the wind is a pain but is also very effective as the presentation is in line with the naturals. Pay close attention to the currents when approaching a stillwater and look for the areas that gather debris and food to find the fish.
Boat or Wade?
Anglers without boats need not shy away from stillwater fly fishing. A drift boat or fly fishing raft is a great tool when the fish are deep and off-shore but wading is just as effective when the wind is pushing food to the shoreline.
Wading and walking the shore is also a great idea for sight-fishing cruisers as they pick off terrestrials during the summer months. Ideally, you will have a boat and know when to park it on the shore and concentrate on the muddy bays and productive rock outcroppings.
Determining the depth of the fish is half the battle. Once you are on the same level, they will see your presentation. Depth is easy when fish are crashing the shorelines but sometimes they cruising deep waters and you must make adjustments.
A depth/fish finder doesn’t hurt but it also is not necessary. Tie a pair of forceps to a string and lower them until you hit bottom. Measure the depth and adjust your leader or line type to fish at that level. Start one foot off the bottom and work your way up until you start running into the fish.
Fishing Transition Zones
Look for transition zones in lakes. In rivers, you are always looking for seams, shade lines and places where fish can eat while controlling their temperature and oxygen intake. The same applies to lakes.
Color changes indicate substrate and depth changes. The fish will utilize these zones because a small adjustment in either direction is all they need to remain comfortable. Depth change areas also provide a quick escape when predators appear from above. Work the ledges, color changes and troughs and you are sure to find a few fish.
We have barely scratched the stillwater fishing surface. The lake environment is one that can keep you entertained for a long time. It provides you with an alternative when the rivers are tough and the potential for trophy fish is excellent. Next time you drive by the local reservoir, think about stopping and probing for a few fish.
Wet Fly Fishing for Trout – Still Effective
Wet fly fishing is a proven technique that has somehow become archived in the classic files. The technique faded from the mainstream during the bobber boom but that does not mean it is any less effective.
Swinging is still a popular method of targeting steelhead but it should not be overlooked for trout. You can use traditional patterns like the coachman wet or utilize modern patterns with soft hackles and extra collars.
While swinging is not always the way to go, there are times when it is extremely productive.
When to Swing Wet Flies…
Swinging for trout is best practiced when the fish and insects are active. You can always swing a small muddler minnow or baitfish style pattern to draw a strike but traditional swinging is ideal as a summer technique.
Anytime caddis are present, consider a swinging presentation. You can also use the technique to cover water when the fishing is slow and dead drifting is not producing.
When Not to Swing…
There is never a bad time for active wet fly fishing techniques but it is far less effective than dead drifting during cold periods. The lethargic fish will not make any big moves and dead drifting until you hit them on the head is more productive.
You can also skip the swing when the fish are making deliberate and selective grabs. Fish feeding on spinners and cripples are definitely poor candidates for a swung fly.
Where to Swing…
You can swing through a variety of water types but a decent current helps the technique. Look for riffles where you can control the speed and depth or runs that allow you to swing wet flies along a seam. Also swing through undercut banks and overhanging brush to draw fish out from the cover.
How to Swing…
Swinging wet flies is a fairly simple technique. Use a lightly weighted fly or a small split shot to help sink the fly. Cast down and across and allow the current to pull the fly until it is directly downstream from you.
Allowing the current to drag the line at a high pace is not the result you want. In many situations, it is best to make a mend immediately after the cast. This prevents the line from developing a bow and allows you to increase or reduce the speed by moving your rod tip up or down.
The Hook Set
The hook set is slightly different on a swing than with bobbers or high sticking techniques. The fly is moving, it is downstream and the fish is chasing.
A poor set will pull the fly away from the fish and you will miss more than a few grabs. When you feel the grab, do not pull the rod back to set the hook. Reach downstream and set the hook by lifting the rod up, keeping it almost parallel to the water until you feel the hook fish.
Now that the hook is set, you must get to the bank and walk downstream to get an angle on the fish. Dragging it back upstream pulls the hook through the flesh and you will lose a fair number of fish at the net.
Benefits of Wet Fly Fishing
The benefit of swinging wet flies is the ability to control the speed and depth of the fly without losing contact. You feel the grab, cover water thoroughly and do a fine job of imitating caddis pupa and other emerging insects.
The moving target plays on the attack instinct of fish and you can have some very exciting grabs. Swinging is enjoyable as you are actively controlling the presentation and feeling every bump and change in pressure on the fly.
We are not going to stop high sticking, pulling big streamers or using bobbers to swing exclusively but when the time is right, the swing is our arsenal and it should be in yours too.
It is also fun to carry a couple of traditional wet flies with wings and collars, knowing that they are capable of producing.
Focus on your speed and depth until you start finding fish and enjoy the contact feeling of the grab and the explosion of the hooked fish.
Entomology – Bugs that Matter
Mayfly – Slender, sexy and a common food source in freshwater.
Caddis – Abundant and very important to trout in cold water environments.
Stonefly – Several important subspecies that provide a mouthful for freshwater fish.
Midge – Midges are everywhere and fish love them.
Cranefly – They look like a giant midge and the larva provides an occasional meal for fish.
Terrestrials – They live on land and often find their way to the water.
Damselflies – Common in stillwaters, they are both beautiful and tasty for fish.
Dragonflies – These big bugs are a common food source for many fish.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Place the main stem of the line and the new line facing in opposite directions. Give yourself plenty of slack to complete this knot.
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.
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.
Use a pair of forceps to hold the central loop in and open position. If you have forceps pinned on a 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.
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
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.
Improved Clinch Knot Instructions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best Fishing Knots
The best fishing knots are measured by experience. The top choices are also based on the individuals’ ability to tie a quality knot. Every angler develops their favorites over time and arguments commonly develop when the topic of “which is best” arises. 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
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.
Fly Fishing Gear Talk
Fly Fishing Rods
We have a guide to fly fishing rod page because the fly rod market provides a huge range of rod styles, materials and price ranges. Many anglers will find a company that they like and stick with them but some prefer to collect a variety of different rods.
Choosing a fly rod for the first time may seem overwhelming but you can break down your needs, test a few models and make a purchase without much headache. It becomes more difficult as you gain experience and begin to realize the value of a good rod.
Fly Fishing Nets
Fly fishing nets serve a specific and utterly important purpose. There are many different types of nets available on the market with some being much better than others. The net must be capable of holding the largest fish you catch and it must be durable.
Fly Fishing Tackle Boxes
The fly box seems less than significant in the big picture but it serves an essential purpose. A quality box will hold your bugs securely and keep them dry while you are tramping around. The best boxes do not crush your flies and they store a great number of flies in a portable fashion. Fly boxes come in variety of shapes and sizes, with some being superior to others.