There are some very firm opinions in the angling community regarding which knots are the best to use. Every angler has their own reasons for using certain knots, and there are pros and cons to many of the commonly used knots in fly fishing. The knots below are the ones I personally use/have used and why I use them.
For every knot mentioned, I’ll be linking to Animated Fishing Knots by Grog. The site is fantastic and is how I learned to tie most of my fishing knots.
Tippet to Fly
The knot that connects the tippet to the fly is also known as the terminal knot because that is where the line ends. Since this knot is the closest to the fly, it is more likely to fail than the other knots in your fly rig. There are two main reasons for this:
- The terminal knot takes the full force exerted on the line from the fish before the other knots do.
- The terminal knot is composed of the thinnest, and by extension weakest segment of the line in the entire fly rod set up.
Since the terminal knot takes much of the force while also being composed of the weakest section of line in the rig, means that knot selection is very important. It’s important to select a knot that maintains the highest percentage of the fishing line’s strength as possible.
Improved Cinch Knot
This is one of the most commonly used knots not only in fly fishing but spin fishing as well. It’s a knot that has been around for a long time (since the dawn of monofilament in WWII) and has stood the test of time for a reason, it works!
The Improved Cinch Knot is very strong when tied correctly, and doesn’t take long to tie either. It is a knot that really benefits from the line being wet before finishing, as there is quite a bit of friction on the line when tightening this knot.
Learn to tie the Improved Cinch Knot.
The Palomar Knot is one of the strongest and most reliable fishing knots I know, It’s also a very easy and quick knot to learn and tie.
Unfortunately, since it involves passing a loop of tippet through the eye of the hook, it’s unsuitable for use with small flies. The two strands of tippet often times just can’t pass through the hook eye. Once the loop is through the hook eye, it also needs to pass over the body of the fly. Passing the loop over the body of the fly isn’t typically a problem, but can make tying the knot a bit complicated if you’re using very large articulated flies such as pike or muskie flies.
Even though the Palomar Knot is unsuitable for small nymphs or dry flies for reasons mentioned above, I often use it for tying on large trout streamers or for striped bass flies. I quite like the extra strength this knot gives when fishing in these situations, as the fish can really hammer the flies!
Learn to tie the Palomar Knot.
Not that you would ever use braided for fly fishing, it’s worth noting that this is one of the few standard fishing knots that maintains it’s strength when used with braided line.
I don’t usually use the davy knot anymore as I’ve lost to many fish on it, but I will still use it from time to time if I’m fishing for smaller fish that pose no threat of breaking off. It is easily one of the quickest knots to tie, so it can be useful in those situations where the fish are picky are you’re tying on many different flies to find what’s working. Just don’t use the davy knot if you think there’s a trophy in the hole, as it’s not as tough as the other two knots mentioned above.
Learn to tie the Davy Knot.
There is also a stronger variant of the davy knot, creatively named the Double Davy Knot.
Leader to tippet
Line to line knots do exactly what their name suggests, they connect two sections of fishing line, often of different diameters. They are further up the line, so don’t take quite as much of the force from a fishes initial strike as terminal knots do. That being said, It is still critical that these knots be tied correctly as line to line knots tend to be weaker than terminal knots.
The Surgeon Knot
I’ll be honest, this is the only knot I use for my line to line connections. When tied properly, it’s a strong, quick, and easy to tie knot. It works very well for joining two sections of fishing line of equal to moderately different thicknesses in diameter. The knot comes in two forms, the double and triple surgeon knot, which knot to use depends on tippet thickness. With thicker tippet, I use the double surgeon knot, with thinner tippet, the triple surgeon knot.
It is a bit of a bulky knot, and the line does come out at a bit of an angle. Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to tighten it quickly. If you are to slow tightening the knot, it will “flip” a bit, and not seat correctly, I always test my surgeon knots before fishing for this reason. Despite it’s few drawbacks, for 95% of fly tying applications, this knot will do the trick.
Learn to tie the Surgeon Knot.
An alternative of the surgeon knot is the blood knot. I have heard many fly anglers say it’s their knot of choice for connecting the leader to tippet. I haven’t actually used it myself as the surgeon knot has served me well.
Learn to tie the Blood Knot.
Fly line to Leader
The knot connecting the fly line to the leader is perhaps the most debated knot in the fly fishing set up. Out of all the connections, this is the one that fly anglers seem to have the strongest opinions about. There are a few commonly used knots, each with it’s own sets of pros and cons.
The perfection loop actually relies on tying two knots, one on the fly line and one on the leader, to make a loop to loop connection. Since the fly line and leader are not actually tied together, it allows the angler to easily switch to a new leader without having to tie a new knot. This preserves length on both the leader (if being re-used later) and fly line (which is especially important for forward weighted lines or sinking tip lines.)
The main drawback of the perfection loop is it’s quite bulky, and can occasionally get hung up on the line guides on the fly rod from time to time. I’ve had minimal issues with this, but if it’s something you’re concerned about, consider one of the following alternatives.
Learn to tie the Perfection Loop.
Alternatives: Nail knot and Albright knot.
Two commonly used alternatives are the Nail Knot and the Albright Knot.
Learn to tie the Nail Knot.
The Albright Knot is expanded upon below.
Connecting the Backing to the Fly Line.
The backing is the length of line from the reel to the fly line. It’s purpose is to make extra line available for fighting large fish.
The Albright Knot
The Albright Knot is a strong and dependable knot commonly used to connect backing to the fly line, and sometimes used to connect the fly line to the leader as well. The primary reason for using the Albright Knot for this connection is that the knot slides through the guides very easily, so there is no risk of it getting caught on the guides and potentially causing the fish to break off.
Learn to tie the Albright Knot.
Securing the Backing to the Reel
This is a very simple knot that is used to connect the backing to the fly reel. It’s basically two overhand knots tightened against each other to form a firm hold around the reel. It’s a useful knot to know, as it can be used to tie.
Learn to tie the Abor Knot.