Thoughts on Knots (And Leaders)

By Joe Richter

At a certain stage, knots become very important to fly fishers. Early on, one just wants to hook a fish any way one can.

If the fish is big enough, it may get away--leaving the fledgling angler with a shorter leader and a missing fly.

Strength and Strategy

After some of that, one becomes interested in knot strength and strategy. These two are different. The strength of a knot can be improved. The easiest fly fishing knot is the clinch knot. Five turns, then back through the loop, and you're done--95 percent line strength.

The Trilene Knot is a variation, going through the eye of the hook twice, and is at 100 percent line strength. I use that for salmon, as I need all the strength I can get from the line. and that is good as far as it goes.

But strength isn't everything. One must also consider strategy, such as a knot that is really a loop, thus allowing the hook to move more freely in the current. The Rapella knot fills this need nicely. But the Duncan Loop allows you to adjust the size of the loop. Both have about 95 percent line strength, which is good enough in most cases.

Loop knots are best for sub-surface fishing, and will work for trout, steelhead, and salmon. Just be sure to have hefty leader for steelhead and salmon. They aren't very leader shy, and are usually found in fast moving water where they don't have time to put on their glasses and study the fly.

Leader Splices

Leader splices are best done with a double-ended nail knot, using a nail knot tool. For me, this is way easier than tying a blood knot, and stronger besides. The simple nail knot is usually used for connecting fly line to leader, and is perfect for that use. The double-ended nail knot is for splices in the leader--tying on finer and finer leader, or just connecting line in a spin rod mis-hap, where one has to cut out the tangle.

You could use the double-ended nail knot for making your own knotted tapered leader. When you hook a five-pound trout, every one of those knots is critical.

When the Leader Breaks

The more you know about fishing, the more you worry about your knots. To land a big fish after a hard fight, you have to give at least partial credit to good knot tying, as well as the technique used in playing the fish. To have the fish get away, then see your leader with a little curly tip . . . is heart breaking. It means the knot came undone. The leader did not break. It was the fisherman who was at fault.

If the leader has a clean end, then it was broken off for reasons other than knot failure. It could be that you did not play the fish correctly, or that the leader was nicked; even a small microscopic abrasion will drastically weaken monofilament.

Old monofilament leader material can be another cause of failure. Those of us who are in the prime of life, full of knowledge, very techno savvy, and remember old Beatle songs, it is easy to forget that the tippet in one's vest might be five years old. That seems like Yesterday, to quote a Beatle's song--but anything over a year old should be suspect, especially the thinner tippets. (Note: this is not a problem for fluorocarbon material).

It is a brave man that can throw out all the old tippet spools and buy fresh, new material; it usually takes a plan to fish unknown waters in Canada or even more exotic places. I'm lucky to have the Deschutes nearby, so when the truck is loaded with gear, and the coffee is streaming through the heart, lungs, and eyeballs, it is best to load up with fresh monofilament, or "tippet", somewhere along the way.

Of course, it could be done days ago at local fly shops, but of course I forget to do that until I'm on my way. Fortunately The Fly Fishing Shop at Welches is usually open when I'm driving by. So I stop, buy tippet, buy flies, and get some Flashabou in silver that I always wanted, and maybe a Pink Legged Streetwalker to entice the steelhead to bite. It is a naughty fly, and catches really bad steelhead. Bad steelhead have tattoos stating "Spawn 'Til You Die." Not that you would see it; most of them are on steroids, and merely break your leader, no matter what the knot strength.

See also 0035Quick Tip: The Ravages of Time and Basic Knots.

Joe Richter--known as "Joefish" on the Westfly Board--sleeps in Lake Oswego, Oregon, but does his living on the Deschutes, North Umpqua, North Fork of the Lewis, and other Northwest rivers. He works part-time at REI in Tualatin, selling skis and bikes and renting camping and climbin equipment.