Fly Fishing Knots: Knot a Problem

Fly Fishing Knots: Knot a Problem

Photo: David Seigfried

Fly Fishing knots don't have to be a roadblock on your way to fly-fishing Nirvana. Don't be put off by 100-page knot books or long lists of knot illustrations and videos on-line. You don't need to know all those knots.

You only need to know a few basic knots to get started fly fishing in fresh water. Practice them at home before you go fishing so you don't find yourself wondering how to tie on a tippet just as the trout begin to rise and the sunlight starts to fade.

When you are comfortable with the basic knots, you can add more knots to your repertoire — knots that serve specific, specialized purposes such as a loop knot to allow your fly to move more freely in the water; the George Harvey knot for hooks with downturned eyes; or special saltwater knots for heavy monofilament.

Right now, you just need to know how to attach your fly (fisherman's knot), how to connect two pieces of monofilament so you can add a tippet section to the end of your leader (blood knot), and how to tie a tube nail knot to attach a leader to your fly line in the event your fly line does not have a looped end. It's also helpful to know how to join two loops together.

Strong knots. When fly fishers talk about strong knots they are mostly referring to the final knot connecting the fly to the tippet. This is where strength is most critical because the diameter of the line is at its thinnest.

The most popular knot to attach the fly to tippet is the improved clinch knot. Although it is an easy knot to tie, and many fish have been caught with it, the improved clinch knot is weaker than many other knots. The fisherman's knot is stronger and works to connect any fly to the tippet.

Knot Tips

Lubricate the knot with saliva or fly floatant before you pull it snug. George Anderson — owner of George Anderson's Yellowstone Angler in Livingston, Montana — uses lip balm before he ties two monofilament sections together. He forms the knot, then uses his lips to lubricate the monofilament before he pulls it tight.

If you pull a knot tight and there are curls, abrasions, or other deformities in the monofilament caused by the heat and friction of closing the knot, you should cut it off and try again.

Deformities show you that the monofilament has been significantly weakened, and although the knot itself may not break, the line will break where you have damaged it.

Pull the knot snug and make sure it is seated and tightened correctly. Most knots require you to hold the tag end so it doesn't slide out when you tighten the knot.

Clip the tag end of the monofilament only after the knot is completely tightened and seated correctly. Clip it short and neat, but do not clip it so close to the knot that the tag can slip through completely, or so close that you risk nipping the knot itself. It's okay to leave a short tag no longer than the diameter of the hook eye, and your knot is probably stronger as a result.

Tie a new knot after you catch a large or toothy fish, snag trees on the backcast, or drag your line on the bottom. Inspect your entire leader regularly for nicks and abrasions. If you don't, you may regret it when you lose the fish of a lifetime. You should always be thinking that the next fish could be "the one" and prepare accordingly.

Recommended for You

Fly Tying

Tying the Kamikaze Sculpin

Charlie Craven

The Kamikaze Sculpin is easy to tie, versatile, and smartly designed to get the job done.


Fly Fisherman Magazine Documentary Recognized by Outdoor Writers Association of America

Fly Fisherman - June 24, 2019

Fly Fisherman's documentary "One Path" was recognized with two awards.


Fly Fishing Community Stunned by Twin Slayings on Belize Saltwater Flat

Fly Fisherman Online Staff - June 27, 2019

The fly fishing communities in the U.S. and Belize are mourning after twin slayings that...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Breaking the Surface

Attack of the Bass continues as Breaking the Surface attacks bass with fly and lure 12:30pm ET Sunday, April 17th.

Black Beauty

Master fly tier Charlie Craven discuss the tools and materials needed to tie the Black Beauty.

Casting Backhand in Tight Quarters

A backhand cast is when you use your backcast to deliver the fly.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

United States

American River California

MIchael Wier - March 23, 2017

American River California

Fly Tying

Best Panfish Flies

Skip Morris - October 17, 2016

Best Panfish Flies


The 15 Best Carp Flies

Jay Zimmerman - September 27, 2016

As you explore your home water, keep in mind what they are are eating to select the best carp...

See More Stories

More Learn

Fly Tying

Tying Grillos's User Friendly

Charlie Craven - December 19, 2018

Trout can't resist it, and it's easy to keep it floating.


Tips for Fishing an Ant Fall

Jim McLennan - August 09, 2018

Ants are everywhere, they're around all summer and fall, and if you haven't heard the news,...

Fly Tying

Tying the Strong Arm Merkin

David W. Skok - July 09, 2019

Here are step-by-step instructions for tying the Strong Arm Merkin fly.

See More Learn

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.