Though I don’t even pretend to be an expert in many aspects of fishing, there is one part of the sport that I believe I am much more familiar with than most: knots. As a scout and longtime angler, I have honed my knot tying skills to near perfection, and have come across numerous knot variations during my search for the strongest, easiest fishing knots. Some knots have been up to the test of my hard-core fishing style, and others have withered away into a gnarled mess of curled, weakened line.
I have narrowed down knots I use on the water to a list of six, each fulfilling my requirements for strength, ease of tying, and versatility. While I describe the uses and some tying tips for each of these knots, I omitted creating my own instructions for tying them. Lord knows we don’t need another knot tying tutorial on the internet, so I’ve included some of my favorites that get the job done.
In order to get good at any of these knots, you must practice, as with anything in life. Many of these knots are best practiced by using some paracord and a carabiner to act as a hook at first, and then can be progressed to thinner and thinner line. And like fly casting, the time you spend on the water isn’t always the best time to practice. Distractions like blitzing fish and hatching insects limit our focus on the knots we’re tying, and they become sloppy. Instead, it’s best to practice before fishing so that you feel comfortable tying the knot quickly and effectively so that you can maximize your time fishing during a blitz or hatch.
Duncan Loop/Uni Knot: While most anglers use a simple clinch knot for tying on most lures or flies, I’ve never found it to be very strong. Perhaps it was because I never devoted much time to learning to tie it properly, but the clinch knots I tied typically resulted in an expensive loss and a curly-Q on the end of my line or leader. For a while, I replaced it with the San Diego jam knot, which, while very strong, used a great deal of line and took a fairly long time to tie. The solution came to me by way of my grandfather’s friend, a former fly fishing guide and knot guru. He showed me what he called a Duncan loop, but what is now more commonly referred to as a uni knot. The uni knot is a sliding loop knot like a clinch or San Diego jam, but is far stronger than the clinch and uses less line than the San Diego jam. Now the uni is my go-to knot for tying lures or flies to the end of my line or leader, and I have never once had it be the point of failure in a situation where I lose a lure or fly. During a trip where you might expect to encounter excessively large fish, not completely cinching the knot down can leave a little room for shock absorption.
Palomar: While I use the Duncan loop about 95% of the time I tie on a fly or lure, I use the palomar the other 5%, almost exclusively when tying on plain hooks or setting up a drop shot rig. The palomar is said to be the strongest line-to-lure connecting knot, and I am yet to have one fail. Once upon a time I used palomars far more often, but turned away from them due to the large amount of line used, especially in the tag (which is beneficial for drop shots). The knot also requires the line be doubled over to be put through the eye of the hook, limiting the knot’s use on small flies and hooks with small eyes. I most frequently use palomars when tying on plain hooks for uses like the Texas rig or bait fishing. The palomar works especially well when using a drop shot rig because, when the long tag is fed back through the eye of the hook, the hook stands out from the line at a 90-degree angle, allowing the bait to be fished horizontally when a weight is attached to the tag end.
Perfection Loop: When tying loops in the ends of leaders for loop-to-loop attachments, nothing beats the perfection loop. The perfection loop is strong and can be made very small, a benefit when fly fishing where larger loops are more prone to snagging a fly mid-cast. I find the perfection loop to run straighter than the also-popular double surgeon’s loop, which tends to be a little askew from the main line.
Double Uni Knot: I typically use the double uni knot for attaching a nylon or fluorocarbon leader to braided main line. While the blood knot would also work for this purpose, I’ve found the double uni to be more reliable when attaching braid to a monofilament line. I have had this knot fail on rare occasions, but never while fighting a fish. It is the strongest line-connecting knot I’ve found for its speed and ease of tying. The double uni is essentially just two of the previously mentioned uni knots tied back-to-back, which, when cinched tight, jam up against each other and form a slim, strong connection. The tag ends on this knot should be trimmed as short as possible to prevent catching eyelets, guides, or weeds.
Blood Knot: A fly angler’s best friend when tying together sections of a monofilament tapered leader. Blood knots are strong and slim, but can be a bit of a pain in the butt to tie. When cinching the knot tight, I’ve found the tag ends tend to slip out of the middle opening and ruin the knot. I remedy this by holding the top tag in my teeth and the bottom in the jaws of locked forceps. In this manner, the knot can be tightened without having to worry about the tag ends pulling loose. While some prefer the triple surgeon’s knot when attaching tippet to a leader, I find the blood knot to be smoother and stronger (maybe it’s just because I have more confidence in them, though).
Triple Surgeon’s Knot: If you’re a fly angler looking to fish multiple-fly rigs, knowing the triple surgeon’s knot is a must. While it is also useful for joining two sections of line, I find it better for tying dropper tags off of a main line, where a fly can be attached in addition to the one on the main line. Make sure to use tippet of the same or lower diameter for the tag, otherwise the entire rig can be broken off if the dropper fly becomes snagged or is stolen by a large fish. Another consideration is to make sure you snip the top tag end of the attached dropper tag so that the remaining tag faces downward, like the main line.
No matter how good you become at tying these knots, they will still fail on occasion. They will not save your lure from the 40-pound log you’re snagged on, nor will they increase the number of bites you receive (for the most part). What they will do is limit the number of breakoffs you have, as well as make you an overall more educated angler.