Fly fishing knots don’t really vary from other fishing knots. What we call “fly fishing” knots are knots applied to fly fishing gear and fishing scenarios. If you’re just getting into fly fishing or you are looking for a few tips on some different knots, here are the 12 most useful fly fishing knots that I’ve used in both fresh water and salt water.
We will examine knots starting from the reel, going all the way to the fly. This will cover backing to reel, backing to fly line, fly line to butt section, butt section to leader, leader to tippet (also multiple leader sections), and finally tippet to fly. This will also cover knots for wire and shock tippets for toothy fish and species with abrasive mouths.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: BACKING TO REEL
The arbor knot is a simple and effective knot to connect your backing to your reel. If a fish strips off backing to the point that you’re at your arbor knot, you’re probably going to lose your line, the fish, and your pride. The arbor knot is meant to allow you to start winding your backing onto your reel. Don’t rely on the knot to hold a fish; just add plenty of backing and tighten down the drag so you don’t ever see your arbor knot again.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: BACKING TO FLY LINE
After you’ve wound on your backing, you need to connect it to your fly line. You can connect your backing to your fly line with a loop system or a nail knot, which we will discuss later. I always use a loop system so that I can change lines without cutting my backing or my fly line. For this reason, I recommend using one of the three loop knots described below to create the loop, and then we will discuss the actual method of attaching the loop to the fly line.
TRIPLE/DOUBLE SURGEON’S LOOP KNOT
If you plan on never seeing your backing in a fishing situation, then you can simply use a Triple surgeon’s Loop knot. This knot is also useful for other uses, but for now, you can simply tie a large loop with this knot and attach it to your fly line. If you ever hook a large fish that gets you to your backing, this knot should work just fine.
BIMINI TWIST KNOT
The Bimini Twist is the standard loop knot for saltwater and larger, more powerful fish. It is extremely strong and effective. It is also one of the more involved knots to tie, although it really isn’t that complicated. You can have confidence in this knot for any situation around the world.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: SPLICING BACKING
Splicing your backing is a relatively rare method of creating a loop in your backing by threading it into itself. It is, however, the best way to create a loop in your backing. It is essentially 100% strong and super sleek, sliding through the guides with no bumps at all.
Backing splicing is the most difficult “knot” on this list, and few fly shops offer it as an option, and practically no novice fly angler ties it. It requires a tool to create it, but if you learn to tie it or have a fly shop that will do it for you, you’ll have the best knot for this application, without question. You can’t say that about all of these knots, since there is often debate on which knot is best.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: ATTACHING LOOPS
There are two main ways to attach your loop knot to your fly line. The first one is to simply put the loop knot into the fly line loop and around the fly line container. The loops mesh perfectly together.
The other way is to double this process and have two loops snug down onto the fly line loop. This prevents the backing from eating into the fly line too much and gives you slightly more support. For situations that you will encounter powerful fish ripping you into your backing, use the double loop approach.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: BUTT SECTION TO FLY LINE
You need to attach your leader to the fly line now. Most of the time, you’ll have a separate piece of heavy monofilament attached to the fly line and then your leader is attached to the butt section. If you don’t have a separate butt section, you can still refer to the last piece of your leader as the “butt section.”
There are two main ways to attach your butt section to the fly line: tying directly to the fly line or a loop knot.
A nail knot eats into your fly line and supplies a very tidy connection from your butt section to your fly line. It is a little more involved knot to tie, and you can use a nail knot tool to help you. Another common knot for this purpose is the Albright knot, but you do not need to use this knot unless you want to.
A perfection knot is a loop knot that is very easy to tie. It is extremely tidy and effective for any size of fish you might pursue. You can also use this knot to attach the tippet to your fly, as you will learn later in this article.
TRIPLE/DOUBLE SURGEON’S LOOP KNOT (AGAIN)
The same knot you might use on your backing is also a knot you can use for your butt section. You might modify the Triple Surgeon’s Loop knot to make it a Double Surgeon’s Loop knot—simply decrease the turns by one. I prefer the Perfection knot over the Surgeon’s Loop knot personally.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: LEADER TO TIPPET/LEADER KNOTS
If you want to create your own leader, you need to tie sections together. You will need to add tippet material to your leader as well. You can use the same knots for both of these applications.
DOUBLE NAIL KNOT (double uni knot)
The Double Nail knot is not very well known to most fly anglers. It is the equivalent of a uni-to-uni knot. However, you tie it with a Nail knot tool. This knot is good for larger-diameter leader material, and it works a little bit better with diameters that are not as close to each other. The sleekness of the knot is similar to the Blood knot.
This knot is also excellent for tying a flexible-wire bite tippet onto your leader. A good option on bite wire is RIO’s Powerflex Wire Bite tippet.
The Blood knot is a very popular and useful knot. It is sleek and moderately easy to tie. It is perfect for connecting two pieces of similar-diameter leader/tippet together. There are many fast ways to tie this knot that people have created over the years, using toothpicks and/or your mouth to aid in the tying of this knot.
TRIPLE/DOUBLE SURGEON’S KNOT
A Triple or Double Surgeon’s knot is tied the exact same way as a loop knot but with two separate pieces of leader/tippet. It is great for tying small diameter pieces of tippet to your leader and is extremely easy and fast to tie. In a snowstorm when your hands are frozen, this is a great knot to use. Ideally, the diameters should be close.
FLY FISHING KNOTS: TIPPET TO FLY
The final step is to add your fly. There are two main ways again: loop knot or a standard knot.
IMPROVED CLINCH KNOT
The Improved Clinch is a simple, yet super effective, knot. You can tie the standard Clinch or Improved Clinch. Both are very similar. I use the Improved Clinch when I’m not using a loop knot.
NON-SLIP MONO KNOT
A loop knot gives your fly more movement and sinks the fly faster. It is great for streamers or with heavy leader with nymphs. The standard of all fly fishing knots is the Non-Slip Mono Loop knot, and every fly angler must know this knot. This knot is great up to about 50 or 60 lb. tippet, and I have absolute confidence in this knot.
HOMER RHODE LOOP KNOT (IMPROVED)
I personally use the Non-Slip Mono Loop knot whenever I can, but there are times when an angler needs to use extra heavy tippet, like with tarpon or giant trevally. One option is to use a Perfection Loop knot to attach your fly. It is easy and quick. If you’re in a situation where you need to tie the knot super fast, this is a great option.
If you have a little extra time, then a Homer Rhode Loop Knot is an incredibly strong knot to tie. It can be used with ultra large diameter tippets, is fairly sleek, and is very strong.
A FEW EXTRA FLY FISHING KNOTS
These knots should cover 99.9% of your fly fishing needs. Occasionally, you might have a very specific fish species and/or destination, or you just might want to experiment. Examples are crimping wire, an Albright knot, a double blood knot (blood knot with one side doubled), and many more. However, with these 12 you can feel very comfortable fishing for almost any species out there.