Knots every angler needs to secure a good season

Bill Graves, Special to The County
17 years ago
    In a recent column I was fussing about April snowstorms keeping me from outdoor activities, and went on to mention several things I was doing to keep busy. One of those diversions was relearning and practicing tying some fishing knots. I mentioned a few specific knots and their advantages in the story and apparently, by the response, struck a point of interest.
By e-mail, phone and in person, a bunch of fishermen asked for clarification on certain knots, their specific uses and how to tie them.
Fly fishermen need no fewer than three different knots to attach lines and leaders from the reel spool to the fly. Shoddy knot tying techniques or the wrong knot can lead to not only the loss of a fish and a fly, but sometimes the entire line, leaders and backing. Step one is to attach backing material to the reel spool arbor with a self-tightening, non-slip loop that simply consists of two overhand knots.
Pass the line through the line guard, or under the bail when putting monofilament on a spinning reel, then around the arbor and pull out 8-10 inches to form a tag end. Using the tag end, tie a loose overhand knot around the outgoing portion of the backing and another overhand knot near the tip of the tag end, then tighten and trim this last knot. Now pull slowly and firmly on the outgoing length of line, causing the first knot to tighten and slide, forming a sliding loop around the spool arbor until the tag-end knot pulls tight against the first overhand knot and prevents any further line movement. Leader or line will generally break before this backing-to-reel knot lets go.
To connect two lines of different sizes, say backing line to a fly line, level running line to lead core, or even heavy leader to a fly line, a nail knot is the way to go. Also known as a tube knot, this set of interlocking loops is strong, getting tighter as more pressure is applied, yet compact and smooth enough to easily slide through rod guides without snagging. Nail knot proficiency requires a bit of practice, but there are a couple of small tools available at most fly shops to simplify and quicken the task. A surgeons knot may also be used to connect line-to-line or even leader to leader, but while strong, as well as simple, and quick to tie, the resulting knot is more bulky.
A surgeons loop (not to be confused with a surgeons knot) may also be used to connect a heavy butt section of leader or backing material to a fly line. While this loop is simple to tie and very sturdy, I still prefer to spend the extra time and effort to construct a neat, compact needle knot. When connecting various sizes and lengths of leader material, especially for long, tapered multi-section leaders, only the blood knot will do. For anglers who occasionally use two flies, say a wet fly and nymph combo, there’s even a simple technique to tie a blood knot with a dropper line.
Finally, we come to the terminal end of the tackle, where fly, bait hook, line or plug is attached to leader tippet or monofilament line. Knots for this connection must be quick and easy to tie since it will be used many times on each outing. This knot must be tough also, since it endures the greatest direct pressure when playing a fish and takes repetitive duress from casting as well as bouncing and catching on underwater obstacles.
Fly casters should use the improved clinch knot, also referred to as Duncan’s Loop. This is a stronger, more versatile version of the “fisherman’s knot” most of us learned years ago. When using flies with up-turned eyes, very common to Atlantic salmon patterns, veteran anglers prefer a turle knot for a firm attachment and proper fly position in the water as it swings in the current.
Named after Berkley’s Trilene monofilament, the Trilene knot is the perfect choice for tying on bait hooks, plugs and lures, especially when using 4- to 14-pound monofilament or with 4- to 20-pound test fluorocarbon. More dependable than the widely used clinch knot, when properly tied the Trilene knot test at almost 100% of line strength. Simply insert 4- to 6-inches of line through the hook eye, swivel or split ring, then reinsert the mono through the eye again forming a small double loop. Hold this double loop open and steady between the thumb and the index finger of the off-hand, then using the master hand, take five turns around the standing line with the tag end. Now insert the tag end through the double loop, moisten with saliva and pull the standing line slow and steady to tighten the knot.
My personal favorite knot for attaching any hook or lure is the strong and simple Palomar. Less complicated and quicker to tie than the Trilene or improved clinch knots and just as strong, the Palomar is a must for bass casters and inshore saltwater anglers using monofilament line, super braids or flurocarbon. As with all the terminal tackle and joining knots, a lot of lubrication with saliva and a slow steady pull on the standing line while securing the tag end will result in the firmest, strongest knots.
While it’s best to practice these knots at home a couple of evenings to train the mind and fingers to work together, it never hurts to have a pocket guide along on the outing. This snow and mud will soon give way to spring fishing, in the mean time, why not practice knots?