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How To Tie Fishing Knots Properly And Securely

Knot: A tangle with a name.

An - as yet unfulfilled - objective of mine is to catch a 13.5-kilo (30 lb.) snapper. I have come close a few times but never actually landed the really big one. Just off the Hen and Chicken Islands, off the East coast of the North, North Island of New Zealand a couple of years ago I thought I had finally cracked it.

It was not to be. My knot failed just as the fish neared the boat.

I could clearly see the huge snapper as it just rolled its head downward - that was all. Not a hard lunge - no vicious pull - just a roll away and down. It kept on going down, slowly but purposely. I stood there watching my rod that was now straight, and saw the line lying slack in the water.

Slowly I reeled in till the line-end lifted off the water. At the end of the trace was a little curl of line where the hook had been. That little curl irrefutable evidence that my knot had failed.

No amount of yelling, "Bother, golly, gosh, and darn it" could bring that fish back. No amount of "If only" could disguise the fact that my knot simply came undone.

Undertaking a personal debrief afterwards I realised the mistakes I made.

In my excitement and rush to get my new rig into the water I hurried tying on the hook.

  1. I neglected to test the knot.
  2. I did not wipe the slime and grime of bait and fish off my hands before I tied the knot.

All these factors contributed to the lost fish.

"But why didn't the knot come undone during the early part of the fight," you ask?

Very often under hard-fight conditions the tension and compression on the line is enough to hold the knot from slipping. However once the tension comes off, as in this case when the fish began to drift up toward the boat, the nylon line begins to recover its original non-stretched shape. The coils and twists that formed the knot become loose and the knot just quietly slips apart.

It is my guess that more fish are lost to poorly tied knots, than from any other single factor.

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So what makes a good knot?

The Du Pont Company, the world's largest manufacturer of fishing line, has done an enormous amount of research into knots for monofilament and other types fishing line.

As a result of this research they established a set of guidelines that they use to determine whether a knot is suitable for them to recommend for their lines. It should be noted that these guidelines are for 'every day' knots.

The guidelines are:

So what is the best knot?

There are books full of knots, but amongst the best are the Uni knot and the cinch knot (sometimes called the blood knot). Both the Uni and the blood knots are quick and easy to tie, and both maintain overall line strength to over 85% of the lines original breaking strength.

But no matter which knot you choose there is one factor that remains true. If you do not practice tying the chosen knot so that you can tie it easily and securely, you will lose fish to knots coming undone.

The Uni-knot

Meaning one-knot, the Uni-knot is pretty much just what it says - you can use it for most knot tying situations.

uni-knot tying image

I use it for tying leaders to hooks (including snood knot), flies, lures, jigs and to join line. It has a knot strength when properly tied of over 95%.

All knots weaken the line they are tied in - the % knot strength indicates how much of the lines original breaking strain is left after tying the knot. The closer the knot strength is to 100% of the original breaking strain the better the knot. A simple half-hitch has a knot strength of less than 50%.

When using the Uni-Knot to tie on flies, jigs, hooks or lures, you have two options. First you can pull the knot up tight to the eye of the hook, as most people do.

Or, you can pull the knot up tight using the tag end of the line, and then very lightly pinch the two sides of the loop between the hook eye and the knot with your thumb and forefinger fingernails.

Then pull on the main line till the knot meets your fingernails. This will leave a small loop, which will allow a lure or fly more movement. It is especially effective when used with wet flies and streamers.

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The Double Hitch Knot or Surgeons Knot:

Surgeons knot

The double hitch or Surgeon's knot is a another quick and strong way to join line together - for example when you are assembling a leader, adding a trace etc., and to make loops in the leader butt to join the leader to the fly-line loop.

If joining two lines together, overlap the two ends by about 10cm. If making a loop bring the end of the line back alongside the line, with an overlap of around 5cm.

Then for both knots proceed as follows and as shown in the diagram. Using the two lines tie a simple half hitch (1) - do not tighten. Repeat the hitch (2) twice more. Then slowly and carefully pull (3) the doubled lines apart so the knot snugs down firmly. This step is important, and must be done slowly and firmly. Don't wet the knot! It can lead to the hitches forming up incorrectly and seriously weaken the knot.

In fact never wet your knots, it is a myth founded in an old truth but now way past the time it should be thrown away with old line. (See below)

Then trim the ends of the knot with a pair of clippers.

The Perfection Loop

Perfection Loop Illustration

The best knot for tying a loop is the Perfection Loop knot. It is a little difficult to tie, and very difficult to describe, so I won't try. But Midcurrent site has an excellent video on tying this knot, plus step by step photos. Highly recommended.

Assembling a leader for fly-fishing.

When you are fly-fishing you need to ‘turn the fly over’ at the end of the cast. This means that while the fly-line is still going forward, the leader and fly is behind the end of the fly-line. When the fly-line slows to a stop the leader and fly should keep going until it is nicely out in front - pretty as a picture.

To help achieve this we can build a tapered leader - this means that the butt end of the leader is thicker than the fly end of the leader. So we might have on a ‘standard’ leader of around 3m in total, with a butt section of 10kg (20lb) line, say 1.5m long, joined to a mid-section of 4kg (8lb) line .75m long, joined to the ‘tippet’ section, the leader that attaches to the fly of 2 to 3kg (6lb) line, and if you have been checking my maths, .75m long (although you can lengthen this section if you need a longer leader).

Use the Double Hitch to tie the sections together when on the water - but it is a really good practice to tie up several (excluding the tippet end) before you go out fishing and put them in small zip-lock bags. I usually use the Uni-Knot to tie leaders when tying in advance.

loop to loop join

The butt end of the leader is usually attached to the fly line using a loop-to-loop. To make the loop at the butt end of the leader tie the Perfection Loop as shown above.

Alongside is a diagram of the way to correctly and without any possibility of screwing up, attach the leader-butt loop to the fly-line loop. Learn this way of making a loop to loop connection and you will never suffer from a break-off at the loop.

Take the fly-line a few centimeters behind the loop lightly pinched between your forefinger and thumb. Take the leader just behind the loop in the same way. Then push the fly-line loop through the leader loop until the leader loop touches your fly-line thumb and forefinger and pinch them together. With your other hand take the end of the leader and thread it through the fly-line loop and pull it all the way through until just like magic the two loops form a perfect figure-eight loop-to-loop connection.

This method avoids the possibility of the end of the leader-loop flipping over the end of the fly-line loop, and effectively acting as a guillotine on itself, when the join comes under load.

Practice Helper: If you are new to knot tying use some thin string to practice, it is easier to see what you are doing.

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To Wet The Knot Or Not?

One of the more enduring myths, sadly perpetuated in the fishing books, magazines and videos - still being published today - is the 'wet your knot' myth.

When mono lines were first introduced, they were thick and stiff. The line surface was, by today's standards, very rough. Theory, (and it is just a unproven theory), was and in many cases still is,  is that pulling a knot up tight built up friction and hence heat.

Heat is a line killer. It reduces line strength markedly. Trouble is there is no evidence that pulling up a knot tight builds up anywhere near enough heat to damage the line.

Modern lines are more supple and thinner for similar breaking strains. They form into knots much more easily. The surface of modern line is very smooth, and has very little friction quotient.

It is because modern lines are thinner and more supple that you should not wet your knot - here is why.

The best method of tying a knot is to tie the knot carefully, ensuring there are no hidden line cross-overs. Then pull the knot up tight, slowly but firmly, allowing the twists to form-up properly. If you wet a knot there is a distinct danger of forming what is called a 'liar' knot.

A 'liar' knot is a knot that has not formed properly.

It looks the part, but its appearance is deceptive. Saliva allows the twists and turns to slide over themselves as the knot is tightened. Deep within a liar knot a piece of line has crossed over another piece. This will act like a scythe when the knot is jerked tight.

Tie And Re-Tie

A knot, any knot, is the weak link in the fishing system chain. Any knot reduces the breaking strain of the line, when it is first tied. Hook into a couple of good fish and the knot reduces the breaking strain further.

Fishing line is designed to achieve maximum strength in a straight pull. A knot by its very nature changes the direction of the pull. Each pull on the line reduces line strength at the knot.

It is a pain, especially in the midst of a good bite, but it is good practice to re-tie knots after landing, or losing a good fish. This is especially true when fishing lines of less than 10 kilo breaking strain. It is imperative to re-tie a knot that has secured any part of your terminal tackle to a snag to line-breaking point.

Just as important is to re-tie all knots before starting fishing. A knot left tied from the last fishing trip is a time bomb waiting to lose you the fish of a lifetime.

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Article written by Tony Bishop (Bish)

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