The first time I taught the classroom portion of a two-day fly fishing class, I spent about an hour on rigs and knots. That was about 35 minutes too long. After teaching fifteen of them, I reduced that number to two: the surgeon’s and clinch. Twenty minutes included practicing these knots three times. If they wanted more, and many did, my students stayed in class for lunch, and we worked on blood knots, Albrights, and nail knots too. Most anglers simply don’t need more, as a fly shop is usually close by, and fly lines and leaders come with loops already.
One question I have heard often in class is, “what knots do I need to know to rig everything myself?” Without getting into saltwater rigs, dropper loops, or anything else that could tangle and confuse the casual angler, six would be the right number (and on the seventh knot, the angler rested!). In order:
- Reel to backing: Arbor knot
- Backing to flyline: Albright knot (a nail knot would suffice here, though many flylines now have rear loops)
- Flyline to leader:
- This is where it gets tricky–most have loops already, but the most common is a nail knot to a piece of thick mono filament (such as an old leader butt) and a perfection loop on the mono will get the job done.
- It’s not really a knot, but a loop-to-loop connection is required to connect your fly-line/mono tag to your leader. Most come with a perfection loop already.
- Leader to tippet: triple surgeon’s knot is the simplest reliable knot that will get you more time with bugs on/in the water. A barrel (or blood) knot is more beautiful, but all things being equal, (Flies+H2O) x Time = More Fish, so a fussy knot ain’t the most effective.
- Tippet to fly (and fly to tippet for multiple fly rigs): clinch knot
These knots will do the trick for trout fishing. Here are a few “whys and wherefores”, if you’re into the details:
- My goals here are knot strength, simplicity, and maximum fishing time.
- Tag ends are usually OKAY. Fish will ignore a hook, so they’ll ignore a bit more mono or fluorocarbon whenever you’re fishing below the surface. Keep it reasonable, certainly shorter than any hackle you’re rocking–1/8 of an inch is plenty. With that said, those tags can catch tailing loops and produce ugly “wind knots” (mostly caused by the wind of an over-hasty forward cast), so some casting practice is a good idea.
- I don’t improve my clinch knots. A little tag will keep it from unraveling if you take three precautions:
- 1. Use enough turns–I use six for <4x, seven for 4x-5x, and eight for anything skinnier.
- 2. Lube ’em up–lick your knots to allow them to seat properly and reduce the friction heating that can weaken your mono.
- 3. Pull on the leader end and fly, not the tag end. If the wraps don’t seat perfectly, nip it and do it again.
- 3x and thicker calls for a double surgeon’s loop, but it seems the triple holds a bit better on anything thinner. If you upgrade any of these knots, learning to tie a barrel/blood knot, or even double uni knot would be smart, so that you don’t have to leave any raggedy tag ends. Even better, the 90 degree leader tag from a blood knot makes a useful place for tying on additional dropper flies or adding weight.
- Remember that any “shop dog” at your local fly shop is more than willing to tie up the first four of these knots. The best part is, you probably have him/her captive during that time, and you might be able to get a little more intel during that conversation. I find that bringing in a beer or six will help to properly lubricate the knots tied in the fly shop, especially in the tongues of those who know the local secrets.