The best piece of fishing advice I can give you is this: Learn how to tie knots.
And it’s just good life advice, really, because a knot is simple and you never know when it may come in handy. You may need to tie a new leader on your fly line or secure a kayak to your trailer, and knowing the right knot in the right moment is not only handy and efficient—it also makes you look like a badass.
Of course, we’re here to talk about fishing knots, but the same rule applies. Whether you’re fly fishing, setting trot lines, tossing bass lures, or surf fishing for striper, one of these four knots is going to come in handy at some point during your angling life. Most likely, they’re going to come in handy from day one.
The trick is to practice. On paper, all of these knots are extremely simple, involving just a few steps. But, it’s a different story when your hands are numb, the fish are blowing up on top, and the afternoon sun is blinding you. The last thing you want is to be fumbling with your line or, worse, have a knot fail because you didn’t tie it correctly. So, spend some time practicing these knots from the comfort of your own home and get it down to muscle memory. Your future self will thank you.
Let’s dive into tying the four fishing knots you need to be effective on the water.
Before we get into the actual knots, let’s talk about line thickness and material. In most cases, fishing knots require a series of wraps to create tension—this is particularly important for the improved clinch knot and the blood knot, which you’ll see later in this article. The amount of wraps is highly dependent on the type of line you’re using. In general, the thicker the line, the fewer wraps you’ll need and the inverse is true for thinner lines. As for material, braided line will require fewer wraps than fluorocarbon or mono line, mainly because it has more natural friction.
Ultimately, you’ll learn quickly how many wraps are enough. Every time you tie a knot, give it a good tug to see how well it holds under tension. If the knot slowly slips, then you’ll need to give it another wrap or two. If, while tying the knot, it’s very difficult to cinch down, then you’ll know that you have too many wraps. Ideally, you want as few as possible without giving up the necessary friction to hold the knot because, with every wrap, the knot gets a little bulkier and possibly weaker as well.
Use: tying a lure or hook onto your fishing line
Chances are, if you’ve ever picked up a fishing rod, you know this knot. It’s the great-grandfather of all fishing knots—and for good reason. The improved clinch knot is simple and highly effective. With just a few minutes of practice you can get it down pat. Here’s how to tie it:
Use: creating a loop at the end of your line
Particularly for fly fishing, you’ll want to know how to tie a secure, non-slip loop at the end of your line, primarily for attaching leaders and backing when you’re spooling up a reel. The perfection loop is aptly named because after a little practice, it’s fast and simple to tie. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but this knot is worth knowing.
Use: securing two sections of line together
The double surgeon’s knot is easy to tie and highly effective, with one caveat. As you’ll learn in the next section, the blood knot wins as far as effectiveness goes, but it’s a tad more involved difficulty-wise. The only con about the double surgeon’s knot is that it is a tad bulky, which tends to catch on guides and lines and lures and flies more often than the blood knot. But, in all honesty, when I’m on the river and want to tie a knot more quickly, I tend to lean towards the double (or triple) surgeon’s just because it’s so darn simple.
Note: For thinner lines, particularly like 5x, 6x, and 7x tippet in fly fishing, I like to tie the triple surgeon’s knot for a little added security. To tie the triple, simple pass your tag end and line end through the loop one more time.
Use: securing two sections of line together
I saved the blood knot for last because it’s definitely the most difficult to tie on this list. Of course, it’s all relative because the prior three knots are all very easy to tie, and there are more complicated knots than the blood knot. But given the difficulty, why would you use the blood knot over the double surgeon’s? There’s a lot of debate about the strength of this know versus the double or triple surgeon’s knot, but what we know for sure is that it is more streamlined. So, if you’re fishing in a way where your line will pass through your guides a lot—nymphing with a fly rod, for example—then a blood knot is the way to go. Plus, it’s just a beautiful knot.
There are a lot of great fishing knots out there and, for some reason, anglers love to debate why their selection is the best. But, what I know for sure is that with these four knots in your arsenal, you’ll be able to do just about anything you need to do on the water, and that’s the most important part.
Animations via Steve Schwartz.