Classic Tip: Which Knot Should You Use to Tie on a Fly?

The Orvis Animated Knot Series can help you find the knot that works best for you.

The $64,000 question for many anglers is, “Which knot should I use to connect the fly to the tippet?” We all want the strongest possible connection we can get because the sickening feeling of breaking off a big fish can ruin a day on the water. Ingenious tinkerers have come up with many different knot options over the last 25 years—although how many of these “new” knots already existed is unknown—and basement scientists have spent thousands of hours testing knots against each other, under all kinds of conditions. And if you survey all the testing results and articles on the subject, you come up with one conclusion…that the evidence is inconclusive.

The problem is that—unless the tester has a huge budget, unlimited time, and tons of highly sensitive equipment—there is no good way to test knot strength under real-world conditions, nor is there any way to guarantee that every tested knot is tied equally well. Some knots perform better dry than when they are wet, while others work better with certain tippet sizes or materials than with others. Anecdotal evidence abounds, of course, and it usually involves a knot’s “inventor” explaining how his method for twisting monofilament outperforms all others.

Fly fishermen love to argue about which tippet-to-fly knot is the “best” or strongest (see Which Knot? Part I), but the truth of the matter is that, all things being equal, no single knot does everything an angler needs. There are many variables that go into determining which knot is “best” for a given fly-fishing situation. Here are just a few of them:

1. The kind of fly.

2. The thickness of the wire in the hook eye.

3. The diameter of the tippet material.

4. The kind of tippet material (mono, fluorocarbon, etc.).

5. The kind of action you want on the fly.

So, for instance, a knot that works fine for a size 18 Adams—an unimproved clinch knot—may slip if you try to use it on a size 4 Muddler Minnow, which features much thicker wire at the eye. Many streamer aficionados prefer a loop knot, which allows the fly to move more naturally in the current (or so the theory goes), but it also avoids this slippage problem. And if you’re using super-thick mono as a bite guard for pike or tarpon, you need a specialized knot, such as a Homer Rhode loop, for that, as well.

There is one fact about knot strength that is irrefutable: the strongest knot (of any kind) is a well tied knot. Even if you have been using a knot that is supposed to be the strongest ever, if it’s poorly tied, it won’t hold. So, choose one that you have confidence in, for any reason that makes sense to you, and learn to tie it perfectly every time. Maybe some knots work better for your fingers, or others just make sense to you; it doesn’t really matter. As long as you can tie it correctly and exactly the same every time, you can always have confidence in your connection.

For about 75 percent of my trout fishing, I use a plain old clinch knot. On smaller flies and those with light-wire hooks, I don’t “improve” it (by sliding the tag end through the loop close to the hook) because I believe that the improvement actually weakens the knot. However, if I am worried about slippage, I accept the lower breaking strength of the improved knot. I use the clinch not because it’s objectively the best, but because it’s best for me. I have tied it thousands of times and therefore can be assured that it’s tied correctly. Ultimately, you’re not looking for the “best” knot; what you really want is the knot that’s best for a given situation and that’s best for you.

6 thoughts on “Classic Tip: Which Knot Should You Use to Tie on a Fly?”

  1. Good post, and I have had my uninproved clinch knot slip on a big hook, BUT, it slips in my hand not on a fish. I like the uninproved because I can tie it with very little mono left over to trim off, and that means my tippet lasts far longer than those using other knots, and it also means the leader then lasts longer. The reality is, the tippet lb test after tying the knot is generally way stronger than the lb test of pull an angler applies to their rod in playing a fish. Get a 3lb bucket of rocks, and tie your rod to it, and lift with the rod. Do you put that much pressure on the rod in playing a fish? Generally “knot”.

  2. Pingback: Tippets: “Magicicadas,” Fly Angler’s Primer, The Columbia’s Shad, $60,000 Knot Question Answered | MidCurrent
  3. Pingback: Tippets: “Magicicadas,” Fly Angler’s Primer, The Columbia’s Shad, $60,000 Knot Question Answered - Skiff Life - Flats and Back Bay Fishing
  4. Good post and by the way, I am really enjoying these FaceBook posts by Orvis. I am curious you do not mention the “Orvis Knot”. I have used it for the last 10 years and have been completely satisfied. I changed from the Clinch Knot as I lost fish with that knot, you know the cute little curly cue at the end of you tippit…….
    If I lose a fish now it’s because it’s breaks me off or because the fish spits the hook, not because the knot fails.
    Thanks for the posts… Keep them coming

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