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.
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.