A Basic Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing in Southwest Florida

C 1996, Don Phillips

Chapter 6 - Knots for Fly Fishing

From the preceding chapter you can see that there are a lot of "connections" that need to be made between the reel and the fly. All of these connections or knots need to be considered as a potential sources for separation when a large saltwater gamefish has grabbed your fly. If a knot breaks or slips you will not land the fish; you may lose some expensive stuff and the fish may not survive due to entanglement of trailing line. And so, knots are important.

Fortunately, standard fly tackle is designed so that the weakest link should be at the point of the leader, or where its diameter is at its minimum. Accordingly, a breakaway fish usually only takes with him a fly and perhaps a foot or so of shock tippet. A bad knot between the fly line and the backing line could however break or slip far below its 20 to 30 pound (100%) rating and thus become the weak link. This doesn't necessarily mean that you need a 100% or even a 95% knot, if using a 15 pound leader point. What you don't want is a 40-60% knot under these circumstances. And so, my recommendation is that you use knots that are easy to tie, that are smooth in contour and that have an adequate % strength considering the strength of the rest of the line connections. The following paragraphs describe and depict the knots that I recommend for southwest Florida fly fishing. For this chapter I am indebted to the superb sketches inTom McNally's book, Fly Fishing (1978).

arbor.jpg - 3.5 K

Let's start at the reel arbor, where the backing line is attached. The Arbor Jam Knot is formed by bringing the backing line around the reel arbor, tying a loose overhand knot around the standing line and then tying a tight overhand knot at the line end. Cut off all but about 1/8 inch from the tight overhand knot and then position and partially tighten the loose overhand knot until it is adjacent to the tight knot and snugly around the standing line. Then, pull the standing line and the two overhand knots will slide down to the arbor, the line-end knot jamming against the other knot and the reel arbor. For added insurance that this knot will not slip, grab the 1/8 inch loose end with needlenose pliers and pull sharply. Then pull the standing line again, resetting the jam knot.

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For joining the backing line to the end of the fly line I use the Nail Knot. Per the sketch, place the two lines and the nail so that they are parallel, with plenty of extra backing line extended. Grasping the whole assemblage between the thumb and index finger of one hand, reverse the direction of the backing line end and wrap it around the fly line, nail and itself in smooth spirals 6-8 times. Then hold the entire assembly with the thumb and index finger of the opposite hand and slide the end of the backing line under the spirals, adjacent to the nail. When the backing line end has exited the spirals, tug on both ends of the backing line alternately until you can feel that the backing line has tightened securely around the fly line. Now, slide the nail out and snug the backing line again by alternately pulling at both ends. Then, grab the backing line end with a pair of pliers and grab the standing end of the backing line with your hand, tightening the knot as much as you can. Release the pliers and use that free hand to grab the fly line and again pull as hard as you can. The knot is now set and all that's remaining is to trim both loose ends as close to the knot as practical. If the backing line spirals have neatly nested around the fly line, you will have a very smooth knot that is not likely to get caught when being pulled out or reeled through the rod's line guides. This knot is much easier to tie if you replace the nail with a small-diameter tube (or something like an air pump needle with the end cut off), inserting the end of the backing line through the tube instead of adjacent to it.

I almost always use the nail knot also to join the fly line to the leader, since it creates a nice stiff and smooth connection. There are circumstances however where frequent leader changes arelp2lp.jpg - 5.9 K anticipated and here many anglers prefer to make a Loop-to-Loop Connection, simply because it's much faster to make these changes. Some leaders and lines are sold with end loops already attached, but you can easily make your own. To make a neat loop in a fly line point, set up as above for a nail knot except make a small loop at the end of the fly line. The backing line (or other strong, limp substitute) is thus wrapped around the nail, the backing line, and 2 sections of the fly line. After the usual tightening, simply cut off both ends of the backing line and the short end of the fly line. Another method which results in an even smoother connection is to dissolve the coating from about 4 inches of end of the fly line (with acetone or nail polish remover) andsurloop.jpg - 4.6 K use a needle to thread the line core back under the coating for a distance of about one inch. Then bring the line core back out through the coating surface until you have a core loop of the correct size. From this point on, tie a nail knot per the preceding paragraph. I find that the best way to tie a loop at the end of the leader butt is to use the Surgeon's Loop. This is really just a double-overhand knot in a looped-end.

blood.jpg - 6.0 KIf you tie your own leader by using sections of constant-diameter monofilament, these sections are usually joined using a Blood Knot. When adjacent sections of monofilament are of significantly-different diameters, the blood knot is somewhat difficult to tie because the thick section doesn't want to spiral around the thin section. Although this can be often helped by doubling over the thin section to a double-strand, I find this to be hard to handle. In thissurg.jpg - 4.2 K situation, I prefer the Surgeon's Knot which, although it's a bulkier knot, has about a 95% strength rating. I also use the surgeon's knot to connect the leader point to a much heavier shock tippet.

If using a leader of 8-15 pounds test without a shock tippet, I'll usually tie the leader point to theclinch.jpg - 5.6 K fly using the Improved Clinch Knot. With small flies (sizes 6, 8, etc.)however this connection may be a little stiff to permit a fly to freely wiggle from side-to-side during retrieval. In this instance I use the Loop Knot. There are several very adequate loop knots loop.jpg - 4.1 Kused, but I use the one recommended by Doug Swisher and Bob Marvin, two of the pioneers in saltwater fly fishing here in southwest Florida. The loop knot is also used whenever shock tippets are employed, again because of the tendency of the relatively stiff monofilament to impair the action of the fly when solidly tied to the hook eye. When fishing a foam or cork popper or slider with a heavy shock tippet, I usually go back to the improved clinch knot, believing that this type of "fly" has sufficient action of its own to not be inhibited by a stiff tippet. As usual, judgement should prevail when selecting tackle alternatives, to fit your particular fishing conditions.

albri.jpg - 5.0 K Personally, I don't participate in tournaments nor go after IGFA records. Those anglers who do, however, use some other knots which test out somewhat closer to the 100% level. One of theseknots is the Albright Special Knot, used to join two sections of monofilament of quite different diameters. It is sometimes preferred over the surgeon's knot because it is easier to fully tighten without compromising the strength of the smaller line. To obtain the highest strength rating for a loop-end, anglers world-wide prefer either the Bimini Twist or thebimtws.jpg - 12.4 K spider.jpg - 8.4 KSpider Hitch . Both of these knots rely on double-stranding for the knot itself, almost guaranteeing 100% of single-strand strength. The bimini twist is an easy knot to illustrate but very tedious to describe. On the other hand, the spider hitch is hard to illustrate and yet easy to describe. Referring to the spider hitch sketch, after doubling over the end and making an interim loop with it, wrap the doubled line around your thumbnail and the interim loop about 5 or 6 times. Then, pass the end loop through the interim loop and slowly pull the end loop so that the line unwinds off the thumbnail and tightens the knot. I'll let you figure out the bimini twist yourself.

There are some general rules of knot-tying which I follow and which I heartily recommend. First, use your saliva to lubricate your monofilament knots before snugging them up tight. If a knot isn't really tight, it probably will loosen later in service. When you tighten the knot, pull hard enough to get up to at least half of its expected breaking strength. This tests the integrity of your knot and might tell you when an unseen cut or abrasion has weakened it substantially. And if the line breaks 2 or 3 times in a row when you do this, you will know that it's time to throw away that particular leader or spool of monofilament. Unlike wine, nylon monofilament does not improve with age. Also, clip off the loose ends as close as possible to the knot so as to minimize the chances of catching on the rod guides, seagrass, etc. Finally, for those knots that you are able to tie at home, add a drop of super-glue to guarantee maximum strength and add a coating or two of Pliobond (rubber cement) to smooth out knot contours. Such steps will pay off handsomely when your gear is pushed to the limit by "the big one".

When fly fishing for mackerel or barracuda, it is wise to construct a shock tippet from braided stainless steel wire. Sometimes this is sold pre-impregnated with a plastic coating. If you're equipped with metal sleeves and crimping tools, you can simply make loops as you need them for the fly and the leader ends. If you don't want to carry this stuff on the water, you can put loops8.jpg - 3.6 K on one end (for the leader connection) at home and use the Figure-Eight Knot on the water for the fly connection. You might be fishing with a conventional leader and suddenly come upon the opportunity to cast at a big barracuda. Here's a little tip I learned in the Bahamas. Keep a few stainless steel leaders in your tackle box with snap swivels on one end (for the barracuda fly) and a double-sleeved loop on the other end. The sleeve closest to the loop end is only partially crimped, so it slides (with a little force) toward the loop end. In an instant, you can put your barracuda fly on the snap swivel-end, put the loop on the other end of the leader over the barbed hook point of the fly you are currently using, and coax the loop closed over the hook shank with the sliding sleeve. Voila, you're ready to go after old scissor-jaws! These latter thoughts aren't all really "knots", but they are connections that help you hold your tackle together.

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