Whether you are a knot novice or not, one thing is for sure: solid knots are the vital linkage between you and landing – or losing – your trophy fish. From backing to tippet, here are the essential fly fishing knots, explained clearly and simply.
There’s a mystique about fly fishing, that sometimes makes it more complicated than it needs to be. OK we admit it, there’s a creel full of knots to learn if you want to cover all the bases of fly fishing. The good news is, it only takes 5 straightforward knots described here to cinch up your backing, line, leader and tippet. We cover 7 knots to cover all the most popular and to give you a couple options based on your preferences.
When you know how to tie these basic fly fishing knots well, you’ll be able to successfully land fish from perch to tarpon. Yes, these are equally applicable to saltwater fly fishing knots as to freshwater. With the help of some vivid illustrations from the knotty folks over at AnimatedKnots.com, and a few other high quality videos we’ve selected, you’ll find many of these easier than you might have imagined.
Be sure to take careful note of our tips on each knot for the best way to ensure maximum strength and performance, as some of the videos are chosen for illustration but may not be specific to fishing. These are absolutely the best knots for fly fishing, you’ll just want to make sure you use our tips because even a great type of knot, if poorly tied, can break at less pressure than it should.
Also, consider a knot-tying tool to aid, especially if you are tying knots at dusk or other low visibility conditions. One like this SamsFX tool at Amazon can help with many of these knots:
Outline of Essential Fly Fishing Knots
Here are the 7 best fly fishing knots you’ll want to know, in order as they apply from your backing to your fly. These are jump-to links so you can get straight to the knot you need to use or review. Hint hint – if you read to the end, you’ll find out which 5 of these we like the most to help simplify things:
- Surgeon’s Loop –backing to your reel
- Nail Knot –backing to fly line (or just about anywhere else if you like this one run with it!)
- Perfection Loop –leader to fly line loop, or sometimes used for streamers to tippet
- Surgeon’s Knot –two pieces of leader material
- Blood Knot –two pieces of leader material
- Clinch Knot –tippet to your fly
- Improved Clinch Knot –also tippet to your fly
1. Surgeon’s Loop
For backing to the reel.
Loop knots for fly fishing are versatile, flexible, and strong. To attach the backing to the reel, use a Surgeon’s Loop knot starting with the loop about 8 inches long. Thread it into the front of the reel, then over the top of the spool (arbor), then back out through the same opening it went into. Put the loop over the reel and draw it tight. The great advantage of this knot is, when done this way in the right direction on the arbor, is that the loop will lock back against itself, making it very secure. As far as fly fishing line knots, you can rely on the Surgeon’s Loop.
2. (Nail-less) Nail Knot
For backing to fly line, leader to fly line, two pieces of leader material, sliding loop to fly, or backing to the reel.
Said another way, for any knot you want! I like to use the (Nail-less) Nail Knot (there are also variations that use a tube, an actual nail, and I’ve even used smooth twigs without the bark on them when short handed). Fly fishing nail knots variations include the Uni-Knot, and the Duncan’s Loop Knot. The Nail knot is versatile, and can be used to connect backing to line, leader or the connector to the front end of the fly line, leader material, or a sliding loop to the fly.
3. Perfection Loop
Leader to fly line, or sometimes used for streamers to tippet.
The Perfection Loop is used at the end of the connector, and at the end of the leader, in order to provide a loop-to-loop juncture. The Perfection Loop forms a perfect alignment with the monofilament. While a Surgeon’s Loop is perfect for backing to the fly reel, if used from fly line to leader it can angle off to the side of the material and cause the connector-leader junction to twist.
While the Perfection Loop may initially look difficult, it is actually quite easy and also speedy to tie. Think of it just as a series of loops. Here’s the trick – get the shorter end of the material behind the longer end, when you are first forming the loop. Then, it’s just a couple more loops, one wrapped over the other, right between the first two. Try this a couple times after watching the video and you’ll see what we mean. As far as loop knots fly fishing, this is the best fly fishing knots line to leader.
4. Surgeon’s Knot
Two pieces of leader material, or tippet to leader.
Tying fly fishing knots can be particularly difficult at dusk or in the dark, especially when you’re rushed because the fish are rising, or being bombarded by mosquitos and horse flies. So, here’s a tip: instead of making one loop and then threading the ends through twice, instead first go around twice to make two loops, and only then thread the ends through, once. You guessed it, going twice around and then once through is exactly the same as once around then twice through. This way is easier to do in low visibility conditions, on your fingers easier to feel and complete.
5. Blood Knot
Also for two pieces of leader material, or tippet to leader.
Unlike its suggestive name, the Blood Knot actually isn’t hard to learn, and makes a terrific connection between two pieces of leader. It is thinner (in diameter) than a Surgeon’s Knot, and also tugs less on weeds if pulled by them. It is also used to tie together materials with different diameters, through a variation known as the 5/7 Blood Knot. The blood knots fly fishing is a venerable knot, and while optional (see our summary before), has been and still is a go-to knot for many people. This one is also a good one for how to tie tippet to leader.
6. Clinch Knot
For attaching the fly to the tippet.
The standard Clinch Knot is probably the most widely used and popular fly fishing knots tippet to fly. It’s fast to tie, and when done correctly it’s a strong knot. Moreover, it is the perfect knot to use if you like using tippet rings instead of tying tippet to leader.
Here’s the key though – be sure to use at least 4, preferable 5 – 6 turns (break tests show that the more turns the stronger, at least to a point). And most importantly, pull only the long end when tightening it. While holding the short end, do not pull it! If you do pull the shorter end, it won’t turn over correctly. Then, during casting or fighting a fish, the fly will pop right off. As a result, some anglers may swear at this knot, not realizing they didn’t tie it correctly.
Another symptom of a poorly tied knot is slippage from a large hook-wire-to-tippet-diameter ratio. It is nevertheless a proven tippet knots fly fishing for species large and small, and is used worldwide.
7. Improved Clinch Knot
For attaching the fly to the tippet.
The Improved Clinch Knot is a variation that ultimately clinches against itself. Therefore, it will always hold, irrespective of the diameter ratio or difference between hook-wire-to-tippet. No matter what type of fishing you do, this one will set you up for success. Once you’ve use this one again and again, which we recommend, you’ll think of it as one of the easy fly fishing knots. Like its cousin the Clinch Knot, this is a perfect knot to use if you like tippet rings instead of tying tippet to leader.
Consider a knot-tying tool to aid, especially if you are tying knots at dusk or other low visibility conditions. One like this SamsFX tool at Amazon can help with many of these knots:
Tying It All Together (so to speak)
So there you have it, the absolute best knots for fly fishing. We don’t even call them fly fishing knots for beginners, because they are universally used by experts as well. To tightening this down even more, you really only need 5 to cover the connection points. While the 7 are standard, here are our 5 favorites for how they tie and as the strongest fly fishing knots there are:
- Backing to reel – Arbor Knot
- Backing to fly line – Nail Knot
- Fly line to leader – Nail Knot
- Leader to tippet – Surgeon’s Knot
- Fly to the tippet – Improved Clinch Knot