Beginners guide to Fly fishing knots

ImageAs a raw beginner to fly fishing there are some hurdles to overcome. You will have many days when you wish you had a friend available to take you fishing because you don‘t know enough to take yourself. You aren’t sure of what equipment to use. You don’t know what to do with the equipment. You can spend hundreds of dollars per day to pay someone to take you and show you what to do and lend you equipment. That wasn’t my way to learn.

My way wasn’t particularly efficient, and over time, I spent a lot of dough on the sport.

Here is what I wish I would have told myself a few years ago when I started fly fishing. Learn how to tie 3 knots fast. I think that if you can tie 3 knots fast, you will not need your experienced friends or guides to sit there tying up your tackle while the fishing time ticks away. I had about 3 days at the beginning when I spent at least 80% of the time out of the water because I was tying knots. Even if I was an expert fly fisherman, I could only expect to catch 20% of the fish that someone else was catching who knew how to tie knots faster and was in the water closer to 100%.

Get some real cheap 8 or 10 pound test monofilament for practice. I see 100 yard spools for sale for two to five dollars all the time at fishing stores, Walmart or Big 5. Also get a nail knot tying tool. My favorite nail knot tool is attached to my clippers and was under ten dollars. You can get these from mail order or at your local fly shop. Three knots can get you going: surgeon’s knot, Duncan loop, and the nail knot. I think you should tie each of these 50 times before your first fishing trip.

Surgeon’s knot

Start with the surgeon’s knot to gain confidence. In fact, if you haven’t seen one before, start with an overhand knot. This knot is good for tying your pieces of leader together. You can use this knot for all your fishing trips in the future, but some fisherman have other favorites.  Like the next knot, I think I can tie this knot in the dark which is not true of several other knots.  That’s handy during the evening hatch.

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Duncan loop

The Duncan loop is a nice knot to attach your hook to the leader.  You can start with a huge loop and when the knot is finished you can snug it down to as small as you want.  It can allow the fly to wiggle freely if you don’t snug the knot all the way down.  There are other knots you can use for tying on the fly, but this is all you will ever need if you like it.  I think I can tie this knot in the dark which is not true of several other knots.  That’s handy during the evening hatch.  The reason you can tie it in the dark is that you can make the knot huge when tying it and shrink it down later by just pulling it tight.

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Nail knot

The toughest one is the nail knot. It could take 10 or 20 minutes for your first one and you’ll wonder if you can ever get good at it. You will with practice. It’s much easier than playing one of Chopin’s Nocturnes on the piano. It is rather interesting how your fingers will gradually learn to lean and twist and contact different portions of skin with different pressures to accomplish it. Just keep doing it.  The nail knot is used to tie the leader and backing to the fly line.  Later you can get fancy and tie the leader to the fly line with a needle knot which is 99% nail knot anyway.

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If you can do these 3 knots efficiently, will be on the water with an experienced fly fishing buddy,  and have your equipment all set, either your own or borrowed, I think you are ready to go out and fish.  Notice, I didn’t mention casting skills.  I think you can learn casting just fine on the job.  You will need a couple minutes of instruction from a friend.  Your friend more than likely never had formal lessons anyway so why not get out there and start fly fishing the same way most of us did, without casting lessons.

If you are a knot maniac by now, then you can learn the perfection loop.  These knots are online and you’ll love the perfection loop.  This will be the knot to use for loop to loop connections.  For the first time fly fishing you probably won’t have loop to loop connections so this knot is just for extra credit.

Written by Jay Capachi