Fly Fishing Knots – How to Tie the Essentials

One of the most important pieces of knowledge in a fisherman’s arsenal is to know how to correctly tie knots. The knots we tie are what link us to the fish and ultimately our success.  Tying those half-ass knots will get you one of two things: broken off or a real crappy presentation. You will even sometimes find fishermen taking more time trying to tie a knot than actually fishing!

The more you do it, the tighter and faster you can make them. Learning knots can definitely be dull… However, once in your muscle memory, you will be able to pump them out like a guide. It just takes some discipline and practice. The following knots are standard ties that will help you get that perfect balance in your presentation and give you the confidence to land that trophy fish.   



Nail Knot/Loop-to-Loop Knot

Blood Knot/Surgeon’s Knot

Clinch Knot

Tandem Rigs

Arbor Knot – Backing to reel

The Arbor Knot is fairly simple; however, most fishermen are usually rusty at it due to the few times we actually need to link backing to the reel or “arbor.”

Step 1: Wrap the backing around the arbor of the spool and tie a simple overhand knot with standing part of the tag end.

Step 2: Tie another overhand knot on the tag end you started with 3 inches from the first overhand knot.

Step 3: Pull on the standing part of the backing to slide the first overhand knot down to the arbor of the spool and the second overhand knot to jam against the first one.

Step 4:Trim the tag end adjacent to the spool.

Click here for animated Arbor knot Giff by Orvis

Albright Knot
– Backing to fly line

The Albright Knot is used to join the line with different diameters. It is commonly used to join the fly line to the fly-reel backing. It is good at sliding through the guides when a fish pulls enough to reach your backing.

Step 1: Make a loop in the fly line and put about 10-12” of backing through the loop of the fly line.

Step 2: Hold the three sections of the line between your thumb and index finger. Wrap the backing over itself and both strands of the loop made with the fly line.

Step 3: Make 8-10 tight wraps with the backing. Feed the tag end back through the loop and exit the loop on the same side it entered.

Step 4: Hold both ends of the fly line and slide the wraps off the backing to the end of the loop of the fly line. Pull the backing to tighten and then cut the tag closet to the knot.

Click here for animated Albright knot Giff by Orvis

Nail Knot or Loop-to-Loop 
– Fly line to leader

The Nail Knot is crucial and best for joining two lines of different diameters. It allows a taper of the leader material down to the fly. The Loop-to-Loop is an alternate method that is easier and quicker for times that leaders need to be switched ASAP; however, it makes presentations less effective. It also involves the perfection loop.

Step 1 (Nail Knot): Place a small tube, nail, or of common function beneath the fly line and the butt end of the leader.

Step 2 (Nail Knot): Wrap the butt end of the leader approximately six times back toward the end of the fly line. Pass the butt end of the leader material either through the tube or through the loops you just made around the fly line and nail. After the butt end of the leader is through the tube, pull on the ends of the fly line and butt end simultaneously.

Step 3 (Nail Knot): Saturate the knot and tighten further by pulling both the fly line and butt end of the leader. Trim the excess off.

Step 1 (Loop-to-Loop): Make a loop at the of the leader by passing the tag end of the leader behind the standing line.

Step 2 (Loop-to-Loop):  Make a turn with the tag end of the leader around the standing line making a second loop. Hold it in place and make another turn from the tag end around the line, this time crossing between the two loops.

Step 3 (Loop-to-Loop): Hold the tag end of the leader in place and push the second loop you formed through the first loop you made.

Step 4 (Loop-to-Loop): Tug on the second loop until the knot is tight and then trim the tag.

Click here for animated Perfection Loop Giff by Orvis

Step 5 (Loop-to-Loop): If the fly line already has a loop premade at the end, you can now pass the loop on the line through the loop on the leader.

Step 6 (Loop-to-Loop): Pass the end of the leader through the loop on the end of the fly line.

Step 7 (Loop-to-Loop): Pull the line and the leader away from each other, until the loops slide together to form what looks like a square knot.

Click here for animated Loop-to-Loop Giff by Orvis

Blood Knot or Surgeon’s Knot – For leader-to-tippet connections

The  Blood Knot seems to be everyone’s arch-nemeses… Definitely one of the more difficult knots, but is strong and reliable for linking two pieces of similar diameter lines. If you find yourself in a position of needing a quick line setup conversion with an outrageous bug hatch going off, the surgeon’s knot will get the job done faster, but won’t be as strong of a knot.

Step 1 (Blood Knot): Overlap the ends of the tippet and leader.

Step 2 (Blood Knot): Twist one around the other making about five turns. Bring the tag end of the tippet back between the leader and the tippet.

Step 3 (Blood Knot): Repeat the steps for the leader tag end, wrapping it in the opposite direction.

Step 4 (Blood Knot): Saturate the knot and pull the leader and tippet in opposite directions.

Step 5 (Blood Knot): Clip the tag ends close to the knot. 

Click here for animated Blood knot Giff by Orvis

Step 1 (Surgeon’s Knot): Lay the two pieces of line parallel to one another overlapping each other by 3-4 inches.

Step 2 (Surgeon’s Knot): Form a loop with both pieces of line.

Step 3 (Surgeon’s Knot): Pass the tag end and leader through the loop two times.

Step 4 (Surgeon’s Knot): Saturate the knot and tighten it by pulling the four pieces of line.

Click here for animated Surgeon’s knot Giff by Orvis

Clinch Knot
– For tippet to flies

The Clinch knot is probably something all fishermen know… If not, then this is the first knot you need to learn before stepping anywhere near water. 

Step 1: Put the tippet through the eye of the hook and bend it back towards the running line.

Step 2: Make 5-7 wraps around the running portion of the line.

Step 3: Take the tag end of the tippet back towards the hook and thread it through the loop closest to the hook. Saturate the line and tighten it.

Click here for animated Clinch knot Giff by Orvis

Eye to eye or Hook to eye
– For tandem rigs

There are more than two ways of doing this. Some more efficient than others, but the eye-to-eye and hook-to-eye are the easiest to learn and can still get fish in the net.

The first tandem setup is the most common rig of all. The hook-to-eye is easy to understand and simple to tie. For this setup, you will rig up your leader and tippet as if you are going to fish with just one fly. Next, tie a Clinch knot on the hook of the top fly and run 8-12” to the dropper fly. This rig might be easy but is the least productive due to the higher knot breakage and potential to miss hookups due to the tippet covering part of the hook bend on the point fly.

The second tandem is a little more productive. For the eye-to-eye rig you just attach a section of tippet material to the eye of the hook on the point fly. Then to the end of this, you will attach your dropper. It’s simple to set up and easier to cast; however, the more line built upon the point fly (two knots) can steer fish away.

Image result for tandem fly rig"
Photo by Charles Meck

Now that you have these down, remember to always check your knots and give them a solid check before casting. We can all agree that losing a fish and your fly due to poorly tied knots can be one of the most frustrating things ever. So make those knots tight and get on the water. 

This article was written by Flylords team member, Collin Terchanik.

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