Fly Fishing Knots

April 10, 2012 by  

By Nick Simonson

On Friday night, my fly fishing gear was in a sorry state.  It had been almost 8 months since I had last used it on some sunny day in Detroit Lakes, Minn. for the dock-patrolling bluegills at my family’s cabin.  In addition to updating the twisted leaders with no tippet and cleaning the lines that were obviously dirty on the reels I dug out of storage, was the task of assembling two new rod and reel combos for a fishing presentation to area youth on Saturday morning for my local Pheasants Forever chapter.  I started with the new reels first and pulled the backing, line and leader out from their packages. I aslo refreshed my memory on all the most common fly fishing knots.

Fly Fishing Arbor KnotIt had been several years since I last set up a fly reel, but I remembered the mental picture of a tree growing out of the center of the reel and recalled that the connection between center pin and backing was the arbor knot.  The arbor knot consists of two overhand knots; one in the tag end of the line and one in the main line through which the tag – and the first knot – are threaded through.  As if by magic, the knots cinched against each other and rested snugly against the center of the reel.  Within moments, the backing was spooled up.
With a snip of my scissors, I provided myself with the free end of the backing and found the “connect this end to backing” tag on the weight-forward floating line.  I struggled to recall the connecting knot between the two, but was quickly reminded when looking through my copy of my first fly fishing book – “The Idiot’s Guide to Fly Fishing” which I had purchased when I jumped into the sport.  It was the Albright knot that would do the trick, with its large leader loop and seven wraps of the fly line around it.  I struggled to get a smooth and solid connection on the first two attempts, but the third time was the charm, and a nice fluid knot brought the two lines together.
With a few hundred cranks of the handle, the reel was loaded with perfect new weight-forward fly line, and when I reached the end of the lime green spool I faced an adversary which had plagued me throughout my fishing career – the nail knot.  I struggled so badly with this particular knot in the infancy of my fly fishing adventures that I switched exclusively to using the Scientific Anglers’ Reconnect Leaders.  But while staring down that link between line and plain leader, I told myself it was time to knuckle up and get the nail knot down.

Admittedly, I found it challenging the first four or five times I attempted the knot, but on my attempt which proved ultimately successful, with a few wraps of the leader around the tag end of the line, and a pull of the small tube I was using as my nail, the knot took shape.  As I tightened the knot on that final attempt, I smiled with satisfaction as the wraps settled into place and the knot formed a strong connection between line and leader.  The mystery of using a foreign object to create the space between the lines had been solved, and the knot became second nature as I practiced it on some spare backing and extra monofilament I had on the table.
Finally, the double surgeon’s knot represented my last hurdle in getting my gear ready for the kids’ fishing day the next morning.  I paired my leader and tippet lines and created the loop which I ran the tag end of the leader and the full length of the tippet through three times.  I moistened the knot area and with a pull of both tags and main lines, the knot came together, forming a strong bond for leader and tippet.
I felt as if I had some sort of memory breakthrough.  I completed the second fly fishing combo and then took each reel of my own, stripped it bare and made each connection again: Arbor knot, Albright knot, nail knot, double surgeon’s knot.  By the third rod and reel, I was in the groove.  I was so confident in my renewed knot skills that I even cut off my old Reconnect leaders and tied standard leaders in their places with the nail knot.
Perhaps it was the Norwegian heritage in my blood – and their love of confusing mind games, knots and mechanical puzzles made up during the long winters in northern Europe – but I found myself enjoying each successful link I made in the fishing line chain.
By bedtime, five fly rods and reels, fully loaded and ready to cast rested against the wall in my den.  I shut off the light and went upstairs, happy I had overcome my slight concerns regarding fly fishing knot tying and ready to face some early spring bluegills on the instructional pond the next morning…in our outdoors.


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