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July 15, 2024
Fishing Knots
Capt Jerry Dilsaver

Fishing Knots

Knots are key to fishing success.  If you are proficient in tying them, you’ll have a much better chance of catching fish.  If you have lines come in with a pigtail look at the end and the lure or rig missing, you haven’t gotten knots down yet and your fishing, actually catching, will suffer.  Hopefully this will help.

Knots are a link you control in your fishing tackle.  They are subject to stress, strain, abrasion and other abuse every time you hook a fish, for fish after fish after fish.  In reality, we should be pleased if a knot handles one large fish.  However, we rarely stop and re-tie before casting or putting that line out again.  Most knots are subject to double jeopardy multiple times.

There is room for knot tying error when catching bream measured in ounces from a pond, but that goes away very quickly when a seven pound bass decides it wants your worm and it’s even more critical when it’s a 700 pound marlin on your line.  Knots have to stand the test and the fisherman tying the knots is responsible for their success.

Rarely is there only a single knot between the reel and the lure.  A successful fisherman must be able to tie to an eye, join two lines together and tie a loop.  Sometimes, such as when adding a piece of fluorocarbon or mono for a leader on braid or when building a fly fishing leader, there are multiple knots and each one of them has to be tied correctly to insure the best opportunity for success.

Improperly tied knots are often the primary culprits in tales of the one that got away.  The current generation of monofilament, fluorocarbon and superbraid fishing lines do a lot well, but they are prone to breaking and slipping when the knots aren’t right.  Many of the knots fishermen have been using for years were developed for using with monofilament and older nylon and Dacron lines.  Some work well with modern braided and fluorocarbon lines and some have to be adapted for the thinner diameter of modern braids and the slick hard finish of fluorocarbon.

There are hundreds of knots and a handful of books have been dedicated to them.  I believe learning to tie a few knots that fit their particular fishing well will work well for most fishermen.

Knots are the potential weak link in catching fish.  Several years ago I had a father and son charter for some fall king and Spanish mackerel fishing off the Cape Fear River.  There was a strong tide line and the fish were along it and feeding hard.  We had numerous double and a few triple hookups..

After a while, there was a time when several lines needed new rigs at the same time.  I usually tie on all the rigs, but the dad, who said he had been fishing for many years and insisted he could tie a good knot, grabbed a rig and tied it on.  He baited this rig, tossed the bait over and a king hit it before it was 20 feet from the boat.  Meanwhile another king hit another line and I gave that outfit to his son.


As luck would have it, the fish ran in opposite directions and the harder running fish was on the dad’s line.  These days are about the kids and I turned the boat toward the son’s fish and told the dad to be patient; we were getting his son’s fish first.  This became a classic tale of the big one that got away.

While chasing and landing the son’s fish, the dad’s fish took line all the way to the last few wraps on the spool.  Once the son’s fish was in the boat, I spun it around and began working toward the dad’s fish while he reeled rapidly.  When he had recovered about half of the line, the rod jerked hard a couple of times and popped up with no resistance and a limp line.  The dad said the line had broken and that initially appeared to be what had happened.  However, when he reeled in the last of the line, there was a slight pigtail at the end of the line that indicated the line hadn’t broken, but his knot had slipped.

Mono and fluorocarbon lines will tell you if they broke or if a knot slipped or broke.  A line that broke will be straight and usually look stretched, but will be flat at the end.  A line that chafed in two will be chafed at the end.  Knots that break have a little tight kink at the end and knots that slip have a curl at the end that resembles a pig’s tail.  The end of a mono or fluoro line will tell you how it parted.

My philosophy on knots is to master tying a few knots and use them in all situations rather than trying to learn a bunch of knots.  It is also important to understand that fluorocarbon may look like mono, but it has vastly different properties and many times the same knots will not hold.  It is easy to see the difference between mono and the superbraids, which helps understand that knots that work well in mono may not be the best choice for braid.  We’ve come a long way from the old Dacron and nylon fishing lines when enough “granny” knots would usually hold well enough to catch most smaller and medium size fish.

A first thing to understand when tying knots is the tag end, refers to the short end of line and the standing end is the long end.  Knowing these terms is important as some knots snug by pulling the tag end and some tighten by pulling the standing end.  Using the wrong end to tighten the knot weakens the knot.

As a kid fishing with a cane pole, the first knot I learned was the clinch knot to tie on a lost hook.  This knot still works well in mono from about 8 pound test and up, but will slip in lighter lines or when used in fluorocarbon or superbraids.  For these, a Trilene Knot, Improved Clinch Knot, Palomar Knot or Uni Knot is a better choice.

The Surgeon’s Knot and back-to-back Uni Knots are two popular knots for joining two lines together when the line diameters are fairly close.  When using these knots to join a heavier mono or fluoro leader to a superbraid, the superbraid should be doubled to make it’s diameter larger and help the knot hold.

I prefer the Surgeon’s Knot for adding leaders.  It is a 95 percent knot (95 percent as strong as the lighter line), small in diameter and doesn’t grab on the rod guides when casting.  Back-to back Uni Knots are also a 95 percent connection, but are slightly longer and stiffer and I sometimes feel this hit the rod guides when casting.  The Surgeon’s knot ties a bit differently when using a superbraid or fluorocarbon than with mono.  Mono requires two wraps before tightening and flouro or superbraid requires three wraps before tightening.

You also need to be able to make loops in line.  There are many different loop knots, but I find two work well in most situations.  When I have to make a loop in the line before anything is attached, I use a Surgeon’s Loop.  The Surgeons Loop is very similar to the surgeons knot, just tied in a single piece of line, and works well to add sinkers and things that will be changed or removed.

I prefer the No-Slip Loop Knot for adding lures or hooks that need to swing freely.  Many folks like the Rapala Knot for this and they are similar.  The difference I like is that on the Rapala Knot the tag end points forward and on the No-Slip Loop Knot the tag end points toward the lure.  This is far less likely to pick up any grass or trash in the water.

With the exception of superbraid lines, having lubrication on the line(s) helps them slide easily and snug the knot evenly.  Saliva is excellent on monofilament lines and will work fair on fluorocarbon.  For fluorocarbon, I prefer using line dressing, silicone or CRC.  While it looks a lot like mono, fluorocarbon will flatten or torque and create a weak spot if tied without lubrication.

These are three types of knots that will serve you well for years of successful fishing.  My suggestion is to learn to tie these knots, or your personal favorites, well enough you are comfortable tying them in any conditions.  There are numerous good knot books available through your favorite local tackle shop.  My favorite is Baits, Rigs & Tackle, by Vic Dunaway and Rick Ryals. This is the second generation of this book originally written by Dunaway.  It has lots of other helpful information in addition to the knots.  Diagrams and animations for tying knots are also available online.