3 Tips for tying better fishing knots

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By Louis Cahill

Nothing else you do on the water matters if your knot doesn’t hold.

You want to land that fish, right? Then you’d better pay attention to your knot tying. I don’t know of anything that feels worse than losing a nice fish over a weak knot. There’s no one to blame that on but yourself. Below are three tips that will help you tie better knots.

3 Tips for tying better fishing knots

1. Leave a tag.

I’ll start here because it’s controversial. Anglers have traditionally clipped the tag ends of their knots flush to their knots. It has long been considered good angling craft to do it this way but it makes no sense. If the fish is not bothered by the nine feet of leader coming from your knot, he’s not going to care about the tag end either. I always leave about 1/16th of an inch tag on my knots as an insurance policy. If I have made a mistake, which gets easier as my eyes age, and my knot slips, the tag will catch it.

This goes for my blood knots in my leader as well. Anglers are often resistant to this idea because they think the tags on the blood knots will catch their leader as it turns over. If that’s happening to you, it’s a casting problem, not a knot problem. Forget about your blood knots and read this article on tailing loops.

2. Hold your knot in your mouth as you tighten it.

We all know to moisten our knots before tightening them, and most of us do it by popping the knot into our mouths before we tighten it. Leave it there as you pull the knot tight. The purpose of moistening the knot is to reduce friction as it is tightened. That friction builds up heat and it’s the heat which weakens the line. Spit doesn’t really help that much. Most knots which are damaged by friction are simply pulled tight too quickly. You should always tighten your knots slowly and if you leave them in your mouth, you can actually feel the heat on your tongue. It should feel like a warm day, not hot coffee.

3. Don’t be a tippet miser.

I get it, tippet costs money, but in the scheme of any fishing trip it’s about the cheapest thing we use. Give yourself enough tippet to tie a good knot easily, without fumbling and losing tag ends. You’ll tie your knots faster, better and with less frustration. If you clip off an extra couple of inches of tippet, you’re really only losing pennies on a spool.

I hope these tips help you land more fish. If you have other knot tying tips, please share them in the comments.

Check out this video of Justin Pickett and his hemostat knot tying techniques.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “3 Tips for tying better fishing knots

  1. TIP #1:
    After slowly cinching a knot, maintain/hold that maximum tension for 15 – 30 seconds. I learned this one only recently and it has made a huge difference in reliability and strength. If you cinch your knots for just a second or three, you leave open the possibility of slippage which is the reason most knots fail.

    TIP #2:
    Stop using fluorocarbon leader/tippet. The few, exaggerated advantages do not counter balance the really poor knot strength due to slippage.

    TIP #3:

    Here’s a great, practical way to test your knots without worrying about break strength in a comparative competition. The winner will be the knot that combines the ideal configuration for the tippet material/hook you actually use and your personal knot tying style and skills.

    Knot v. Knot

    Materials/Equipment: 2 identical hooks; use the type you most commonly fish.
    A spool of the tippet material you use with those hooks (flies)
    2 needle nose Vise Grips (or needle nose pliers if you dare)
    Eye protection just to play it safe

    Testing Procedure:

    1) Cut a 3′ length of tippet material
    2) Tie one knot (e.g. the Davy) to one end and tie the other hook to the opposite end of the tippet using a second knot (e.g. Double Davy)
    3) Clamp each hook in one of the Vise Grips securely
    4) Now start pulling in ways that best simulate a break off (surges, yanks, etc.) Do not use a steady pull.
    5) Record which knot wins and repeat 9 more times. The better knot will be best for you under actual fishing and fish fighting conditions.

    I did not invent this test, I just can’t remember where I read about many years ago. Good luck.

  2. on the topic of tag ends, especially on blood knots, what i’ve started doing is cutting a long tag- almost 1/8 of an inch long, then carefully heating the tag with a lighter (being careful not to heat the knot it’s self) then mashing the heated line down against the knot with a wet finger. it keeps the knot from slipping because the flattened spot is much wider than the rest of the line (picture the head of a screw and trying to pull it through a hole, but made of plastic) and the heat doesn’t seem to weaken the knot.

    i want to qualify this by saying that i live in ohio, so a lot of what i’m fishing for is bass and carp, and flattening the tag ends really helps keep algae and other vegetation off of my leader. 9 feet of monofilament might not spook a fish, but the magic swimming clump of algae might.

  3. Great tips! i like the idea of the smashed tag end in Skid’s response, but man I would be afraid of the heat no matter how careful I thought I was. As for the blood knot I never leave a tag because of it catching on the guides. I always thought the little bit of tag at the hook was not good. I have had fish turn down flies that I thought was near perfect match so I am always leary of a tag end at least in pressured waters like Yellowstone waters but never worried about it in Alaska, but I am sure I trimmed close out of habit there as well. Never had too much trouble with breaks at the knot. I do cinch pretty tight and hold it for a few seconds maybe that’s why. It seems like by cinching with some force the line squeezes down smaller than the tag creating a situation as Skid mentions above making it difficult or impossible for the larger tag end to slip through,

    • Ken, i’ll admit it definately seems sketchy, but i’ve never had a knot break because of the melting, i can assure you. it’s just a light touch to the very end of the tag to melt it just enough to flatten it down with a wet finger, so any heat the knot feels is going to be so minimal that it is probably not hurting anything. not to mention that when monofilament is made they melt the nylon then extrude it, so it’s already been involved in that kind of heat nd it”s not affected the strength. basically, as long as you’re only melting the tag, and not burning anything, it’s perfectly safe for the integrity of your knot.

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