My Grandfather’s Clinch Knot

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Do you think about tying your shoes, brushing your teeth, putting on your shirt?

I’ll bet I’ve tied the Improved Clinch Knot more times than I’ve done any of those things. But I like to think that I pay more attention to my fishing knots than I do the knot in my shoe laces. When a long standing friend got into fly fishing and I started taking him out to show off a few of my favorite spots he was eager to learn everything about it. Including, of course, knots. Knots are one of those things that are handed down through oral tradition. These days you can go to YouTube and learn to tie any knot you want, but that’s not how I learned. Like most folks who have been fishing for a while I learned my knots from the guys I fished with, most importantly, my Grandfather. So when my friend Michael saw me tie my clinch knot, he saw me tie it the way my Grandfather had taught me. When I was done, he quizzed me, “how many wraps did you do?” “Six” I answered. “shouldn’t it be seven?”, he asked. “I’ve always done six” I replied “but I suppose seven is fine”. He was insistent, “the guy at the fly shop told me it has to be exactly seven”.

There is an awful lot of superstition in fly fishing, but some things do matter and it got me wondering. I told the story to my buddy Dan who is a notorious big fish magnet. Before I could even ask him for his opinion he said, “well you can tell him five works just fine too”. Five? I admit I was a little surprised. If Dan was landing his fish on five wraps why was I wasting time doing six? I tried and I was just not able to tie a clinch knot with five wraps. It just made me nervous. Why? Well, it would help if you knew my Grandfather. Pete was a larger than life character. A Bone-a-fide genius. Quiet, but when he said something people listened. He was funny and a smart ass, most things he said had two meanings. For instance, if you asked him what you should do, about anything, he would say “do what you want to do, that’s what you’re going to do anyway”. I’ve always been told he had an explosive temper, but I never saw it. He was sweet with us kids, always teaching us things, although he always told me that I was “an accident looking for a place to happen”. He was a big figure in my life and if he told me to do six wraps, six wraps it was, end of story.

This ate at me for a while. I admit, I spent a stupid amount of time fretting about the number of wraps in my clinch knot. This was a long time ago and I guess I didn’t have to confidence to decide for myself how many wraps the knot should have. It bothered me every time I tied one. This went on for months. One day I was standing in the river tying a clinch knot, and fretting about it, when I burst out laughing. I laughed until tears ran down my face. In trying to sort this out I had dredged up an ancient memory. My Grandfather teaching me to tie the clinch knot. I remember tying one along side him and him telling me “wrap it six times”. I had asked him “does it have to be six” and he told me, “no, any even number between five and seven will do”. At eight years old I hadn’t questioned him enough to get it. It had taken me almost thirty years to get that joke and I laughed until I cried. Then I just cried. I still do when I think about it. After that, I learned to trust myself as a fisherman. I learned that I had good instincts and I didn’t need superstition. Pete had been dead for ten years and he was still teaching me. God I miss that man.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “My Grandfather’s Clinch Knot

  1. Nice story. My dad taught me how to throw out a zebco and tie a clinch knot, that was about it. I grew into fly fishing on my own and ended up teaching him. So, i didn’t have a whole lot of rituals/traditions around fly fishing but i used the improved clinch a lot.

    I’ve since almost given it up entirely for trout. The Davey knot turned my knot world upside down. What a fast & small knot, and no doubt about how many “turns”!.

  2. Your grandpa was right about one thing. There is often another meaning lying just below the surface, waiting only for the time and the tide to allow it to be seen.

    I dare say having read your words, the meaning wasn’t “you didn’t need superstition” at all. It was… “the HONOR of tradition”. Five.. Six.. Seven.. no matter. I think wanted you to take a part him with you when his feet could no longer shuffle the rivers gravel of this good earth.

    I myself, now travel the rivers of my Montana youth alone. Remembering the times and places of my Grandfather and Uncles, long since gone. Its a quiet place, but I am not alone…

  3. Louis I have to say this is my favorite post you have done. Absolutely wonderful. Every time I place my push pole into the sand or cast to a laid up tarpon down here I wonder how it would have been to experience it with my grandfather or Brett.. I like to think sometimes I am…

  4. That was by far the best story you have written. I really enjoyed it. What a nice tribute to your grandfather. Thanks for sharing that.

  5. Enjoying my morning cup of coffee and reading your piece about your Grandfather’s advice on the number of turns for the clinch was so special,
    and guaranteed you’ll always remember Pete…..and I cried also.

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