3 Options For Attaching A Leader To Your Fly Line

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An Albright Knot  Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

There are a couple of easy ways to attach a leader to a fly line, but which is best?

I know the method I like, but there are pluses and minuses to each. In the end, the best method is the one that works best for you and the way you fish. I’ll go over the three most common ways to attach a leader to a fly line and you can decide which one is for you.

The Nail Knot

The venerable Nail Knot has been attaching fly lines to leaders for as long as there have been fly lines and leaders to attach. If you have been fly fishing for a long time, it’s probably how you learned to doit. It is, for the record, my least favorite and I have not used it for years. Still, it does have its advantages.

The Nail Knot uses friction to hold the leader to the fly line. It’s fairly simple to tie, though some kind of tool helps. You can use a nail or small tube, a Nail Knot tool of course, and I have always used hemostats.

The upside of this knot is that it is the easiest to bring through your guides, especially if you coat it with a little UV resin. That I suppose, is helpful if you are a euro-nympher. I personally have not felt the need to bring my leader into my guides since sometime in the 1980s. It’s just a good way to break off fish, in my opinion. If you like to do it, the Nail Knot may be a good choice.

The downside of the Nail Knot is that it’s the weakest connection you can use. That’s a pretty big drawback, for me. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the knot, but it only holds your leader to the coating of the fly line, which is the weakest part of the line. What commonly happens is that the Nail Knot strips the coating off of the line rather than the knot failing. The connection is fine for general trout fishing. It’s far stronger than your 5X tippet but I wouldn’t trust it for streamer fishing and never for saltwater.

Loop To Loop

Most fly lines these days come with a loop at the end for attaching the leader. Although I generally cut these off and whip my own loop, this is the connection I most often use. It’s convenient and very strong. I change my leaders like I change my socks, so it works for me. There are a couple of things to keep in mind for a good Loop To Loop connection. The welded loops are pretty good, but for saltwater fishing I always whip my own, for strength. You also need to make the connection properly. See the video below. There are several choices for the loop knot you use on the leader. Choose wisely. 

The upside of the Loop To Loop connection is that it is both very strong and very easy to change. When it comes to leaders, there are two things I strongly believe. Use a fresh leader. Why take a chance? Use the right leader for the job. I change my leader often for the type of fishing I’m doing or for the conditions. 

The downside, not much in my opinion. The Loop To Loop doesn’t pass through the guides as well as the Nail Knot. That’s true. Someone has probably already skipped to the comments section and written that the Loop To Loop creates a hinge point. That is a myth. Once synched it is a very stable connection. Leaders with too fine a butt section cause hinge points, not Loop To Loop connections. If you don’t believe me, test it for yourself.

Click here for a great tutorial on whipping your own loops.


Here’s a great video on how to properly make a loop to loop connection.

The Albright Knot

The Albright Knot is a great choice for any application. It has the slim profile of the Nail Knot and, when tied properly, the strength of the Loop To Loop. Hit it with a little UV resin and it will pass through the guides easily and it’s strong enough to hold a tarpon.

Upside, as I said, slim profile and very strong. In addition to attaching leaders to fly lines the Albright Knot works well for attaching lots of lines which are different in size or material. It’s a good knot to know.

Downsides are simple. It’s harder to change leaders, and eats up a little fly line each time. The work around is to Albright a piece of heavy leader material to your line, then tie a loop in it to connect the leader. Of course, then you are using a Loop To Loop, aren’t you? The other downside is that it’s a slightly challenging knot to tie. If you screw it up, and plenty of folks do, it will fail. I would still encourage you to learn and use this great knot. Just take your time and test the knot thoroughly.

So there are the three most common methods for attaching a fly line and leader. I’d encourage you to learn and use all three. There have been plenty of days, yesterday in fact, when I have been forced to repair a connection on the water and chosen a different method. Yesterday I damaged the tip of a fly line, cut it off and used an Albright Knot where there had been a loop. It always pays to have a plan B.

If you have another method you like tell us about it in the comments!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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15 thoughts on “3 Options For Attaching A Leader To Your Fly Line

  1. I liked the idea of a small nail knot for less wind resistance, so I cut the loops off my new fly line and tried this a few times. Big mistake. As you mention, the nylon leader material tends to pull the coating off of the core of the fly line. I just stick with the loops now and have less problems.

  2. Has a welded loop ever failed you?
    I would think the whipped loop would add weight to the emd, cauding it to sink easier than a welded loop.
    Only an issue for floating line…

  3. For 2-4 weights the nail knot is a must. Particularly with dries. 5-8 weights you have options depending on leader length, fly weight and species pursued. Albright knot for the big rigs.

    It’s the middle sizes where knot witchcraft is required.

  4. I prefer the Modified Albright- or the Alberto knot. It’s a very good knot with many applications. With practice very easy to tie

    • I have seen the whip finished and the super glued loop connection fail. Don’t do it. A properly tied nail knit is best to ensure a non-hinging fly turn over. Unless you use a looped tip system in which case the nail knot is out.

      I agree the Albright knot is the best for the flyline to backing connection.

  5. The Uni knot is my go to in almost every situation. This knot can be used for terminal connections as well as tippet splicing. I use a six turn uni knot to connect my leader to flyline, when needed ( I still prefer leader loop to welded loop). Never hurts to hit this or any knot at end of fly line with some superglue.

  6. The needle knot … bit of a PITA to tie, but hands-down it’s the smoothest connection sliding through the guides because the leader comes out of the center of the line rather than lying side-by-side like the nail knot. And the knot itself is simply a single layer of butt material with none of the doubled-over line you have with the Albright, Alberto, etc.

  7. I would add three more connections to this list.

    One is the knotless connection made popular by Dave Whitlock, argueably the best line/leader connection for sliding through guides without catching. It’s reliable if done correctly but mostly used for trout, bass and panfish as saltwater guys don’t trust its strength.

    Another is the eyed insert metal pin with barbs that holds itself securely when inserted into the fly line core. I used it for several years as a beginner in the 70’s (as do many others) and it works fine but must be retied or re-inserted occasionally for wear.

    Nylon Leader links are another beginner option I previously used. All you need to install it is 2 overhand knots. It’s easy and works well but probably not recommended for heavy duty applications.

  8. The needle knot is by far the neatest knot as the leader material emerges from the middle of the fly line and it is very smooth in the water. It does not work in larger diameters of leader because the needle that will take that diameter through its eye is too big to thread into the fly line. It is good up to a 10lb mono leader, so basically a trout set up.

    If I can’t use a needle knot then I use an albright, quick and easy to tie and very secure and again the mono comes out in line with the middle of the fly line.

  9. I used to buy a small beed hollow in the middle with two openings either side. One for the fly line the other for the leader. You could change leaders very quickly, are these still available?

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