How to Tie Fly Fishing Knots

When you're first starting out, one of the most intimidating things about fly fishing is all the knots! Check out some of the most common knots with instructions below.

Close up of a mans hands tying a fly to a fishing line.

Photo by CDX

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Fishing knots are one of the most important areas of knowledge for a fisherman and an area of great frustration. They have ruined the catch of a lifetime and been the root cause of novices quitting. Knots have humbled experienced anglers as their fingers start to fail and cause the English lexicon to increase profane word combinations. Ah, knots!

Just a few points before we begin:

  • No knot is ever 100%. Physics does not allow for it. A weak point is created somewhere in the knot where maximum forces hit it from different vector angles. Under enough pressure and stress, every knot fails. This is typically the first hard turn of the top section of the knot coming from the main line. On inspection, it leaves a clean line and looks like the line simply snapped. People argue over the best knot and there is even a knot strength chart. Different knots behave diversely with different line materials. And yes, this chart has some over 100% strength, but it’s because some of them have double lines. It’s how they report the knot strength relative to the naïve line strength. No knot is made of a 100% straight, unkinked line.
  • Bad knots will slip and break. Their telltale sign is a curly tag end. If you see one, you either tied a bad knot or tied a good knot poorly. Either way, changes need to occur before the next break-off.
  • Knots need lubrication to seat properly. A little saliva goes a long way.
  • You don’t need to know every knot. Pick the one that works for your situation and perfect it.
  • Finally, the best advice I can give you is practice, practice, practice. And then practice some more. Start learning knots by using larger diameter rope or paracord. It’s easier to see what the knot should look like before you try it with a fluorocarbon leader. You don’t want to find yourself waist-deep in a stream with rising trout in low light as you fumble to tie your fly on. Practice on dry land first and develop the muscle memory to do it even with icy wet hands that are not as facile as they should be.

For this article, I grouped the knots on how a fly-fishing rig and tackle would be set up. I included major knots and showed the ones I prefer and why. You may have different preferences. That’s okay. Just make sure you can tie them proficiently and consistently, and they do what you need. Don’t let the big one get away because of a poor knot. Bookmark this page for the future and let us set you up with your new fly rod and reel combination.

Backing to Spool

There really is only one knot used here, the Arbor Knot.

  1. Loop the backing around the spool and tie a single overhand knot around the line.
  2. Tie a simple overhand knot as a stopper in the tag end.
  3. Tighten and done.

Backing to Fly Line

Because, in most instances, fly lines come with double loop ends, a loop needs to be formed at the backing’s tail end. There are several ways to do this. Most anglers use the Surgeon's Loop Knot (Double Surgeon’s Loop).

  1. Form a loop in the line.
  2. Tie an overhand knot and pass the bight (loop) through one more time.
  3. Lubricate, tighten, trim, and done.

This is adequate in most situations. My OCD kicks in though and I prefer to use a Bimini Twist Knot. I feel it’s stronger than the surgeon’s loop knot and, with some practice, can be tied in under 30 seconds. Its name also just sounds cooler.

  1. Make a large loop and create at least 20 turns.
  2. Secure the loop around a fishing reel handle or post. Compress the twist, make the tag end, then twist around the twists.
  3. Secure with a half hitch (an overhand knot on its side) on each strand of the loop followed by a half hitch around both strands.
  4. Tighten, trim, and done.

For even more strength, it can be tied as a double Bimini Twist Knot. It’s the same knot just tied with a double loop (i.e., make the large loop in step one with a looped section of backing rather than a single strand). In theory, this extra loop spreads out the stress on-the-fly line loop over a greater surface area than the single loop of a Bimini Twist. It may be overkill, but it’s the knot I use on my 9 and 10-weight setups.

Loop to Loop Knot

In the video below, note how the loops are supposed to be seated on each other. This is a very easy knot to do and allows for the fly line to be switched on reels easily.

  1. Pass loop on the leader over the fly line loop.
  2. Then take the tail end of the leader and bring it through the fly line loop.
  3. Tighten. If done correctly it should resemble a square knot.

If there is no loop on your fly line, you need to use a Nail Knot. Most lines have a loop, so no instructions will be included here.

Fly Line to Leader

As nearly every leader now comes with a loop, the Loop to Loop knot works well here too. If you are tying your own leaders or the leader does not have a loop, I prefer the Perfection Loop Knot. It’s strong and when tied properly, the tail comes off the knot at 90 degrees, making it less likely to hang up on rod ferrules.

  1. Form a loop in the line.
  2. Form a second loop around the first loop, laying it on top of the first loop.
  3. Place the tag in between the loops.
  4. Pull the top (second) loop through the first loop.
  5. Lubricate, tighten, trim, and done.

In the event the fly line does not have a loop, tie a nail knot. In these rare instances, for ease of changing the leader, I tie the fly line to a piece of 20 lbs monofilament with a nail knot. Tie a perfection loop on the other end of the monofilament, then do the Loop to Loop knot with leaders.

Leader to Tippet

Until now, most of these knots are tied infrequently and done at home. These following knots are the ones that need proficiency while on the water.

Eventually, you will want to add a tippet to a leader or perhaps tie a dropper off a nymph rig. These knots help you here. The standard is the blood knot.

  1. Overlap the two lines so the tag ends are in opposite directions.
  2. Wrap one line around the other about 6 times and bring the tag back between the lines.
  3. Repeat this with the other line wrapping in the opposite direction and bring the tag back between the lines in the opposite direction.
  4. Lubricate, tighten, trim the ends of the line, and done.

There are alternative techniques to tie this where the lines are simply wrapped around each other, and the tags re-turned and tucked in the middle. Do not tie it this way! This isn’t a blood knot and doesn’t have the integrity of a one. The opposing wrap directions are necessary to maintain the strength of the knot. It’s good for tying lines of close to equal diameter together, say a 5x tippet to a 6x tippet. If you need to tie lines of different diameters together, a Surgeon's Knot is better.

  1. Overlap the two lines so the tag ends are in opposite directions.
  2. Tie an overhand knot with both lines and pass the bight one more time through the loop.
  3. Lubricate, tighten, trim the tag ends of the lines, and done.

Another good knot is the Double Uni Knot. It is especially relevant when joining two different materials together, such as braid to a monofilament line.

  1. Overlap the two lines so the tag ends are in opposite directions.
  2. Take one of the line ends, double back, and wrap around both lines 4-5 times.
  3. Bring the end through the loop that was formed.
  4. Lubricate, tighten, and trim (you have just tied a Uni Knot).
  5. Repeat for the other line.
  6. Slide the two uni knots together and done.

My preferred knot is the Orvis Tippet Knot. This slip loop knot has the advantage of the strength of a blood knot but can be tied with different line diameters. The hemostat trick also adds speed, especially with cold wet hands that are unwilling to work fast.

  1. Overlap the two lines so the tag ends are in opposite directions.
  2. Make a bend in the lines so a loop forms (no need to cross the lines).
  3. Insert your hemostats through the loop and twist 2 and ½ times.
  4. Grab the tag end of the leader and the accompanying piece of tippet and pull it through the formed loop. This forms a figure eight.
  5. Lubricate, tighten, trim the excess, and done.

If you need to tie a shock tippet on, the Albright Knot is best.

  1. Make a loop in the leader tag end.
  2. Bring the shock tippet end through the loop.
  3. Make 10 wraps around the loop, working back toward the loop.
  4. Pass the shock tippet tag end back through the loop on the same side it came in on.
  5. Lubricate, tighten, trim, and done.

Tippet to Fly

These knots are the most important and the ones you will tie the most. For most anglers, the Improved Clinch Knot is the one they use.

  1. Pass the line through the eye of your hook.
  2. Make 5-7 turns around the standing line.
  3. Bring the tag end back through the first loop and pass it through the larger formed loop.
  4. Lubricate, tighten, trim, and done.

There is even a nifty hemostat trick for tying this knot quicker or with chilly hands.

A slightly stronger Trilene Knot can be formed by passing the tag through the eye of the hook twice at the onset of tying the Improved Clinch knot and not passing it back through the larger loop (last step of Improved Clinch Knot).

The Improved Clinch Knot can slip (at least in my hands) and my preferred knot is the Orvis Knot. It is quick and easy to tie and has increased strength benefits over the Improved Clinch Knot.

  1. Pass the fishing line through the eye of the hook.
  2. Pass the tag around the line and back through the first loop.
  3. Then back through the second loop two times.
  4. Lubricate, tighten, trim, and done.

If you are using a streamer or another big fly, a loop knot is often preferred. It allows the fly to have more action while it swims in the water. My preferred knot for this is the Non-Slip Mono Knot (also known as the Lefty Kreh Loop Knot).

  1. Tie a loose overhand knot in the tippet (do not tighten down).
  2. Pass the line through the eye of the hook.
  3. Bring the tag through the overhand knot on the same side in which it exits the overhand knot.
  4. Wrap the tag end around the line 5 times.
  5. Bring the tag back through the overhand knot on the same side it exited.
  6. Lubricate, tighten, trim, and done.

Other knots that anglers use include:

Miscellaneous Knots

To be thorough, I’m adding some other common fishing knots you may need at some point, although likely not on a fly setup.

As you can see, there are many fishing knots. Don’t be overwhelmed. You can look up most of them (hence the bookmark suggestion) and only need to focus on two: one for tying the tippet to the leader and one to tie your fly to the tippet. Pick the knot that works for you and practice it. Once you have mastered it, move on and learn others. I hope this primer makes knots less of a dreaded source of frustration and you feel empowered to learn knots and improve your fishing.

If you find yourself having any other questions about any of these knots, or other fly fishing gear, reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert on Curated and we'd be happy to walk you through things! Tight Lines!

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Written By
I am an avid fly fisherman. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard exactly two minutes from my fly tying bench. If there is open water, I will fish just about every day. Although I grew up fishing the fabled streams of Pennsylvania, I love to travel and fly fish for diverse species both fresh and sa...

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