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April 1, 2011 / flogginwater

A Fly Fishing Primer – Part Four

This is the fourth part of an on-going series written for folks just getting in to fly fishing, or thinking of getting in to fly fishing. This was originally written for and posted on the Oregon Fishing Forum. I don’t claim to be an expert, just an angler with 18 years experience whipping a fly rod back and forth, and occasionally catching a fish with it. Keep checking back for further writings in this series!

In this section I’m going to show you some of the knots I typically use while fly fishing. I’m going to make a few assumptions going into this section – those being that you already have some background in fishing, so you already know a few basic knots like the Clinch Knot, the Arbor Knot, and some version of a loop knot.

The first knot you will need when setting up your gear, of course, would be the Arbor Knot, or at least some similar type of knot to attach your backing line to the arbor of your fly reel. You could of course cheat, as I have been doing more recently – and just using duct tape. Who just spit up on their keyboard? Yes, I said duct tape. The reason is pretty simple – it’s a lot faster and easier than tying a knot around the arbor of the reel – I’ve done this with fly reels, and I do this with spinning reels. My reasoning? I have only ever once had a fish spool me so badly I could see the knot holding my line to the reel. That fish was a 5lb carp caught on a Quantum Microlight rod & reel that only held about 60 yards of 4lb test line. That fish spooled me twice, and I still landed it. I don’t use rods and reels THAT small anymore. It was a super fun rod for catching bluegill and crappie – and that carp was indeed a riot to catch – but I’d never consider fishing with that tiny of a rod again for anything bigger than panfish – and anymore when I’m fishing panfish, or trout, or bass, I’m using 2-6lb test line on a reel that will hold 220-600 yards of line, depending on the line weight I’m using. Aside from larger lakes or big rivers – where is a fish going to get 600 feet away from me? I’ve caught 20lb carp on 4lb line before that never took more than about 200 feet of line from me. If I”m worried about getting spooled that badly – all I’ve got to do is point the rod tip at the fish and that worry goes away rather quickly. So duct tape works. No one is going to see the tape anyway, so I don’t have to worry about anyone making fun of it either.

Now that you’ve got your backing wound on to the fly reel – you’ve got to attach that pretty, expensive fly line. Duct tape won’t work for that – not if you want to keep that expensive fly line, should you find yourself into a good fish. The knot I prefer to use for this is called the Albright Knot. It’s an easy knot to tie.

To tie the albright knot, fold the end of the fly line back upon itself. Pass the tag end of the backing through this loop in the fly line, then begin to wrap the backing around both sections of the flyline. After a minimum of 5 wraps (I prefer wrapping upwards of 10 times) pass the tag end of the backing back through the loop formed by doubling the fly line, so that the tag end exits opposite of the entry into the loop of the flyline. Cinch the knot down by pulling both the tag end and the standing end of the backing line – this should snug the knot up to the tip of the loop of flyline. Trim the tag ends. You can further reinforce this knot with a bit of head cement, rubber cement, super glue – any waterproof glue that will not eat plastic. Properly tied, this knot slips very easily through the guides should a fish take you into your backing.

Now we’ve got our fly line tied on – we need to attach that leader we talked about in the last section. Some folks will tell you that the best way to attach a leader is with a knot called the Nail Knot, or a variation of that called the Needle Knot. I’m not a huge fan of either of these knots. They’re difficult to tie, and normally require a tool – be it a simple tool like a nail (hence the name) or a fancy knot tying tool. I don’t like knots that require tools. I also find these knots bulkier than I like, and I’ve had issues before with these knots catching in the guides of my fly rod. My solutions? Either using a fly line with a built in braided loop section, attaching an after market braided loop using heat shrink tubing & super glue, or using a knot I learned called the Castwell Knot. The later is what I use almost exclusively.

The Castwell Knot has other names – I’ve heard it called the Lap Knot, the Weaver’s Bend, or the Weaver’s Hitch. Whatever you call it – it’s extraordinarily simple, but extraordinarily strong. It’s also very small in profile, and passes very easily through the guides.

The Castwell Knot attaches a non-loop-end fly line to a leader with a loop tied in the end. To tie the Castwell Knot, pass the tag end of the fly line through the eye of the leader loop. Wrap the fly line around the back side of the leader loop, then pass the tag end of the fly line back through the eye of the loop, and catch it between the standing portion of the fly line, and the leader loop itself. Cinch the knot down tightly, and trim the tag end of the fly line. That’s it. Super simple, super small. I’ve been using this knot now since I first read about it on the Fly Anglers Online website, back in the fall of 2000. It has never once failed me – I’ve never lost a leader or broken this knot. Ever. Much easier and quicker to tie than a nail knot, much smaller than just about any other knot out there – the only thing more seamless is the loop to loop connection, and I think you get better energy transference with the Castwell knot over a loop to loop connection – there’s no hinging effect like some loop connections tend to have during casting.

Of course if you prefer using loops – that works too. A good loop to loop system is about as seamless as you can get, and as long as the loop in the leader is tied well, and is small, you shouldn’t have any hang ups, and hinging should be kept to a minimum. Quality leaders and good knots play a factor in that. Loop to loop connections are so easy that a “special” monkey can figure it out – but just in case you’re like some of my kin – I’ve made a dandy pictorial on a loop to loop connection anyway. See you at the family reunion – remember to bring the hot dogs, mkay?

Okay, great! We’ve got our backing on, our fly line on, and now we’ve got our main leader on. Now we need to attach a tippet to the flyline, so we don’t destroy our nice tapered leader. There’s lots of options for joining similarly sized lines out there – the blood knot, the double uni knot, you can use the albright knot if you want (I do, occasionally) – or you can keep it simple and use the Surgeon’s Knot. The surgeon’s knot is basically a triple overhand knot – or an overhand knot that you’ve passed the tag ends of the line through three times. Very simple, very quick, with decent knot strength. This works fine for joining monofilament lines – I’ve never tested it out with fluorocarbon – so if that’s what you want to use for tippet, test it out before you get on the water.

That just about covers our basic knots – you’ve now got all your line setup, and just need to attach a fly to it to get started fishing. As I said earlier, I’m making the assumption that you, as a new fly angler, have some fishing experience, and already know a few other basic knots, like the clinch knot, the palomar knot, and some sort of loop knot or knots. There is one knot though that I’d like to show you – which will come in handy if you’re fishing dry flies – it’s called the Dry Fly Clinch.

The dry fly clinch is used to keep a dry fly from falling over on it’s side, or tipping on the water’s surface. The idea behind it is that it will keep the dry fly upright. This only really works with turned down eyes – which is what most dry fly hooks have. I suppose you could use this on wet flies or streamers tied on up-eye hooks, that require the hook point to ride up also, if that floats your boat (or fly).

To form a Dry Fly Clinch – pass the tippet through the hook eye, then wrap it across the hook shank on top of the eye, then pass the tag end back through the hook eye – lassoing the hook. Now tie a standard Clinch knot around the standing part of the tippet. When you cinch the knot up, you’ll not that the knot rides squarely in the eye of the hook, instead of in front of it. I use this knot mostly when I’m fishing bushy dry flies in fast water, or if I’m fishing a sparsely hackled standard dry fly.

For better pictures of these knots, I’m going to refer you to a couple other resources – Fly Anglers Online – they’re a great wealth of resources for the fly angler – beginner or expert. They’ve got a great knot section with animated GIF files of the typical knots you’ll use as a fly fisherman. The other good resource is Animated Knots – they’ve got animated GIF files with a step by step break down of how to tie most knots for not only fishing, but also boating, rock climbing, rescue work, or decorative weaving – whatever your heart desires.

As I said before – I’m not trying to cover every knot out there – but I’m presenting you with the knots that I use on a regular basis.

In my next section, I’ll cover some of the basic techniques for actually fishing with your new fly rod and those little fur and feather covered hooks you got suckered into buying! Till next time – tight lines and strong knots!

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