I’ve had a love / hate relationship with my knots the last couple of weeks. I was surprised because I tie hundreds of knots every year. I lost some nice fish because my knot didn’t hold. Whose fault was that? Bad leader? Nope…it was all mine. Here are the effective fly fishing knots I use.

Hatchmaster and Non-Twist Knot | www.johnkreft.com

Whenever I lose a fish from the fly breaking off the first question I ask is “I wonder if my leader is old and brittle?” I check the spool because I write the date on it, so I know when I purchased it…for example, 6/20. How safe is old leader? I use leader I purchased last year, but throw out anything before that. It probably would be OK, but why take a chance on a fish of a lifetime? Oh, I’m only talking about monofilament, not fluorocarbon leader which will last forever.

I tie on another fly, paying attention to tying the knot properly and ensure it’s seated, and begin fishing again.

This usually works and I’m lucky enough to hook and land a fish on a leader with 6X tippet.

It had to be my knot!

The series of events happens more than once every season. You think I would learn!

Well, you can learn from me.


As the old adage says, do as I say, not as I do.

You might be asking how I know the difference between breaking my leader in a weak spot or at the knot?

In my experience, if there is a little curly cue, the knot came apart. The other observation is finding a clean cut. I think this case is from a nick in the line. Catching your fly in the brush or tree behind you can create a nick. It’s only a matter of time before the tippet breaks. Usually when hooking or playing a fish.

If you do catch your fly in the brush or tree behind you, take a second and run the tippet between your fingers. You can feel a nick if there is one. You’ll thank me when retying the fly on a good section of tippet.

Here are the knots I use when trout fishing:

  • Improved clinch knot
  • Davy knot
  • Non-Twist Knot
  • Non slip loop knot
  • Triple surgeon

Improved clinch knot Instructions – I used this fly for years and continue to use it for hook sizes 12 and up. I started using the Davy knot for smaller flies in 2016. More on that below. Many fly fishers tie a strong clinch knot. I like the thought of a little extra strength by tucking the tag through the loop as explained in the instructions. Be sure your finished knot looks like this. This knot is seated properly.

Improved Clinch Knot|www.johnkreft.com

This one isn’t.

Improved Clinch Knot|www.johnkreft.com

If your knot looks like this and a fish eats your fly, the knot will tighten quickly and break because of the slack. Snap! You’ll feel it and find a nice curly cue at the end of the tippet, a tell-tale sign.

Davy knotInstructions – As I said above, I began using the Davy knot in 2016. I was wary, but have caught some big fish using 6X tippet on the Metolius. I continue to use it for flies size 14 and smaller. I really like the small profile of the leader attached to the hook eye. If you are like me, you’ll really question using this knot the first few times. How can a simple knot like this really hold a fish? Check out the instructions. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Davy Knot | www.johnkreft.com

There is a double Davy knot as well which may work for larger hook sizes. I just haven’t tried it yet. I’m happy with the improved clinch knot.

Non-twist knot – Have you experienced your fly twisting the leader? Here is a great idea from the Deschutes Angler Fly Shop in Maupin, OR about how to eliminate the twisting of leader when using large or bushy flies. If you looked closely at the first image above, you’ll see the leader threaded through the eye and a knot tied. It’s a triple surgeon that snugs up to the hook eye allowing the fly to twist around the tippet.

Non Slip Knot | www.johnkreft.com

I’ve had problems when fishing the Beetle Bailey and other larger flies like a Hatchmaster Green Drake. I fish with a lot of 6X tippet, which is very light. Bushy flies seem to twist when casting and can create a twisted mess to your tippet.

I tried changing to 5X tippet. It helps, but still I find twists.

When I saw this short video, I decided to try it.

Amy used a piece of 10 lb. monofilament with 4X tippet. I wish I could use 4X tippet on the Metolius. My experience tells me I wouldn’t catch many fish because my catch rate increases significantly using 6X. I experimented with several different combinations and settled on a tying a triple surgeon with a piece of 4X and my 6X tippet. You’ll have to conduct your own experiment if you use a larger tippet. Just be sure the knot is tied well and looks like the image above.

Lastly, I’ve tried the non-twist knot on top as well as on the bottom of the hook eye. Most of the flies I tie use a down turned hook eye and I found threading the tippet from the top and tying a triple surgeon below the hook eye worked well. I think it allows the fly to spin more freely. Look at the image again of the knot below the down turned hook eye.

Non slip loop knotInstructions – I use this knot when fishing streamers and I want a lot of action. It’s a strong knot I have confidence in. Just try to keep a small loop next to the hook eye. There’s no way to tell, but I think the added movement creates natural movement better. A slightly smaller loop would be better.

Non Slip Loop Knot | www.johnkreft.com

Triple surgeonInstructions – This is the knot I use to attach two pieces of monofilament when creating a tapered leader or adding tippet (or tying the non-twist knot above). Some fly fishers use a double surgeon. I find the triple surgeon works best for me. It’s a simple to tie knot and very strong.

Knot ready to tighten.

Surgeons Knot - Loose | www.johnkreft.com

Completed knot. Running line is horizontal, tags are on top and below

Surgeons Knot - Tight | www.johnkreft.com

There are many other effective knots fly fishers use. I’m not suggesting you change if you like what you use and it works. Stick with them. I try to keep it simple and found these knots work really well for me.

If you decide to change, tie several of them at home. Tying them for the first time when fish are rising is a recipe for disaster! Trust me…been there, done that.

The biggest problem I have found learning or teaching knot tying is finger dexterity. How big of a loop to use? How to hold the leader when tying a knot?

Second is how long of a tag to use. Some knots require long tags, others are easier to tie with a short one.

Tie them in the comfort of your own home without rising fish around and you’ll quickly become an expert!

If you are interested in the simple leader system I use, be sure to read my Fly Fishing Leader post from a few years ago.

Lastly, I’ll say this again. I use 6X tippet on my home waters, the Metolius. I believe I hook and catch more fish as a result. Can you use heavier tippet? Sure. I’ve been known to say “you can do whatever you want, but this is what I do”.

Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!

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  1. Thanks, John for your posting.
    I’ve been a fan of knots for the outdoors ever since I was a Boy Scout.
    One knot that’s meant for dry flies by the late George Harvey is named just that: George Harveys Dry Fly Knot. It’s easy to tie and it is engineered so that the fly lands perfectly upright and straight from the leader every time it’s presented!! No more tilted or crooked landings!! It’s the only knot I use for dry flies.

  2. Thanx John for the intro to the Knot website – it’s the best! I use the J knot now where I used to use a surgeons knot – much easier for me to manipulate. Rb

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