How long has it been since you’ve been fishing? I thought so…it’s been a while, hasn’t it? But the good news is the weather is bound to change by the end of the month and May will bring some exciting insect hatches! You need to be prepared for that first day on the water. I encourage you to pull out some tippet material and practice a knot or two. If you need some help, here are my favorite fly fishing knots.

Improved Clinch Knot|

The image above is an example of a bad knot. I hope your knots don’t look like this!

What’s wrong with it? The knot isn’t “seated” properly. Each of those loops needs to be snug against the others. If they aren’t, the knot will quickly tighten when a fish eats your fly and snap off. Check your tippet and more than likely, you’ll find a little curly cue where the fly was attached. It’s a tell-tale sign of a improperly tied knot.

Here are the knots I use when fly fishing:

  • Triple surgeon
  • Improved clinch knot
  • Davy knot
  • Non-slip loop knot
  • Non-twist knot

Triple surgeon – Instructions – This knot is used to attach two pieces of monofilament when creating a tapered leader or adding tippet (or tying the non-twist knot below). 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.

After passing a longer piece of monofilament and the tag end of the leader using an overhand knot three times, this knot is ready to tighten after adding a little moisture.

Surgeons Knot - Loose |

The completed knot is shown below. The running line is horizontal, tags are on top and below with all loops snug against each other.

Surgeons Knot - Tight |

Improved clinch knot – Instructions – I’ve used this knot for years and continue to use it for hook sizes 12 and larger. I started using the Davy knot for smaller flies in 2016. More on that below. Many fly fishers tie a simple clinch knot. In fact, my wife uses a knot tying tool to quickly tie a clinch knot. It works for her! I like the extra strength of tucking the tag through the loop as explained in the instructions.

Improved Clinch Knot|

Notice how well this knot is “seated”?

The first image in today’s post is an example of a poorly tied knot where the loops aren’t snugged tight or “seated”.

Davy knot – Instructions – I began using the Davy knot in 2016. Initially, I was wary of using the knot, but have caught some big fish with it 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 |

There is a double Davy knot as well which may work for larger hook sizes. I’m happy with the improved clinch knot for those.

Non slip loop knot – Instructions – 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 allows the fly to swim better. A slightly smaller loop would be better.

Non Slip Loop Knot |

Non-twist knot – This is a knot I’ve used for a few years to eliminate the problem of a fly twisting the leader. I learned this knot from the Deschutes Angler Fly Shop in Maupin, OR. It eliminates the twisting of leader when using large or bushy flies.

If you looked closely at the image below, 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.

Hatchmaster and Non-Twist Knot |

The trick is determining the proper size of each tippet piece for the hook, preventing it from pulling through the hook eye.

I’ve had problems when fishing my Beetle Bailey and other larger flies like the Hatchmaster Green Drake shown above. I generally fish with 6X tippet, which is very light. I tried changing to a heavier 5X tippet. It helps, but still, it twists.

Here is a closer view.

Non Slip Knot |

And a video of Amy demonstrating the non-twist knot.

She 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. If you have a larger hook eye, you’ll need to adjust your tippet pieces. Conduct your own experiment if you use a larger tippet. Just be sure the knot is tied well and looks like the image above.

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.

Try it yourself and you’ll understand. It took me a few tries before settling on two tippet sizes that worked.

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.

One last tip…

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.

Find out what works for you and tie a good knot!

Enjoy…go fish!

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  1. Just heard about the non-slip loop the other day. 6 guides worked with 6 of us and we all fished the same water at different times using simialr nymphs. Fishing was awful due to high and stained water and frigid January temps, but we had 8 on and landed 4. Another angler caught 2 and another 1. Other parties caught none!! Difference was that the guide used the non-slip loops to allow more action to nyphs and allow them to drift more naturally and he swears by it. I saw the difference it made. Practicing it now!!

  2. Thanks for posting. I’m going to try using the Davy knot with the small flies. I’ve never heard of the non-twist knot, but will give that a try too. I was thinking that if you use tippet rings like I do, you could pre tie lengths of tippet with that knot at the end. When you’re ready to use a big fly, thread it through the eye and tie to the tippet ring.

  3. Hi John,

    Thanks for a great subject and its presentation. I think more fish are lost due to poorly tied knots than any other reason. Your article should FIX that problem for your readers. Take care & …

    Tight Lines – Al Beatty

  4. I see you mention the double Davy knot. I found that the standard Davy knot has a tendency to slip so I started using the double Davy knot. Would recommend anyone to use this knot as it is strong and reliable

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