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What’s The Best Tippet-to-Fly Knot?

by Philip Monahan

Have a question you want answered? Email it to us at ask@midcurrent.com.

Question: Can you please, once and for all, answer this question: What is the best knot for attaching a fly to the tippet?

A. Alexander, Bozeman, MT

Tippet KnotsAnswer: Um… no, I can’t. There is no “right” answer to that question, for several reasons. There are many variables that go into determining which knot is “best” for a given fly-fishing situation. Here are just a few of them:

1. The kind of fly.

2. The thickness of the wire in the hook eye.

3. The diameter of the tippet material.

4. The kind of tippet material (mono, fluorocarbon, etc.).

5. The kind of action you want on the fly.

So, for instance, a knot that works fine for a size 18 Adams — an unimproved clinch knot — may slip if you try to use it on a size 2 Muddler, which features much thicker wire at the eye. Many streamer aficionados prefer a loop knot, which allows the fly to move more naturally in the current (or so the theory goes). If you’re using super-thick mono as a bite guard for pike or tarpon, you need a specialized knot, such as a Homer Rhode loop, for that, as well.

But let’s say we’re talking about the knot for an average dry fly or nymph. A quick survey of the literature reveals several knots that claim to be the best or are worthy of being called “100% knots.” (Theoretically, a 100% knot is actually stronger than the material from which it is tied, a concept that has never seemed plausible to me.) There’s the Davy knot, the nonslip mono loop, the sixteen-twenty-loop, and so on. Dig a little deeper, and you may find that there’s very little scientific data to support these claims; probably because scientists have better things to do than break tippet material all day.

Part of the problem is that it’s almost impossible to recreate real fishing conditions in the laboratory. Fish don’t break tippets by pulling slowly in a single direction, and the tippet material in the tests probably hasn’t been soaked in water first. Throw in some slight abrasions or frequent stretching (as would occur when you’re fishing a streamer in heavy current), and who knows how that would affect test results? So I don’t put too much faith in the charts and graphs that spring up every so often to prove that an author’s creation is better than all that came before.

However, there is one variable that you do control: how well you tie a given knot. And that’s really the key to the whole issue of knot strength. A knot that performs best in strength tests will still fail if you don’t tie it correctly. So when you are deciding which knots you’d like to use on-stream, take this into account. Some anglers may be able to breeze through the process of making a nonslip mono loop (Art Scheck’s favorite), while others may find it too difficult to tie it correctly in the wind or at dusk.

Here’s the confessional part of this column: I still use the improved clinch knot for dry flies and nymphs. I realize that it tests well below many other knots. But I’ve tied it thousands of times, in all kinds of conditions, so I have confidence that when I seat the wraps everything is where it should be. And — what do you know? — I don’t break off many fish.

So your best bet is to do a little research, try tying several knots, and decide which ones work for your fingers. (You might want to choose one standard knot and one loop knot.) Then, the most important step is to practice tying them until you can do it perfectly every time. There is no magic bullet knot that allows you to skip this step. Remember: the best knot is a well-tied knot.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at OrvisNews.com.
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  • Clint Brumitt

    Phil, I like the theme of your article, the best knot is a well-tied knot  I agree entirely from experience.  I was recently introduced to the Davy Knot.  A figure eight knot tied to the eye of a hook.  I was not about to change until the angler who showed it to me said he had been using it for over a year. He had caught large trout and summer steelhead with the knot.  Very easy to learn and economical to tie.  It is great at the magic hour of low light since it can tied almost from memory without much light.  My old eyes atest to that feature.
    I decided to use it on a recent trip.  I was using one of these tippet rings to attach my tippet.  A nymph was the fly of choice.  Very soon I needed to add a dropper.  Well, tie a short dropper off of the tippet ring and away you go.  I was fishing four Davy knots at one time and catching a bunch of nice trout.
    I was a believer.

    I returned home to read an article on knots and leaders and what is the strongest.  I had just used the weakest knot in the test for over a week landing trout up to 19″ all without failure.  I may change my mind, but my tired old arthritic fingers sure liked the knot.  The fish did not care what knot I was using and the waste of material was very minimal.

  • rick

    I second the Davy knot!! Try this simple test suggested by Art Scheck: Cut a 24″ length of tippet material; tie one end to a fly hook using your preferred knot; tie the other end to a second fly hook using the Davy knot or any other knot you wish to compete with; secure each hook with a pair of pliers or vise grips; complete a tug-o-war pull test until one knot fails; repeat at least nine more times; the best knot will always win. The beauty of this test is that it factors in the actual tippet material and fly hooks that you use along with your knot tying skill. The Davy knot consistently outperformed other common tippet-to-fly knots using 6X tippet and #18 dry fly hooks. This test allows you to fine tune your knot selection for given tippet and hook sizes.

  • brad

    Like too many political reporters, the author has no useful opinions; every knot is just about equal to every other knot, no matter how different they are. So a clinch knot is about the same as a blood knot, no matter how fast one can tie the one vs the other, and an improved clinch is about the same as a palomar, nevermind the hook size. Really? I suppose the author thinks there is little difference between a spin casting outfit and a fly casting rig, between a McKenzie riiver drift boat, and a ponga, between a hamburger and a ham sandwhich.

    • Markus Fipps

      An improved clinch knot still for delicate presentation of dryfly patterns smaller than #18. I think not or is it Knot.
      Learned many moons ago on gin clear streams just how important it was to match your setup to your skills when mastering delicate presentations when it matters,
      An improved clinch could easily represent an additional 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the entire offering under the right conditions. A Turle of similar simple knot is the only way to go for delicate presentation of Dryflies.
      Also many copolymer tippets fail easily at the slightest nic or improfection making many standard knots a poor choice.

  • Don Thompson

    Phil,

    “(You might want to choose one standard knot and one loop knot.)” and “the best knot is a well-tied knot”, plus “There is no one knot that solves all tippet to fly problems.” All comments are true and I would encourage every fly angler to try the Davy Knot and compare it to the Orvis Knot which Larry Becker tied for Orvis and won over many hundreds of knots. When Davy Wooten and many guides made it popular over You Tube and the internet, many thought it was a figure-eight knot. However, it is a half turn more than a figure-eight knot. Clifford Ashley who wrote the difinitive knot book, “Ashley’s Book of Knots” ABoK#521 describes it as an intermediate knot between the figure-eight and the stevedore knot. Many who thought that it was a figure-eight know may have remembered Lefty Kreh;s warning that the figure-eight is only for use on coffee colored wire or nylon coated braided wire. They had simply added an extra turn to the Davy Knot which made it a half turn more than a stevedore knot. I would recommend this Stevedore Plus Knot as the best knot for tippet to fly, if it is a well-tied knot. I tested it against 10 other tippet to fly knots with both competing knots tied in 1x 3x 5x and 7x Rio PowerFlex Monofilament and Rio FluoroFlex Fluorocarbon line on ten lines and 20 knots for each line above compared with each of 10 other knots. It won in every case. I did not test it against any double threaded knots, but only with 2 to 3 turn knots since it is tied with 2.5 turns. I also tested it against the second highest ranked knot, the Orvis Knot, in 12 lb, and 20 lb Ande mono. and 12 lb and 20 lb Seaguar fluoro that I had tested previously on the Chatillon Knot Tester.

    Guess how many knots I tied.

    For the best loop knot, especially with nymphs and streamers, I use the Kreh Loop with the tag end tucked into the second bight of the overhand rather than just exiting the mouth of the overhand like the Non-slip Loop. Lefty doesn’t recommend using any loop on hooks smaller than size 12. However, I’ve tested a smallest size loop made with a lariat lasso loop eye knot called the Honda Knot with one more tuck rather than the customary overhand in the tag end. It works very well on flies down to size 20 because its footprint is so small and It is surprisingly strong. After a simple overhand, thread the tag end through the eye and guide it back over the overhand to tuck it into the top bight of the overhand. Then reeve the tag end behind the overhand and back up through the lower bight of the overhand toward the Honda Loop. Make the loop as small as you want for your fly. Then, draw up all parts of the overhand by pulling on the main line while the thumb and forefinger of your holding hand snuggles the overhand and the longer tucked tag end while it draws up. Check the last tuck and snug it up. Once it is drawn up, wet the knot with water and pull on the main line and the loop with the small portion of your closed hemostats to set it firmly. Trim the tag end closely.
    I encourage every angler to make their time on the water count for joy; think light tackle with smaller lines, hooks, flies and knots. You’ll be glad you did, because it is more fun and we appreciate these moments

  • bobrick@nyair.net

    Don T
    I just added the extra turn to the Davy – the Stevedore plus as you referred to it. My search for the perfect knot is over. Thank you.

  • Cas Smith

    Well said, Mr. Monahan! Well said.

  • Cas Smith

    p.s. Also. The Davy Knot is simply a single-turn Timber Hitch. The Timber Hitch is also a standard knot in archery. Used to create a loop-end for bow-strings.