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Sunday, 24 November 2013 18:29

Nuts for Knots?

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A thread (no pun intended) popped up a couple of months ago about knots.  I have to admit, I’m a sucker to be pulled into a knot discussion.  Not because I’m so strongly opinionated about the knots I use, specifically.  It’s more about the fact that I become quickly nauseous reading the kick spatter about the great knot debate.

Why do people actually argue so strongly about fishing knots?  I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact a quality knot has to be learned and requires a level of skill.  This is something that every angler with a pole and string can pound his chest about.  Not all of us can forge a hook, mold a topwater lure, pour soft plastics or machine our own fishing reel.  We really can’t show off our manhood with these things, and compare and contradict our great skill among other anglers with the same fervor we can with a knot.  We can’t get caught up in the ‘my lure is better than your lure’, but as the knot is a manly skill we have honed and can compare with other manly men,  and is a tangible item we produced ourselves, we gladly beat our chest and shout to the heavens that ours is far superior to all others.  Hey, it’s a primal thing.  I get it.  I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

With knots, I stand in the comfortable circle called reality.  I can see eyes rolling, and faces flushing even now.  I expect it fully.

The actual fact is, 99% of all knots—ANY knot, is probably the perfect knot.  His knot, your knot, her knot—pretty much any modern style fishing knot is most likely not truly better than any other.  Or worse, for that matter.  Provided it’s tied properly, and allowed to do it’s job properly.

Back in grandaddy’s day, when Dacron, cotton or other natural fiber was used or even when early monofilaments were the lines we depended on, a knot was far more likely to fail than with today’s superior petro-chemical fishing lines. 

Ok smart alec, I’ve had knots fail.  What’s your theory there?

Making a knot up properly is not rocket science.  There are plenty of videos and graphics on the web to show you how to make up pretty much every knot known to modern man.  But, tying the knot properly is where we can fail as he-men.  From something as simple as lubricating the line, to the correct number of wraps to the extremes of knowing how much pressure to put on main lines and tag ends, so many of us fail.  Even the simple uni-knot, when improperly tied, will fail almost guaranteed. 

Listen, you don’t have to agree.  It’s still going to be true.  HOW the knot is tied is far more important than which knot you choose, provided you have chosen the appropriate knot for the job you are asking of it.

I’m making two points here.  First, whether you use a uni knot, a trilene knot, a polomar knot or grandfather’s old trusty knot, the chances are your knot—when tied properly, is just as good as everyone else’s.  And conversely, it is probably no better than anyone else’s either.  The second point I’m trying to convey is tying the knot properly is most important.  This is not simply making up the knot—using the right number of wraps and pushing the tag in through the appropriate hole. 

Tying the knot correctly would of course be making up the knot, but also proper lubrication, proper technique in snugging the knot, proper pressure on main lines and tag ends and the techniques involved with all of those things.

Nearly all of the reasons for knot failure are attributed to human error in tying the knot.  Let’s touch on some of the major factors in knot failure.



First and easiest, is the lack of lubrication when snugging the knot.  I’m sure everyone uses a good dab of slobber on their knots when they tie them.  This is perfect.  Saliva is not only wet, its slippery.  Make sure you use enough and make sure when the knot is snugged there is still plenty there. 

I love to use a uni knot as an example, as it is undoubtedly the most widely tied knot.  The uni should have 4 to 6 wraps when tied with mono, and 6-8 with braid.  When most everyone ties this knot properly, we end up with the knot wraps either extending over about an inch of our mainline, or the little ‘barrel’ of the knot an inch or so up from the terminal end.  This is a critical lubrication step.  The knot wraps or the barrel of the knot will be sliding down the main line—all the while tightening, and thus creating heat and friction.  This is a great place to stress the knot and the main line.  A slow steady snug is all that is required here.  A tell-tale sign you have a friction problem with this knot is a small ‘curl’ in the main line where you just pulled your knot down.  This curl is caused by heat and friction.  Every use scissors to curl the ribbon used to tie up a gift?  You pull that ribbon along those scissors—causing heat and friction, and you get a mighty pretty curl.  With your fishing line, the result is less curly, but no less detrimental for your angling pursuits. 



Most knot failures are attributed to the knot itself slipping, and the effects of that slipping.  This uncontrolled movement can cause heat, stretching, demormation and over pressure.  I could not stress enough, to snug your knots tight in every situation.  The thought that it’ll snug down on its own or snug down when a fish bites is a great way to pull back that tell-tale ‘pig tail’ where your knot should be.  Think back on the scissors and ribbon thing.  This slipping of the knot causes so many issues and it’s such an easy fix.  Snug it all the way down, every time.


Snug, but don’t tug

Don’t overthink the snugging of the knot. Pulling everything tight—just tight, and not over stressing the line is the result you are looking for.  

I absolutely cringe when I see an angler do all the right things when tying their knot—proper knot choice for the job, plenty of saliva, good looking wraps, snug it down.  And then they jerk-jerk-jerk the line to, I assume, make sure the knot is tight?  I shutter.  There is no way to measure the damage you are most likely doing to the knot at this point. In a simple hypothetical scenario, if you are using 10lb test line, that main line will most likely never see more than about 4 or 5 lbs of pressure duing a normal fishing day.  Even moreover, if you are using braid and a 20lb shock leader, and you tug 15lbs or more of pressure in that knot, you can bet your bottom dollar you just deformed every wrap in the knot.  At some point, that knot is going to fail—not because you tied a bad knot or your knot is improper, but because you overstressed the line from the get-go.

In any case, it’s not the knot’s fault, it’s an improper technique.


Proper tension on main lines and tag ends

Lending back to the uni because it’s so simple an example, it’s pretty hard to muck up the pressure on the pieces of the knot.  There are two techniques with the uni.  Pull the mainline tight, while holding the tag end, and conversely pulling the tag end while holding the main line (or not letting slip the knot).  In the case of uni, either is appropriate, provided you put the proper pressure on the knot as a whole.  Other knots are a little more specific.  A proper loop knot requires zero tension be placed on the tag end, once the snugging begins.  A surgeons knot must have the same pressure on all 4 pieces during snugging, or it will slip and fail.  Let us not even begin to the multiple hand gestures needed to properly snug a bimini twist. 

Without going over specific techniques for each and every knot, suffice to say proper tension is a variable that we can control and should take the time to study the proper techniques for your preferred knot and ensure you are not pulling on tab A when you are supposed to be pulling on tab B.


Fluorocarbon specific issues

Fluoro, in and of itself, is a difficult material to properly tie to it’s full potential.  Fluoro is stiff and does not lend itself well to being turned and twisted with out kinking and weakening the knot below it’s breaking strength.  Fluoro does not stretch well, and it is highly susceptible to heat deformation during the snugging process.  It’s my leader of choice 99% of the time, but I don’t take for granted the need for properly tied knots.


Braid specific issues

Braid may be immune from stretching and is less likely to show an actual pig tail when a heat related issue occurs, but that is not an indicator an issue does not exist.  The same care and caution should be observed with braid.  A great issue with braid is the slippage.  Oh slippage.  It’s certainly an issue with the knot failing for a myriad of issues already explained, but then the added pleasure of how slick braid is and you have can of worms with no lid over it.  I can only assume everyone has experience with braid so to I can assume everyone has developed techniques in ensuring their braid knots don’t slip.  One thing I have learned is to simply add a couple of wraps to a knot that requires them, add a couple of very tiny half hitches to the tag end, or even my grandpa’s old trick to tie a tiny overhand knot in the end of the tag end.  All help with slipping, and until the next version of the boy scout book of knots comes out, and includes the approved knots for braid, we’ll all just be working toward the perfect braid knot for our use.

One thing I can offer is the fact that if you wind your line back and there is a neat little end with no tell-tale on it, assume your knot slipped.  More wraps or more appropriate knot might be in order.


I like to point out in my seminars, that 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish.  Any one of the small bits of advice I give might not by itself be the factor that makes the difference, but each piece of the puzzle helps the picture come together.

Read 1162 times Last modified on Thursday, 12 December 2013 19:17


# Irish Fly 2013-11-26 00:07
Great article - thanks for "knot" keeping this to yourself! :-)

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