April 11, 2013

Knots I have known

Knots. We all have our favorites. You can't live without them. We all have the ones we have tried and failed. Many are too hard to tie. Many are impractical for size 20 dry flies. Some just aren't strong enough.

Here I present some of my favorite knots. You probably already know about them or already use them, but I thought it would still be fun to visit this all important part of our avocation.

Let's begin:

Tying on a Dropper
Sometimes, on large waters or when I want to increase my chance of catching fish, I will use a dropper fly system with my tenkara rods. I know that this is not classified as tenkara fishing but that's OK with me. Fly fishing experts and competition fly fishers agree that on certain waters presenting more than one fly to the fish greatly increases your chance of a hook up. Where laws allow and the water permits I'll frequently follow this recommendation.

One thing I never liked about tying on a dropper is that it usually required me to change my tippet. I would usually use two sections of tippet. I'd tie them together using a Double Surgeon's knot (or similar knot) and then use the distal (not proximal) tag to tie on the dropper fly. This became an annoyance and so I stopped using this method. Also, since the dropper fly was tied on tippet of the same diameter it often would get wrapped around the main tippet, being even more annoying.

I now tie on my dropper fly without changing my tippet by using the Seaguar knot. This knot was designed to connect a mono line with a fluoro line, but that is not how I use it. The Seaguar knot allows me to tie on a dropper, using a larger diameter material, without having to remove or replace the original tippet! The knot is competition fast and very strong. I have not had a Seaguar knot failure yet.

Let me give you an example of how I use this knot. I most normally use 5X fluorocarbon tippet tied to the primary line via a tippet ring. My tippet is usually 24 inches long. If I want to add a dropper fly, I pull off a 8 inch section of 1X fluorocarbon material, lay it parallel to the main tippet about 10 inches up from the terminal end , and tie the Seaguar knot. I clip the distal tag. Using the proximal tag I tie an overhand knot around the main 5X tippet (just proximal to the Seaguar knot). This makes the tag stand perpendicular to the main tippet. I then tie on my dropper fly so that the tag is only 2-3 inches long. That's it. This whole process takes me about 90 seconds or less!

Here is a video to show you how I tie the knot:

There are other methods of tying on a dropper, but here are the advantages of this method:

1) It allows you to use your original tippet -- no replacement required.

2) It allows you to use a thicker material for the dropper tag. This in turn greatly reduces the dropper fly getting twisted around the main tippet. However, you have to use a significantly thicker material, at least 4 times thicker than the main tippet that is used. So, if you are using 5X tippet, then dropper material needs to be at least 1X. If you are using 6X tippet, the dropper material needs to be at least 2X. Get it?

3) Since the Seaguar knot does not disrupt the original tippet material it is very strong and the tippet is not compromised, unlike if you used a surgeon's knot tag for a dropper.

4) When you are done using the dropper fly you can either cut off the fly and continue fishing, letting the dropper tag just hang there -- it doesn't seem to affect the line or scare fish, I have found. Or, you can nip off the dropper tag tightly against the Seaguar knot and fish with only one fly. Again, the presence of the Seaguer knot does not affect catching fish with your original tippet and fly.

5) The knot is blazing fast to tie, and it is competition fly fishing approved!! To increase your speed, use your hemostats to create the three spirals. Then with the hemostat, pull the ends through the knot.Wet the knot before tightening.

So there you have it. A fast way to add a second, or dropper, fly to an existing tippet. Fast, secure, effective. What more can you ask?!!

Special thanks to ERiK at Tenkara Guides for turning me onto this knot.

Tippet to Fly
Like many of you, for the past 25 years I have used the Clinch knot for tying my fly to the tippet. I occasionally use large streamers, but mainly my hook sizes are #8-#22 so the Clinch has been my knot. It's quick, reliable, and now it is a habit ingrained into my muscle memory. I have not had issues with it so I have been reluctant to change.

Clinch knot

But this past year I have been playing with the Davy knot. This knot had quite a surge of support about 2 years ago, particularly among the competition fly fishing crew. It is purported to be strong,  but it's main attraction is that it takes less than 3 seconds to tie. When you're competition fishing and have 2 hours to catch as many fish as you can even seconds count. So, I have been tying this knot in a version with an extra loop called the Double Davy. It is my knot of choice on really small flies since the knot is really tiny.

Davy knot
Double Davy knot

Recently, Daniel Galhardo from Tenkara USA posted a video of a knot I was not familiar with. He calls it his "one knot" -- keeping with the "one fly" philosophy practiced by some tenkara fishers. After watching the video, and not being a person who think he knows everything, I decided to give Daniel's Ishagaki knot a try. It, like the Davy, has a very small footprint. Also, it is a beautiful knot with compact, clean loops. It is harder for me to tie than the Davy though.

Ishagaki knot

I decided to compare these four knots (Clinch, Davy, Double Davy, Ishagaki) by doing breaking point testing. I used Rio Fluoroflex 5X tippet. I chose this tippet because it is the one that I use in most of my fishing. It has a 5lb breaking point when stretched. I tied each knot onto a #10 Dai-Riki hook and did pull testing until the knot failed. I repeated this 5 times for each knot. I then averaged the breaking point number (in pounds) for each knot. Each knot was tied with new tippet, was wetted with saliva, and carefully tightened until the knot had fully seated. Slow, steady pull pressure was then applied. If the knot failed then the test was recorded and counted. If the tippet failed then that test was thrown out. Just to make sure the hook wasn't affecting the results, I repeated the measurements with a #12 Tiemco 2488 hook. Each breaking point was noted at the exact moment the knot failed by freeze frame analysis of the video.

I found that all four knots work pretty much equally well. They all failed within +/- 0.3 lbs average pressure of each other. The Clinch had the highest pound breaking point but I bet if I had performed a larger sample size (say 20 measurements for each knot) they would all have been about the same. I love data -- we can believe that whatever we are doing is best, but without data we can't say that it is truly all around best practice. I think for now I'll stick with the Clinch knot unless I'm using a fly smaller than an #18, then I'll use the Davy (maybe the Ishagaki knot too since it has such a small footprint, but the Davy is much easier to tie). That's just me; you do whatever you think is best for your fishing.

Here is a video of some of the breaking point tests. I did not video all the tests due to how boring it was!!


  1. Tom, great article! This answered a question I recently had about the breaking strength of the clinch knot vs. the Ishigaki knot. Thank you for getting scientific!

    1. Jason,

      I had the same question regarding the knots, hence that is why I decided to test them. Thanks for your comments.


  2. Nice job Tom.

    Easy. Repeatable. RealWorld believable.

    I'm amazed what can be landed with just 3# of force.

    With regard to the Davy Knot - If this knot is new to you, be sure the tag end is tight to the wraps. If is "low" and Not coming off perpendicular to the knot you can get premature failures. (And "Pull Test" your first hundred.)


    1. Thanks, Greg. I agree about the Davy knot tag needing to be perpendicular to the main tippet. It also needs to be seated tighly before fishing or premature failure can occur.


  3. Great Test!!! One thing that I would like to see is a test to see which is the strongest method of tying your tippet to a level line (loop to loop, Ishagaki knot, cow hitch,tippet ring, ect.).

    1. That's an interesting idea. I'll look into it.


  4. Davy knot works well for me as my "one knot." Been using it for both fly and tippet to level line connection for a bit over a year and it works perfectly well for both in my opinion. I taught 3 guys the Davy Knot last fall on a hiking trip so they could do some fishing. They all had it down in a mater of minutes, it's simplicity is as much a benefit as is the speed at which it can be tied.

  5. Huh.... I've been ending my Double-Davy by running the line back through the upper loop alongside the tippet. I may have to re-evaluate that.

    Thanks for the science behind the art.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.