Upgrade Your Knots for Fewer Break-offs


 Choosing a highly reliable knot like the Trilene Knot or the Non Slip Loop (shown here) and tying it well will greatly reduce break-offs. 

When you break-off a fish and see that little telltale curl of nylon where the hook used to be, you usually blame a poorly tied knot. But bad knot tying doesn't begin to account for as many lost fish as a far less heralded culprit--using the wrong knot in the first place. And nowhere is this truer than in saltwater fly-fishing, where the size and speed of fish take knot testing to a new level.

Choosing a highly reliable knot like the Trilene Knot or the Non Slip Loop (shown here) and tying it well will greatly reduce break-offs.
Looking back at my own journey with terminal knots over the years, I readily admit I mistakenly stayed with the same basic knots far too long. As I moved from trout to salmon to striped bass, bonefish and permit and other saltwater species, I spent a lot more time focusing on things like casting techniques, high performance reels and rods, and fly line choices than something as mundane as the knot I tied to the fly. As a result, I was still using the same old improved clinch knot.

This wasn't all bad. There's something to be said for tying a knot until you can do it in your sleep. And a well-tied medium-strength knot is probably better on average than a poorly tied high-strength knot. But that still begs the question: why not learn to tie a high-strength knot well and achieve the combined advantage of a knot with both superior inherent strength and the high reliability that comes from good tying technique?

In the end, what finally got me to focus on my knots was pretty simple--as I got better at hooking fish, I got more frustrated at losing them to break-offs. The table below lists several favorite terminal knots I use today for everything from bonefish to stripers. Each of these knots has trade-offs: some are tedious to tie, while some use more tippet material. But, tied well, they all retain the original strength of the tippet and they all (especially the ones that go through the hook eye more than once) hold up well to the repeated jerking forces of big, fast muscular fish. They also seem to weaken less when used with heavy lead-eyed patterns such as Clouser Deep Minnows that seem to stress many knots on repeated casting. Here are some high strength terminal knots of both the tight-to-fly and loop variety.

Tight-to-FlyKnotsLoop Knots
 Orvis or Becker Knot
100%  Non Slip Knot
 Trilene Knot
100% Homer Rhodes

*While the Homer Rhodes knot is not inherently strong, it is the best loop knot for big diameter bite tippets where even half the test strength of an 80# bite still delivers 40# of pull on the fish.

To drive home the importance of using high-strength knots--and tying them well--consider this. The standard clinch knot, which remains one of the most popular of all terminal knots, tests out at about 75% to 85% of the leader material's break strength. So if you are tying a clinch knot in 15# Seaguar leader material for your last connection to your striper fly, you are averaging only about 11 to 13# of break strength, even in a well-tied knot! That's a big handicap to give the fish if you happen to hook one of those big fat submarines that cruise Joppa Flat in June if they happen to whack your fly! See table below for the clinch knot's effective strength.

        Clinch Knot Effective Strength
Tippet test strength    Effective knot strength
   10 lbs                          7.5 to 8.5 lbs
   12 lbs                          9.0 to 10.6 lbs
   15 lbs                          11.25 to 12.75 lbs
    20 lbs                         15 to 17.0 lbs

By the way, I've also found that I need two basic types of knots for fly-fishing: knots that cinch up tight to the fly and loop knots that let the fly swing. I first learned this when I started to fish crab flies. A tight-to-the-fly knot restricts the erratic swimming behavior of typical of naturals, but a non-slip loop knot lets a Merkin or Bastard Crab all but dance across the bottom, eliciting strikes.

One last thought: using a strong knot, and tying it well, doesn't require any more time than tying a weak knot. And it's a small price to pay for tilting the odds in your favor. After all, you never know when the next fish you hook might be the trophy of a lifetime.
Next issue, we'll look at tying one of the best of these strong knots step-by-step.—Dick Brown