Field Medic

After a long and rewarding day of helping pull off the local Icebreaker event for Southern Wisconsin TU, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Mike Lawson of Henry’s Fork Anglers and a number of other TU’ers. As we deconstructed the day and swapped fishing stories, somehow the topic of conversation drifted to… old-timey cash registers?

Back up a moment. First the conversation switched to a reminiscence of early computers, and then the rapid pace of technological development, and then segued into how the young-uns nowadays couldn’t hack it with analog cash machines. Eventually Mike related his own method of keep traditions alive in his own fly shop: if his new hires can’t successfully pull off a nail knot, he sends them home to practice.

It’s not unreasonable to expect your guy or gal in the fly shop to be able to pull off your basic fishing knots. What is the individual angler’s responsibility to develop these skills, however? I encounter anglers in the shop on a regular basis who need basic maintenance or repair to fly lines; repairs readily tackled by the knowledge of a nail knot or perfection loop. Don’t get me wrong:  I’m happy that these people are coming in. It’s good for our bottom line, and it gives me the opportunity to talk fishing for a few minutes and trade stories and spots and scuttlebutt.

There’s one place I can’t help you though. It’s the place three hours from the store, two miles upstream from your car, when that welded loop breaks or your last leader is torn to shreds and your backup reel is in the backseat of the Chevy. This is the reason why every angler should have some basic knowledge of fishing knots and in-the-field line repair.

The Knot(s) You Know: Double Surgeon’s Knot, Blood Knot

The blood knot has long been the gold standard for connecting tippet and leader. It can also be a tricky tie for beginners (as a former beginner I can attest to this) and not always the most convenient knot in the field. The Double (or triple) Surgeon’s Knot is a piece of cake, and as such is the knot we teach students during introductory fishing courses. There will always be debate over which one is best for connecting tippet to leader, as this article from Mid-Current demonstrates, but this post isn’t about that. It’s not even about these knots, because at bare minimum you must be able to tie one of these to fly fish.

The “Essential” Knot: Nail Knot

It wouldn’t surprise me that a significant (not majority, just a substantial fraction) of fly anglers cannot perform a nail knot, or are unable to do it well on a consistent basis. It’s not a knot that we even demonstrate in introductory classes. At one time it was essential, since it was used to connect leader to fly line and fly line to backing.Today most leader-line connections are completed with a loop-to-loop system, and most anglers have their back-end rigging (backing, fly line) completed at their local shop. As a result the need to know a nail knot has diminished.

Still, the nail knot serves a very important function in the repair of a broken welded loop; or more accurately, the replacement of it. You really can’t fix a broken welded loop, but you can create a new welded loop in a couple of different ways. You could (1) purchase a pack of braided loop connectors and follow the instructions for installing it. Here is a video that shows you how this is performed.

Braided Line/Leader Connectors
A braided loop connector on the end of a fly line. (source: Orvis)

These work just fine and don’t require the use of a nail knot, but they are gonna cost you a couple of bucks and they can be a bit tedious to install. Instead, I would suggest (2) forming a new loop in the end of your fly line and then securing it with a pair of nail knots and some adhesive (Knot Sense, Zap-A-Gap). The video below demonstrates that process.

This, in my opinion, is the only reason you need to learn to tie a nail knot. It saves an otherwise perfectly good fly line (and no matter what manufacturer, a welded loop can sometimes fail before fly line needs replacing) and will get you back on the water without ever having to leave it. The nail knot can seem daunting, but its easily practiced using a nail knot tool. I would recommend buying one of these little buggers and keeping it in your sling pack (or vest) and hope you never need to use it.

The “Perfect” Knot: Perfection Loop

I don’t use the Perfection Loop nearly as much as the rest of those mentioned above, but it does serve a purpose in salvaging leaders when the butt end becomes damaged or broken. The butt section of most leaders have a Perfection Loop built into it when you buy it, making it part of the loop-to-loop connection between leader and fly line. It’s not common for this loop to fail, or for the thicker butt section of a leader to be damaged, but if for some reason either of those events takes place on the water it’s nice to know how to tie up a new Perfection Loop and save that leader.

(Note: the video below also suggests using the Perfection Loop at the end of fly line. You certainly can do this, and I have done so in some older lines when necessary, but I still prefer the nail knot loop because is it more streamlined and will move through your guides much easier.)


Author: chesleyfan

I work, I fish, I write.

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