Fly Fishing Knots

How to tie a series of simple strong secure fly fishing knots

Knots for Fly Fishing

In any kind of fishing, it is self evident that knots and knot tying are often crucial to success, or rather that a badly tied fishing knot can result in abject failure and deep regret, accompanied by a lot of cursing. I've been there, and speak from bitter experience. Most of us who have fished for a while have, I would guess, some such sorry experiences indelibly etched on our angling memories. How could I, for instance, ever forget my elation, all those years ago, on hooking my first ever salmon (on the River Leven while spinning with a Mepps spoon) and my despair, moments later, on winding in a slack line with nothing but a curly bit at the end where my ineptly tied knot had untied itself at the swivel.

No matter if everything else is perfect  - the planning; the preparation; the choice of river, lake or saltwater mark; the season and the weather; the selection of bait, fly or lure; the approach, casting and fishing method - if a knot slips or breaks or fails to hold, the fish will not be brought to the net. The angler will be wasting his time. So the ability to tie reliable and secure fishing knots is an essential skill in angling. In fly fishing, which often requires the stealthiest of approaches and the most careful presentation of the fly, the choice of fly fishing knot is in some ways more important than in some other branches of angling. The fly line and leader must be as fine and smooth as possible, the knots as small and neatly tied as the fisherman can manage, so as not to cause any disturbance or alert the fish to any possible danger or deception, to convince the quarry, whether trout, salmon, steelhead or bass, that the fly is real and edible.

There are, of course, a great many fishing knots from which the fly angler can choose, many devised specifically for fly fishing, for securing the backing line to the fly reel; for attaching the fly line to the backing; for that all-important connection of leader to fly line; for the tying of a dropper where more than one fly is to be used; and for that most basic operation, tying the fly hook to the leader. There are the Arbor knot and Allbright knot; Nail knot and Needle knot; Blood knot and Water knot; Grinner knot and Uni knot; Surgeon's Loop and Perfection Loop; Clinch knot and Turle knot; Trilene knot and Palomar knot; Snell knot and Davy knot, and many more. Here I will describe the fly fishing knots which have served me well in more than forty years of salmon, sea trout and trout fly fishing, with clear instructions accompanied by step by step photographs and drawings. I have found them to be dependable and secure and, with a little practice, fairly easily tied.

Gray's Loop

A fine monofilament nylon leader loop knotted to the end of the fly line - an alternative to the braided loop. See below for full illustrated tying instructions.

Fly Fishing Knot- Gray's Loop

Gray's Loop

Fly Fishing Knots - Gray's Loop-to-Loop

Gray's Loop Flyline to Leader Connection





Connecting the Leader to the Fly Line

I will begin with the connection of leader to fly line as the knot used for this often requires greater consideration perhaps than the other links in the fly fishing chain. The choice of how to join the leader to the fly line may depend on a number of factors, e.g. the type of fly fishing (river, lake or sea; salmon, steelhead, trout, bass, bonefish; lure, wet fly or dry fly etc.), the construction and diameter of the fly line (thick or thin, braided or mono core etc.). I fish mainly for trout, sea trout and salmon. I use mainly wet fly on rivers and lochs and I use fly lines of traditional braided core construction in weights from 4 (brown trout) through to 11 (salmon). I like to be able to attach, change or replace a fly leader quickly and easily and I find a loop to loop line connection most convenient. I have always considered braided loops as a rather crude, bulky and inelegant way of joining fly line to leader, preferring, initially, to needle knot a length of nylon to the end of the fly line with a perfection loop on the end, to which I would attach my leaders via a loop-to-loop connection. In an effort to further refine this connection, and reduce the number of knots, and potential for surface disturbance, in the fly fishing knot chain, I devised Grays' Loop, a monofilament nylon loop simply knotted to the end of the fly line. I have now used this method of attaching my nylon leaders for more than twenty years on all my fly fishing lines, and I have found the knot to be neat, secure, strong, reliable and durable. Each loop only needs to be renewed once or twice a season, depending on fishing usage, and less than a centimetre of fly line is lost each time the knot is retied.

Gray's Loop - Fly Fishing Loop Knot

The tying of Gray's Fly Line Leader Loop is illustrated in the series of photographs shown below. The tying procedure for this particular fly fishing knot is similar to that used for the Needle Knot, but with a doubled length of nylon monofilament .

Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop Knot Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Leader Loop Knot Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Knot
Carefully insert a needle into the centre of the end of the fly line and out the side wall of the fly line about half a centimetre from the line tip. Here I have used a size 7 long darner. It is important that the needle is pushed through the centre of the internal braided core of the fly line. Heat the needle with a lighter flame for a few seconds to set the hole made by the needle. This facilitates the threading of the nylon monofilament through the hole. 

Take a half a metre length of suitable monofilament nylon, double it and thread both ends through the hole made in the fly line and out the side wall. Cutting the ends of the monofilament at a sharp angle makes it easier to thread through the hole in the fly line. See the table below for suggested line/monofilament weights.

Tying Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop Knot Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop - step 5 Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop Knot - step 6

Pull the doubled monofilament through until you have a loop of anything up to an inch long. This will give a finished loop of around two inches. If you want a smaller loop of around an inch long, start with as small a loop as possible at this stage.

Form a loop in the doubled monofilament and grip firmly between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand.  Keeping a firm grip on the line and loop with the right hand, use the left hand to bring the two ends of the monofilament through the loop (and round the fly line) at least three times - three is probably enough, any more making the knot more bulky.  
Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop Knot - step 7 Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop Knot Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop to Loop Connection
Carefully draw the knot together so that the turns of the knot are touching. Do not over-tighten at this stage. The knot must be slid along the fly line towards the tip before tightening fully. Slowly slide the knot towards the tip of the fly line, keeping the turns of the knot together. When you have the knot in place, with a finger of the right hand in the loop and the left hand gripping the two ends of monofilament, tighten by pulling steadily until the knot grips the fly line tightly. To test the security of the knot, grip the fly line in the left hand and, again with a finger in the loop, pull steadily in opposite directions. When satisfied, trim the ends very close to the knot. Though not essential, a coat of varnish may be applied. This allows a leader to be attached to the fly line via the loop-to-loop connection shown above - the finest loop-to-loop connection I know, resulting in a minimum of surface disturbance. The Loop-to-Loop connection is one of the simplest and most effective fly fishing knots, an excellent method of attaching a leader to the fly line, avoiding the wear and tear on the butt loop which might result from the repeated tying of knots.

Quick and Easy Gray's Loop

Simplified Gray's Loop Fly Fishing Loop Knot A much simplified, yet serviceable, version of Gray's Loop might be tied to the end of the fly line by omitting steps one to four above. Simply align the doubled length of monofilament with the end of the fly line and begin at step five, tying the loop on the end of the fly line without first threading it through the core of the fly line. Trim the end of the fly line close to the knot. I have found this to be a generally secure and reliable fly fishing knot, if not quite as neat as the needle knotted version. This simplified loop can be tied quickly on the riverbank if need be. Again this knot is only suitable for fly lines with a braided core.

Starting with a length of about half a metre [18 inches] of nylon makes it easier to pull the knot tight. Also, if you want to create a small loop, start with as small a loop as possible [although a loop of anything up to around three inches long works fine].  The strength of the nylon loop will vary with the weight of fly line and breaking strain of leader. As a guide I use the following : 

FLY LINE  # LEADER  b.s. LOOP  b.s.
3 - 5 lbs 10 lbs
6 4 - 6 lbs 12 lbs
7 6 - 8 lbs 12 lbs
8 8 - 12 lbs 15 lbs
9 10 - 12 lbs 15 lbs
10 12 - 15 lbs 18 lbs









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Other Essential Links in the Fly Fishing Knot Chain 

The essential components in the fly fishing setup and the knots linking them together are represented in the simple diagram below.

Reel Reel Knot Backing Line Constriction Knot Fly Line Gray's + Perfection Loop Leader Water Knot Dropper Slip Knot Fly

These are the essential links joining the fly reel to the fishing fly. Illustrated below are a few knots to do that job. They are simple yet secure and reliable fly fishing knots, easily tied.


Reel Knot - backing line to reel

This is a simple and reliable knot which can be used to secure any type of backing line to the fly reel.


Slip Knot - fly hook to nylon leader

I have used this knot for many years as an alternative to the half - blood knot for tying on my flies and hooks. It is similar to the Grinner knot.

The Reel Knot - Fly Fishing   Slip Knot - Fly Fishing Knot
For added security, take the backing round the reel drum twice before tying the knot. After pulling the slip knot tight, trim the loose end but not too close to the knot.   Moisten and tighten the knot carefully but don't trim too close to the hook.

Constriction Knot - backing line to fly line

This is a simple method of attaching most types of backing line - dacron, monofilament nylon, twisted nylon or braided terylene  - to a fly line of traditional construction i.e. a PVC coated, hollow core terylene fly line. It is suitable for some modern lines with multistrand or monofilament cores,  nor should it be used with hollow braided nylon backing line.

This knot can also be used to tie a nylon leader directly to the end of a braided core fly line, as in the simplified version of Gray's Loop, illustrated above.

Constriction Knot - Fly Fishing Knot Constriction Knot - Fly Fishing Knot Constriction Knot - Fly Fishing Knot Constriction Knot - Fly Fishing Knot
Overlap the fly line and backing line by around 12 inches. Take the end of the backing line and fold it over itself and the fly line to form a loop and grip the point of overlap (A) firmly between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Bring the end of the backing through the loop half a dozen times times

Carefully draw the turns together while sliding the whole knot towards the tip of the fly line. With the turns of the knot touching, pull steadily on both ends of the backing until the knot grips the fly line tightly. Check the security of the knot by pulling the backing and fly line firmly in opposite directions. When satisfied, trim the ends closely.

Perfection Loop - knotting a loop on the end of the leader to attach to the fly line via Gray's Loop (see above)

The Perfection Loop is a reliable leader loop for forming a neat loop on the end of the fly leader which lies in line with the leader. The loose end can be trimmed very close to the knot.

The Perfection Loop - Fly Fishing Knot The Perfection Loop - Fly Fishing Knot The Perfection Loop - Fly Fishing Knot The Perfection Loop - Fly Fishing Knot
Use the thumb and forefinger of the left hand to grip the knot while manipulating the loop with the right hand., as illustrated in the diagrams above. This is easier fly fishing knot than it seems at first sight.

Water Knot - tying a dropper in the nylon leader to attach a fly

The Water Knot is good dropper knot. Stronger, more reliable and easier to tie than the blood knot. Although the typical advice is for three turns, I often use only two turns and the resultant knot seems quite reliable. Note that the length used for the dropper should be the one pointing away from the fly reel.

The Water Knot- Fly Fishing Knot The Water Knot- Fly Fishing Knot The Water Knot- Fly Fishing Knot The Water Knot- Fly Fishing Knot
With the "reel end" to your right, cut the leader at the point where the dropper is required and overlap the ends by about 10 inches, depending on the length of dropper required. Form an overhand loop with the doubled nylon and grip firmly at point "A" with the right thumb and forefinger. With the left hand, pull the dropper length along with the whole lower section of the leader through the loop at least twice. Moisten the knot, draw tight and trim the end which points towards the fly reel. This is a dependable fly fishing knot, resulting in a neat dropper to which a fly may be tied using a slip knot.

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Fly Fishing Knots