Knots for anglers
Modern fishing lines are fantastic, but they have some peculiar properties that make tying knots in them problematic. And different types of lines have different properties, which often means they require different knots. The two most popular materials for fishing line are nylon and polyethylene. Nylon (and fluorocarbon, used as fishing line as well as trace) is extruded to form a single filament that’s uniform in diameter, thus the name ‘nylon monofilament’.
Polyethylene (PE or GSP – ‘gel-spun polyethylene’), which has become increasingly popular in the last 15-20 years, is used for styles of fishing where low stretch and fine diameter with high strength are desirable properties.
To make PE lines, fine filaments of gel-spun polyethylene are either woven into a braided line or fused together using a special heat process. In New Zealand, both braided and fused PE lines are commonly lumped together as ‘braid’ to distinguish them from monofilament nylon.
NEW KNOTS FOR NEW MATERIALS
When nylon monofilament began to be used as fishing line after WWII, anglers quickly realised that many of the knots they’d used in fishing lines made from natural fibres like flax, cotton, silk or linen simply didn’t work well with nylon. Even some of the knots developed for animal gut, which was used for traces and leaders, were unsatisfactory when applied to nylon monofilament.
Fishers the world over had to develop new knots for a new material.
There are two main problems when tying knots in nylon. The first is the material’s slippery nature when compared to the linen or cotton lines people were used to. Conventional knots often slipped under sustained pressure, causing the connection
to fail. Nylon’s memory and springiness also made knots difficult to pull tight, particularly in lines of thicker diameter.
The other problem anglers experienced was the tendency for nylon monofilament to cut into itself when under strain. Many of the knots used for linen lines reduced the breaking strain of nylon by half or more. Indeed, even those knots developed explicitly for nylon reduce its strength to some degree. There’s no such thing as a ‘100 percent knot’.
Anglers were happy to put up with the ‘knot problem’ because nylon was stronger for a given diameter, it offered a degree of give or stretch which in real-life fishing resulted in fewer lost fish and less broken tackle, and fish found it harder to see. These advantages meant that fishers could expect to catch more fish, more easily than with the old lines.
By the 1960s, if you referred to ‘fishing line’ no one doubted you were talking about nylon monofilament.
It didn’t take long for people to come up with strong, reliable knots for monofilament nylon lines. Hundreds of them! The best ones were easy enough to tie and maintained most of the line’s original breaking strain when tied correctly.
Fishers quickly learned to lubricate knots with saliva before slowly pulling them tight. They also learned that it was better to retie a knot that didn’t look quite right than to risk fishing with it. At least, most of them did!
Some fishers, then and now, never really got their heads around knots. There are still plenty of ‘anglers’ using reef knots, granny knots, or perhaps some of the still popular but poorly performed ‘fishing knots’ left over from pre-nylon days. They are seriously handicapping their fishing!
The good news is that if you fish with monofilament line, you can get by with very few knots – some would argue you only need one or two!
Tying knots in braided line presents different challenges. PE lines are extremely slippery and most fishing knots developed for monofilament either slip or are much less strong when tied in braid. PE knots rely on friction for strength, so PE knots require many more turns than monofilament knots.
KNOTS FOR MONO
For attaching terminal tackle – hooks, sinkers, lures, swivels and clips – a clinch knot (sometimes wrongly called a blood knot, which is the same knot used back-to-back to join two lines) is strong, reliable and quick to tie. It works with monofilament up to and including 100-pound breaking strain and can be tied as a ‘locked’ knot, where the tag end is tucked back through the open loop before tightening the knot. This
eliminates any chance of slippage.
The Palomar knot is perhaps the strongest knot for attaching terminal tackle, but awkward to tie with lures because the terminal tackle has to pass through the knot.
Another excellent multi-purpose knot is the uni-knot. Strong and quick to tie, a uni-knot can be used for attaching terminal tackle or for joining lines.
If it’s a loop knot you need – in the main line, or more commonly in the trace or leader – the Rapala knot/lefty’s loop knot (sometimes called the Kreh loop knot) are hard to beat. I use Lefty’s loop for all my soft plastics and hard-bodied lure fishing.
Other useful knots include the Albright for joining the mainline to the trace, and the three or four-turn surgeon’s knot.
KNOTS FOR BRAID
In New Zealand, braided lines are seldom if ever tied directly to hooks or lures, though they may be tied to a swivel. The uni-knot works quite well if you need to tie braid to a swivel, but consider doubling over the braid. Increase the number of turns and make sure the knot is properly snugged down. Don’t use the improved clinch knot – it invariably slips even when tied with lots of turns.
Back-to-back uni-knots, again incorporating multiple turns (six or more), can be successfully used to join lengths of braided/ PE line.
Most braid knots have been developed to join PE line to a monofilament nylon or fluorocarbon leader. Some of the best of these are very strong, but also complex and difficult to master, let alone tie in a pitching boat.
The strongest braid knot of all is the FG knot, which may be tied in a variety of ways, all of them relatively fiddly. The PR knot is another strong, reliable connection between leaders and braided lines. Like the FG knot, it is low profile, so it passes easily through the rod guides, but the PR knot requires a special bobbin, along with considerable skill and patience to tie. The knot itself also uses up a lot of braid.
My favourite is a modified or ‘Special’ Albright knot. It’s fairly easy to tie, fairly strong (not as strong as the FG or PR) and can be tied with either a single or a double length of braided line. I suspect it’s stronger with the doubled line.
I seldom bother tying a double in my braid, simply doubling it over to tie an Albright knot, but if you need to tie a proper double in your line, a 30-turn Bimini Twist is the best option.
Although I’ve shown representative illustrations of some of the knots described, the best way to learn to tie them is to view video tutorials online. There are thousands on You Tube, many showing the ‘same’ knots tied in quite different ways.
One of the best online sources I’ve found is Luke Simmons from Salt Strong, www.saltstrong.com. Check out his website for links to knot tying tutorials, or search ‘saltstrong’ on Youtube.
Most knots developed for monofilament…are much less strong tied in braid.
Big fish and light tackle demand strong, reliable knots.