Knot Sense – Fred Steynberg

One of the most important components of terminal tackle is the knot that one would choose for a specific application.

Often when fly fishing in the salt with smaller flies for fish species that have extremely abrasive jaw bones and gill plates such as Tarpon, or for Giant Kingfish that lurk around coral bommies and reefs, it is necessary to use heavy tippet material.

Many knots can be used to attach a fly to thick shock tippet (80-120lbs) but not all knots finish off to the standard required to make the fly appear as natural as possible. Choosing the correct knot for the job could improve the strike and catch rate of targeted species drastically.

One of the essential knot criteria is to tie a knot that will allow the fly to move freely in a permanent loop created in front of the hook eye. A couple of knots can perform this task but when using thick, hard shock tippet the knot becomes bulky and often does not set straight, causing the fly to swim off-centre.

It is of primary importance to choose a knot that is at all times the strongest and allows for the least amount of weakening in the tippet as possible but when fly fishing using very strong shock tippet, the knot is of lesser importance. Even if 100 lb shock tippet, for example, loses 40% (although hardly ever this much) knot strength the remaining 60% (60lb) will be much stronger than any other part of the fly setup. In any event if a class tippet is not incorporated into the leader (making it the weakest point) to protect the rod or fly line then the rod will be the first to break if too much pressure is exerted on it.

It may be important to understand that when fishing in the salt for large and to powerful fish species that there are limitations to any fly fishing outfit and there are some considerations that need to be made.  Most fly lines above 8 weight have a breaking strain of between 35 and 45 lbs and a good strong backing is about 30-50 lbs. The fly rod can only handle limited pressure on either side of the rod tip, for example an average 10 weight fly rod can exert 9-11 lbs of pulling pressure, an average 12 weight about 11-13 lbs and a good 14 weight 13-15 lbs. This may sound ridiculously little but if you doubt this, attach the tippet of your preferred rod reel and line onto a boga grip and pull as hard as you think the rod can and you will soon realize that there is a correlation between the weight (line weight) of a fly rod and the amount of pulling pressure it can exert.

The leader, if built according to IGFA standards, or just to protect the rod, should consist of a butt section, class section and shock tippet and will then be the weakest point in the set up. The butt section is usually quite thick (30 – 50 lbs, depending on circumstances) because it is a continuation of the fly line and will help to transfer energy from the line up the leader thus opening up the leader for presentation or extra distance. The class tippet, normally attached with the bimini twist on either end to the butt and shock tippet/section, should then in essence be less than the breaking strain of the rod if its primary goal is to protect the rod.

Yes, I know, it does not make sense because the mere thought of hooking a large GT on a 12W using 10-12 lb class tippet is confounding, but it can be done, in fact 50+lb fish are often hooked and landed on conventional tackle using tippet a lot less than 12 lbs. Most of us, however, take a short cut, skip the butt and class tippet/sections and fish with a level monofilament (or fluoro carbon) leader from the fly line to the fly. This method has its advantages such as minimizing time spent building leaders, strengthening the leader (protecting it from sharp scales on the lateral line, tail slapping and numerous under water obstacles) and improving the handling of the leader when the fish needs to be landed. Disadvantages are as mentioned, a fish cannot be claimed under specific leader strength for IGFA and nothing protects the rod from snapping if things go wrong.

Then lastly the braided loop connectors that connect backing to the fly line and fly line to the leader are usually made from 30-50 lb butt section material (for large salt water species).

The point is that the weakest point in the fly fishing setup when using (80 – 120 lb) tippet/leader and losing a large percentage of tippet/leader strength due to the lack of knot strength, will not be in the leader. In other words a knot that does not have 100%  knot strength is not important but it should allow a reasonably small fly to move ‘free’ and straight without forming a bulky knot in front of the fly or hook eye.

A couple of knots such as the Non-slip loop, Surgeons loop and Homer Rhode loop create a loop in front of the fly and allow for maximum fly movement on thick shock tippet. The Non-slip loop (also referred to as the non-slip mono loop) works well on fresh water, thinner tippet material but leaves too much knot bulk on the thicker stuff. The Surgeons loop also leaves too much knot bulk and the loop often, especially when using thicker shock tippet, sets off-centre and the fly will then not swim correctly. The Homer Rhode loop is used by hardcore American salt rodders such as Lefty Kreh and is a good solid knot but at times difficult to set on tippet material above 100lbs and can also be bulky.

I prefer the perfection loop, a loop that often slips on thin 6X – 4X, fluoro carbon but has many good qualities on the thick stuff. This knot is strong enough and does not leave much bulk and most importantly allows the fly to swim in a straight line. The problem however, is to tie the knot/loop in a process normally used for loop to loop connections (and a simple process), so that the fly is incorporated within the loop. Tying a reverse perfection loop is an option but it needs practice and often the thick tippet makes the knot a frustration.

Before venturing onto yet another Tarpon excursion in January this year, I sat playing around for hours, trying to find a quicker and easier way to tie the Perfection loop.  I was amazed to stumble on a method that has me sold in believing that this knot is the best, simplest and quickest knot for the job. I am sure that similar and more simplistic ways to tie the perfection loop onto a fly have been developed and are in use, but the way explained below may be a help to anglers who have not yet come across such a method.

Below is a step by step guide on how to tie this knot.

Step 1. Create a large backwards loop and hold it in the left hand, the loop must be large enough for the fly to pass through.

Step 2. Place the fly on the tag end as demonstrated.

Step 3. Create a loop with the tag end to the front and around the back of the large loop and hold both loops between thumb and forefinger, with the fly locked in the smaller front loop.

Step 4. Bring the tag end, from right to left between the two loops and pinch between thumb and forefinger.

Step 5. Pull the fly through the large loop by grabbing it through the large loop with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, entering through the back of the large loop.

Step 6. Pull on the line end of the leader until the desired size loop for the fly to move freely in has been created.

Step 7. Release the knot whilst pulling both the fly and line end of the leader and the knot will set.