In our previous posts, we covered a bunch of topics on rigging salt water fly rods for local saltwater fly fishing. Here is the final post in the series.
Notes for Newbies
Learning to Tie Knots
There are several good sources for learning to tie knots, both in print and on-line. Here are a few print resources that we or our advisors like very much:
Bill’s book is not flashy, but contains an awful lot of very good information. Almost too much for a beginning fly fisherman, but it is worth keeping on your bookshelf for later.And here are a couple of great on-line resources for learning knots:
Pick Your Poison
What knots should you learn? Rather than give you a definitive list of knots, our suggestion is to choose one of the setups described in Get Connected! Details and learn to tie those knots well. That means learning to tie them correctly, consistently and quickly. That also means you need to:
Practice, Practice, Practice
In a recent conversation with Captain Scott Leon, he brought up a great point – it’s better to know a few knots that you can tie consistently well, than to know a lot of knots that you can’t tie consistently. Same thing goes for which knots you use – it’s better to consistently tie a knot that’s rated to break at 90%, than to inconsistently tie a knot rated to break at 100%. In the latter case, you’ll never be able to know exactly when the knot will fail, which prevents you from fighting a fish as effectively as possible.
But What Are All the Knots For?
The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) has rules on how world record fish must be caught. For fly rod fish, there are rules on how long certain parts of the leader must be, and records are divided up by how strong a line was used to catch the fish. These “line classes” are 2lb, 4lb, 6lb, 8lb, 12lb, 16lb, and 20lb.
Other than the loop-to-loop connections and the knots to attach the fly to the leader, the various knots in complicated rigs are intended to get the setup as close to a line’s unknotted strength as possible, or to allow the fisherman to maximize (or minimize) the length of a section of line.
The loop-to-loop connections are used to make it easier to change out sections of line. This could be the fly line itself, a section of leader, or the leader tippet.
So…unless you’re shooting for a world record using class lines, you can actually use a very simple setup in rigging your equipment. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable tying the various knots listed, go for it!
Sorry, No Substitutions!
Just kidding…Like many things in life, there are lots of different ways to get the same result. The knots shown are the ones people have gravitated towards over time, so they tend to be the best balanced in terms of strength and ease of tying, but if you want, you can substitute knots. The main thing to remember is that you need to be consistent, so that you know how much pressure you can put on a fish with your particular rig. And you need to test your rig to make sure you know what appropriate pressure feels like.
As you become more familiar with the various knots, you will develop your own preferences. Don’t be afraid to try different setups, once you feel comfortable that you can tie the required knots effectively. We would recommend learning to tie a 100% double line knot first, like the Bimini Twist, or the Australian Plait.
Facts for Fly Fishers
If you’re an experienced fly fisherman, here are a few things to think about:
“Test” versus “Class”
One way to classify fishing line is by breaking strength. Most fishing line is classified by “test”, which is the minimum breaking strength of the line. This makes sense, as you usually buy cordage (rope, string, etc.) to hold something, and you certainly wouldn’t want the line to break at less than what you thought it should.
On the other hand, world records are usually categorized by line “class”. Line “class” is the maximum breaking strength of the line. This makes sense for world record purposes, because records are based on how hard it is to land the fish. The lighter the line class, the harder it is to land the fish. The International Game Fish Association has created various line classes that they recognize for world record purposes, and any record submissions are based on these categories. So “class” lines are certified to break at or BELOW the stated strength. Good class lines will always break at a tension very close to the labelled strength.
What does this mean to BTB fly fishing (and light tackle, for that matter)? If you think you might want to submit a record, you should make sure you know what class your leader material is. Note that you don’t have to use IGFA certified class tippet material, you just have to know the actual breaking strength. For example, if you use 4lb TEST line for your tippet, it will probably break in the 6lb or 8lb CLASS.
The only way to know for sure is to test the line. You can do this yourself, or you can have a line sample tested by the IGFA. On the other hand, IGFA class leader material is now fairly common, so from our perspective, it’s just easier to use the off-the-shelf stuff, and not worry about it.
The “Weakest Link” Principle
There are a lot of knots in a fly fishing rig. What knots do you need to use to make sure you get maximum strength from the various bits and pieces that make up a fly outfit?
The answer is: For the average BTBFF fisherman, it mostly doesn’t make a difference!
When selecting the components of a fly fishing outfit, you should have selected backing that tests far in excess of the heaviest leader tippet you’ll use. The fly line, leader butt section and shock tippet (if you use them) will also test out well above the maximum tippet strength you’ll normally use (if you use IGFA line classes as a guide).
Most decent knots test at 85% or more of the breaking strength of the line. Since the leader tippet is the weakest link in the whole setup, as long as the other components break at something greater than the tippet, it doesn’t make any difference (from a strength perspective) what knots you use to connect things.
Of course, there are other reasons for selecting certain types of knots – how easy they are to disconnect, how easily they pass through guides, how easy they are to tie consistently, etc. But as far as knot strength goes, the only two really critical connections are the ones at either end of the the tippet (the “weakest link”).
That’s why many people add a Bimini or other 100% double line knot on the ends of the tippet. Even if you tie a 60% knot in the doubled line, the connection will still be 120% of the strength of the base tippet material.
So…as mentioned in the “Note for Newbies” section – don’t overwork the problem. Learn to tie a few good knots consistently well, and be done with it. On the other hand, if you are comfortable with the various knots mentioned, go ahead and use them! There’s certainly no harm in having a stronger system.
Does Getting Looped Make Sense?
If you think you might need to change out a fly line or leader section fairly often, you should consider using some sort of loop-to-loop connection. A good loop-to-loop square knot connection is strong, and passes through guides easily.
In general, most experienced salt water fly fishermen have a loop-to-loop connection in the leader somewhere, whether it is to change out the entire leader, or just the tippet. Many people pre-tie leader tippets in advance, and add loops to both ends. The tippets are linked using loop-to-loop connections, then wrapped onto a empty leader spool. When needed, a pre-tied tippet is unrolled from the spool, unlooped from the other tippets, then looped onto the leader butt or fly line loop. It saves time, and reduces the chance of a poorly tied knot done in haste in the field.
If you’re interested, see Dan Blanton’s excellent website article Dan Blanton’s excellent website article: “Getting Looped” for more information.
Guide for Gear Guys
If you normally fish conventional gear with straight mono, you’ll probably need to learn some new knots. Our advice – check out the section above “Notes for Newbies”.
On the other hand, if you’re familiar with wind-on leaders and mono topshots over GSP braid, you already know most of the more complicated knots in a fly fishing rig. The only ones we’ve mentioned that you may not be familiar with are the Nail Knot, the Perfection Loop, and the Surgeon’s knot.
Tips for Transplants
If you are familiar with rigging salt water fly tackle, there’s not much new here for you. One nuance you may not have picked up on is that except for sharks, barracuda, and light tippets, we don’t use bite tippets that much. Usually, straight mono of 12 – 20 lb test will survive tussles with most all of the other game fish in our area without a problem.