Fly fishing knots: From reel arbor to fly

Fly fishing knots: From reel arbor to fly

Does tying knots have you all tangled up?
Let us show you the knots you need for a day's fly fishing!

Our guides and staff aren't just pros at untangling knots, they're also experts at tying knots! In this post we’ll explain each knot, starting at the reel arbor and working our way out to tying your flies on. A great way to maximize a guided day on the water is to be self-sufficient when it comes to tying knots. At Montana Angler we typically use this series of knots when setting up a new reel. 

We'd like to extend our thanks to for their easy to follow knot videos!

Backing to reel

The first knot of this series is used to attach the backing to the reel’s arbor. The most common backing for trout fishing is 20 pound test Dacron, which is similar to kite string. This “backing” serves a few purposes.  The backing adds weight to the reel, which helps balance out the angler’s rod and makes for more efficient casting. The backing also serves to create a larger diameter base to wind the fly line around. Without the backing the fly line would be coiled in such small loops around the reel’s arbor that it would likely come off of the reel looking like a curled up slinky. Most importantly, backing’s thin diameter allows the angler to have a reserve of around 100 yards of extra line on the reel, rather than only having the 90-100 foot fly line directly on the reel. For most trout fishing applications it’s rare to get into your backing, however when that trout of a lifetime is on the line and heads for the next county it’s nice knowing you’ve got at least a hundred yards of line on the reel. 
You can bet this lucky angler saw some backing when he caught this giant rainbow on one of our hosted Chilean fly fishing trips!

Backing to fly line

There are two different ways to connect your backing to your fly line. Assuming you have a fly line that comes with a loop on the back end (most lines do these days), you’ll need a loop tied in the end of your backing. A simple and strong loop knot that we commonly use is the double surgeon’s loop. This is quick and easy to tie, it’s basically an overhand knot with two turns. Once you have this loop tied in your backing you can simply connect your backing to fly line with a loop to loop connection. 

If your fly line doesn’t have a loop in the back end you’ll have to tie your backing to your fly line. A strong and smooth knot for this connection is the Albright knot. It works well for joining two different diameters of line. Further, the thin backing tends to “bite” into the softer flyline, making for a more positive connection. 

Again, these two knots are more than adequate for trout fishing. If you’re chasing large saltwater species the backing to line connection can be a bit more complicated, however we’ll save that for a future post. 
When that big Missouri River trout heads for the next run downstream it’s sure nice knowing that you’ve got a good backing to fly line knot!
Fly line to leader butt

Most fly lines these days come with a loop on the front end of the line that makes for a quick and easy way to attach your leader. If you have a line that doesn’t have a loop, or your factory loop is showing some wear from age, it’s time to tie on a butt section. A nail knot is the standard method of attaching a butt section to the end of your fly line. The nail knot is simplified with the use of a nail knot tool. This is such an indispensable tool that even the most seasoned anglers depend on it for tying this knot! 

This butt section is typically tied with fairly stout leader material. A popular butt section material is 25 pound Amnesia line. The bright color, diameter, and suppleness make for an excellent transition from fly line to leader. Another great option is Maxima Chameleon in 20 pound test. The brown color of the chameleon is a bit more stealthy and it’s a noticeably stiffer monofilament, which aids in turning over longer leaders or heavier rigs.

A butt section is typically nail knotted on to the end of your fly line to act as a transition piece from fly line to leader. If you prefer the blood knot method of attaching your leader this butt section acts as the sacrificial piece that keeps you from cutting into the end of your fly line every time you change leaders. If you prefer the loop to loop method of attaching your leader a perfection loop is tied in the end of the butt section.

Leader butt to leader
Now that we’ve got our leader butt on our fly line the next step in the rigging process is to attach our leader to the butt section. A popular method of attaching leader to leader butt is with a loop-to-loop connection. The Perfection loop is typically tied in the ends of both leader and leader butt, and then the two loops are joined, making for a quick and easy way to switch leaders. 

The perfection loop is tied as follows:

If you don’t mind a slightly more complicated (only slightly!) method of connecting your leader butt to leader, a blood knot is a great way to connect the two and end up with a less-bulky connection that will slide through your rod guides more easily.

Unsure of how a loop to loop connection works? 

Follow this link to NetKnots to see how it’s done:

Now that your leader is attached it’s time to select the proper tippet!
Leader to tippet
Once your tapered leader is attached it’s time to tie some tippet onto the end of the leader. This tippet section is used to attach a fly to your leader and allows you to change files without cutting into the tapered leader. The two most common knots for attaching tippet is the blood knot, which we’ve previously gone over and the double surgeons knot. The double surgeon's is a bit easier to tie and is more than adequate for tying tippet on. Both the double surgeon’s and blood knots work well when joining two lines of similar diameter.

Tippet to fly
One more connection and then we’re in the water and fishing! Let’s look at three common methods of tying on your flies. 

The improved clinch knot is probably the most standard method of tying on a fly or lure. It’s quick, strong, and works for a wide variety of situations. 

Another popular method for tying on flies, especially larger flies like streamers and chubbies is the non-slip mono loop. This loop knot allows the fly to move independently from the line, rather than having a knot clinch down upon the eye of the hook. 

A third method of tying on your flies is a Davy knot. This is one we'd consider a "guide's favorite" as it's strong, simple, and faster than the clinch knot.

Time to fish!
Good knots can be the difference between success and defeat!
Now that you’ve got your rod all setup it’s time to go fish! All the different knots that go into putting together your fly rod and getting on the water can seem overwhelming. With a little practice these knots can all be mastered and will help you be more successful on the water. 

If you’re needing some guidance and tips on how to become a better angler or are just looking to have a great day on the water let Montana Angler take you fishing, we offer Montana’s largest variety of guided fishing trips, from local trips to international destinations!

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