Best Fly Line Knots for Reel Line Leader Tippet Hook

Best Fly Line Knots For Reel, Leader, Tippet & Hook

I was thinking about the number of knots for fly fishing that anglers use when I was putting some backing on my fly reel.  There are quite a few knots that anglers have come up with over the years. However, there are just a handful of knots you need to employ.  I used to use 7 but have simplified it down to 5. Let’s look at the knots and when to use them.

What are the best knots for your reel, fly line, leader, tippet and hook connections?  The arbor knot, nail knot, blood knot, surgeon’s knot, and improved clinch knot are the best knots for setting up your fly rod.

You can argue back and forth all day long about which knot is best for each connection.  I have found over the years that 5-7 knots have stood the test of time and all types of fishing conditions and prove to be my favorite knots.  These knots have excellent strength, are easy to learn, and easy to tie. There is nothing worse than losing a nice fish because of a poorly tied knot.  Even worse, you could lose your favorite fly or fly line if you are not careful.

Arbor Knot

The arbor knot is used to connect the backing to the spool of your reel.  The arbor knot is simple to tie and very effective. The arbor knot will not slip while you are reeling your backing onto to the spool. You will basically tie two overhand knots to make the arbor knot. Then finish with another overhand on the tag end to keep the tag end from fraying and the arbor knot from slipping.

Cinch the first knot down and snug against the arbor of the reel. Pull it tight so the stopper knot catches it and prevents it from slipping. Trim the tag end and then begin winding he backing onto your fly reel. Very easy to do!

How to Tie Arbor Knot
How to Tie Arbor Knot

Nail Knot

I like to use a nail knot to secure the backing to the fly line.  The reason I like the nail knot for the backing and fly line connection is because the nail knot is a good application to join different sized diameter lines.  

The knot gets its name from the use of a nail that used to act as a guide for making the knot. However, replacing the nail or a needle with a thin hollow tube or straw will make it easier.  Since the nail knot is very flat, it will easily slide through the guides of a fishing rod. The nail knot fastens by twisting 5 or more loops onto the joining line. This twisting of loops “squeezes” down onto the joining line.

The nail knot tightens more as it is being drawn down. I have used a nail knot for other applications like creating a loop for loop to loop connections. A negative of the nail knot is the learning curve of the tying technique. Having a long tagline helps and quickly pulling the knot off the tool makes it easier, as well.

You can use the nail knot for various applications.  You can connect the leader to the fly line and even use it for fast connections from the tippet to the fly.  Using a nail knot tool can make tying the knot so much easier. Having a third hand to tie this knot is almost a must and a good tool will give you that extra hand.  

The nail knot is very strong.  The knot got its name when a nail was used to provide some space to pull the tag end through when the loops were tightened.  You tie a nail knot “onto” the line.

How To Tie Nail Knot
How To Tie Nail Knot

Blood Knot

The blood knot joins two fishing lines of similar sizes like different sections of the leader or tippet. It has a breaking strength of around 83%. The name originated from its use on the business end of a Cat o’ nine tails whip.

The blood knot may be one of the toughest knots to learn to tie.  It makes an excellent connection. The connection is straight and true.  With practice and a tying tool, the blood knot might become one of your favorites. The blood knot is very strong and ties flat and straight. The best use for the blood knot might be for building leaders.  It is also called the barrel knot.

To be honest, I don’t use this knot a lot.  However, when the fish seem spooky and you need a long leader and tippet, the blood knot is a good one to use.

I used to use it when connecting the fly line to the leader.  I have eliminated the blood knot from my repertoire. I use the nail knot in its place.  The tool I use when tying the nail knot makes it easier and more efficient for me, especially when in a hurry.

You can use the blood knot to connect the fly line with a leader.  But as I said before, I use the nail knot in its place, now. You can also use it to tie leaders and tippet together.  When you don’t have loop to loop connections, like most anglers use these days, try the blood knot for an elegant and strong connecting knot.

Some advantages of the blood knot are its strength, compactness, versatility, and smooth shape.  It also breaks less often. It can work with lines of varying diameters but it is important to keep the diameters similar in size.  

It can connect braid to braid, mono to braid, mono to mono and even braid to fluorocarbon.  It passes smoothly through the rod guides but if you don’t trim the tag ends close enough, then the knot can hang up.

How To Tie Blood Knot
How To Tie Blood Knot

Surgeon’s Knot

The surgeon’s knot began when surgeons used it to secure the threads in a suture. Though originally a surgical knot, the surgeon’s knot has found wide use in the fly fishing community to effectively connect the leader to the tippet.

The surgeon’s knot or double surgeon’s knot is a fast way to connect two lines that are similar in diameter.  This knot is ideal when connecting your leader to tippet. Essentially, you lay two lines side by side and tie two overhand knots.  You can also employ a third loop and have a triple surgeon’s knot.

The surgeon’s knot is probably more forgiving when tying tippet to leader instead of the blood knot.  You can actually make a leader by tying different sized tippet to each other using the surgeon’s knot.  This is very effective.

You can use the surgeon’s knot to tie flies and streamers by making an extra loop.  Extend the tag end of the your tippet and you can tie on a second fly to your setup, as well.  

The surgeon knot is easy to learn.  It is very fast to tie, also. Even during twilight hours or in colder temperatures when your fingers are numb, the surgeon’s knot is very easy to tie.  Make sure and moisten the knot when you are tying. This will keep the friction from pulling the loops together at a minimum and give you a very strong knot.

When the surgeon’s knot is properly tied, it has almost 100% strength.  However, when using really light tippet, the blood knot is a safer knot to use.

How To Tie Surgeons Knot
How To Tie Surgeons Knot

Improved Clinch Knot

I used the improved clinch knot to connect tippet with flies.  

If there is an improved clinch knot then there must be a regular clinch knot and this is the case.  The improved clinch knot is a better knot but a little more difficult to tie.

The improved clinch knot is tied by pulling your line through the eye of the hook about 6 inches.  Make about 4-7 twists with the line and tag end. The number of twists depends on the weight of the line you are using.  

Send the tag end through the loop you have created with the twists.  Then, take the tag end and send it back through the second loop you just created.  Hold the tag end and pull the knot up slightly. Wet your line and pull it through until the knot is snug.  Trim the tag to about 1/16 of an inch and you are done.

The regular clinch knot follows all of the above steps except for the second loop.  After you pull the tag end through the first loop, you tighten the line and you are finished.

The improved clinch knot is a strong knot, too.  It retains about 95% of the line strength when tied properly.  Sometimes it can loosen and even pull the tag end through. However, if you use the improved clinch and leave 1/16 of an inch free when trimming the tag end, the knot should be very dependable.

Using hemostats can aid you when tying the improved clinch knot.  It makes it a lot easier on your eyes and fingers, especially in cold temperatures.  You can not only use this knot for tying on flies but also use it for tying leaders on to the loop end of a leader or tying on dropper flies on the bend of the hook.

How To Tie Improved Clinch Knot
How To Tie Improved Clinch Knot

Perfection Loop

The perfection loop is clean and strong and has the standing end of the line coming out in a straight line.  The perfection loop is one of the easiest knots used in fly fishing to create a small loop.

It is a very good application to use when you need a loop on the end of a tippet or leader.  You can use the perfection loop to join the tippet with another perfection loop that is tied on the leader.  You may also use the perfection loop to join backing to a fly line.

Perfection loops are very good when using mono leaders and tippet.  The perfection ranks very high in effectiveness and is simple to tie.  The loop will work on both light and heavy and even fluorocarbon lines.  The surgeon’s knot is simpler to tie but is not as smooth as the perfection loop.  

The perfection loop will join a streamer to the tippet end which allows a free life-like movement of the streamer.  It is very slim when drawn tight. With loop to loop connections, it will allow convenient and quick leader changes.  You don’t need a tool to tie the perfection loop. You can also size the loops to your needs. However, the knot can jam and they are almost impossible to untie if you need to.

The perfection loop is not difficult to tie.  It is actually pretty easy and very fast to tie.  When you break it down, it is just a series of loops.  The important step is getting the tag end behind the long end of the line when you make the first loop.  Once you get the hang of that part, it is just a couple more loops. One wrapped over the other and between the first two.   

How To Tie Perfection Loop Knot
How To Tie Perfection Loop Knot

Palomar Knot

The palomar knot is very easy to tie.  This very strong knot is used to attach a fly to a tippet or leader.  You can use it with monofilament or fluorocarbon lines. However, its best use is with braided lines.  Once you have learned to tie it, you can probably tie it in the dark and with cold fingers. The breaking point is around 15 pounds when tested with braided lines.  Saltwater anglers love the palomar knot.

When tying the palomar knot, you form a bight at the end of the line.  Then you pass the bight through the eye of the hook. This will leave the hook free so it can rotate around the knot.  Be careful not to position the final loop around the hook shaft. This will will restrict movement.

You also need to make sure you don’t cross the lines when tying the knot.  This will compromise the strength and effectiveness of the knot and could cause it to break.  The palomar knot is suited best for light lines.

How To Tie Palomar Knot
How To Tie Palomar Knot


As I mentioned earlier, I only use four of the seven knots described in this article.  I used to use all seven but found that four knots work very well and are what I am most comfortable with. In order from the reel to the fly, here they are.

  • I use the arbor knot to tie the backing onto the reel.
  • I use the nail knot to tie the backing to the fly line.
  • I use the nail knot to tie the fly line to the leader.
  • I now use the surgeon’s knot instead of the blood knot to tie the leader to the tippet.
  • I use the improved clinch knot to tie the fly to the tippet.

There you have it.  Four great knots that will serve you well in any situation or setup when you are deciding which fly fishing knots to employ with your tackle.  Happy tying!

Related Questions:

How long should my tippet be?  Use a minimum of 4 feet for tippet length with a leader that is from 9 – 12 feet long.  Use a minimum of 5 feet for tippet length with a leader that is from 12- 15 feet long.
What are the strongest fly fishing knots?  The three strongest fly fishing knots are the blood knot, palomar knot and the J-knot.

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