Wrong Turn

Bad connections are the leading cause of lost fish. Isn’t it time you perfect your knot tying skills?

Capt. Mike Genoun March 17, 2011

The worst feeling any angler—novice or pro—can experience is loosing a quality fish due to some sort of tackle failure that could have easily been avoided. To be more specific, I am referring to poorly tied knots. The most common problem is that improperly tied knots simply slip and part. Even if the knot doesn’t immediately fail, a bad connection can reduce the overall breaking strength of the line.

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No matter the technique, make sure your execution is perfect and the end result is flawless. Photo: Steve Dougherty

Regardless of how basic or how advanced, don’t forget that a knot is no more than the tag end of a fishing line that is severely twisted, crisscrossed, wrapped and cinched tight to the unforgiving metal surface of a hook, lure, or other piece of terminal tackle. Even properly tied knots involve sharp curves and bends that apply a great deal of unnatural stress on the line. A reliable connection is challenging at best when you consider that the ultimate goal of any fishing knot is to maintain the original strength and integrity of your main line. In reality, there are a couple of steps you can take to achieve this goal; the first is to select the correct knot for the particular application. The second and most critical step to staying connected is making sure your knots are flawless.

We’ve all been there, and while I refuse to allow that squiggly little tag end to appear in my field of view, the possibility always exists. I don’t care how good you think you are. We all tie knots in a hurry when dealing with a hot bite. Wet, slimy fingers and low-light conditions also leave the door wide open for faulty connections. The bottom line is that regardless if you are a light tackle enthusiast fly fishing pristine flats with hair-thin bonefish leaders, or if you’re an offshore guru who regularly heads over the horizon with a set of 80-wides, perfecting your knot tying skills is absolutely critical to your continued angling success.

Proper knot tying skills often start during our adolescence and typically advance throughout our angling careers as we explore new venues and target larger, more powerful game fish. It’s kind of funny, but when that bluegill turns into a bluefin tuna you better make sure your knots will hold. I’ve seen seasoned salts with a lifetime on the water tie a sophisticated multiple turn San Diego jam with one hand tied behind their back. Yet, I have also seen many novice anglers struggle to perfect an improved clinch knot⎯the staple of all fishing knots. During my teenage years mating aboard party boats, we spent many nights chunking the canyons. Even during a full on tuna bite where every squid would get slammed as soon as it disappeared, anglers unsure of their own skills would wait in line, often for as long as 15-minutes, for a deckhand to tie on a hook. This is after a detailed lesson in party boat fishing 101 during the 6-hour steam to the continental shelf. In hindsight, these guys could have potentially doubled their catch if they would have simply perfected their own knot tying abilities.

It’s important to remember that no single knot satisfies every angling situation, and in my humble opinion mastering a few knots for various applications and being able to tie them correctly in any condition is far better than attempting to perfect a hundred different specialty knots. All it takes is one wrong twist or turn and you could be leaving the door wide open for a frustrating day of fishing.

Knots often fail because they aren’t properly cinched. Even a few millimeters of slippage could cause a knot to slip and fail. All knots need to be sufficiently lubricated and cinched tight, trimming off the tag end only after the knot has been tested to its limit. The lubrication helps the knot slide down and set properly and prevents friction and heat build up from weakening the connection.

Knots that require multiple turns of line must sit correctly and draw up neatly with no overlapping. One incorrect wrap may easily weaken the knot to the point of inevitable failure by literally cutting through itself.

Regardless of your skill level, you can learn basic and advanced knot tying techniques, or simply sharpen your existing skills with animated tutorials found online. Google fishing knot videos and you’ll be amazed at the knowledge base you uncover. You can also turn to an experienced angling friend, or the knowledgeable staff at your local tackle shop. Don’t forget about books and DVDs, which are also great resources.

Determine which knots work for you, avoid making wrong turns, and your knots will keep you connected when you need them most.

Knot This Time

To see the results of a poorly tied knot, start with a 4-foot piece of 20lb. monofilament. Wrap the ends of the line around your hands and snap the piece apart with a fair amount of pressure. It shouldn’t part. Now tie a simple overhand knot in the center of the same length of line and attempt to break it again exerting the same amount of snapping pressure. POP! The knot literally cut right through itself.

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