Let's get one thing straight about fishing knots: I don't care what kind you use. Even old-time granny knots are fine with me if all you're doing is bouncing a bobber for panfish. Fishing is about having a good time, so forget the knot hang-ups that plague so many people.
Trouble is, bad knots may fail, so you'll eventually have to pay some attention to them. But the choices can be bewildering. A few self-proclaimed experts have a queer eye for knots, weaving elaborate webs like so many spiders with results that might work for them but are pure Greek to anyone else. Tackle companies are also on the bandwagon, promoting themselves with variations like the Trilene knot, the Rapala knot, the Orvis knot, and so on. While some are worthwhile, the proliferation of styles has gotten a little silly. I've often thought of adding one new twist to an old-time perfection loop, for example, and promoting it as the Merwin knot all over the Internet. Pretty dumb, you say? Exactly.
So I've done what most people do, which is to use one familiar knot almost all the time. In my case-and that of millions of others-that's been an improved clinch knot, which I first learned back in the 1950s. Lately, though, I've switched. A couple of years ago I found some new (to me) knots that are both easier to tie and stronger than the improved clinch when tied on nylon mono. I've spent the past year testing them on everything from bass and pike to bonefish and trout without a single failure. I didn't invent them, by the way, and it's hard to say who did. Like so many other things in fishing, knot recipes float by the thousands through tackle shops and around the Internet, being adapted and repeated endlessly until it's almost impossible to say who did what and when. So take the attributions that follow with a grain of salt.
The Pitzen knot, said to be named after German angler Edgar Pitzenbauer, is now my go-to terminal knot for everything from tiny dry flies to big bass plugs. (The so-called 16-20 knot is similar.) It is typically 10 to 20 percent stronger than an improved clinch (approaching 95 percent strength) and takes less effort to tie. Do not use it with so-called superlines, however, which still require the basic Palomar knot. The no-slip mono loop knot is also very simple and useful when a free-swinging connection is needed. It won't impede the action of a crankbait, for example, and works great for attaching streamer flies in fresh- and saltwater because the loop allows the streamer to wave and undulate. It's also readily tightened with light or heavy lines. Originally popularized by knot maven Lefty Kreh (see sidebar), the simplified, easy version shown here is attributed to Australian angler Rod "Harro" Harrison.
Make and Break
Here's an easy way to test one knot against another, which I first heard about from Lefty Kreh. Take about 3 feet of 10-pound-test or lighter nylon mono. If you feel muscular, use heavier line. Tie a hook on one end with your favorite knot, then a second hook on the other end with a new knot you wish to test. Grab each hook with pliers in each hand and pull them apart until something breaks. If your old knot is consistently stronger, stay with it. If not, switch. Make sure to do about a dozen trials before deciding, to account for any inconsistencies in your execution.
For more great information on fishing knots for all applications, see the book Practical Fishing Knots by Lefty Kreh and Mark Sosin (The Lyons Press, $13; 888-249-7586; www.globepequot.com). It's by far the most helpful fishing knot book in print.
1. Extend about 8 inches of line through the hook eye and loop the tag end back on itself as shown. Hold the loop end and standing line with your right thumb and index finger. 2. Use your left hand to make three wraps toward the hook eye. 3. Put the tag end back through the upper loop.. Pull on the tag end and hook to tighten the knot around the standing line. 4. Pull the standing line to tighten the knot to the hook eye.
No-Slip Mono Loop
1. Make an overhand (granny) knot in the standing line about 6 inches from the end, then thread the tag end through the hook eye as shown. 2. Make from 3 (heavy line) to 5 (light line) wraps around the standing line. 3. Then bring the tag end through the overhand knot in the direction shown. 4. Tighten by alternately pulling on the standing end, tag end, and the hook itself. Making the overhand knot small and holding it next to the hook eye as you tie this knot helps to ensure a small loop.