You can have the best rod and reel, fresh line, and a premium, quality hook, but in most fishing scenarios, none of that matters if you can’t tie a good knot. So many things can go wrong during a fish fight, but quite often, dreams are made or shattered by a few twists of line connecting your hook to that trophy’s mouth. That’s why it’s so important to know not just how to tie a hook to your line properly, but also which knots are best for a variety of situations. Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you about the fanciest, most new-school, high-tech knots you need to know. Quite the opposite. There is a misconception that to be a good angler, you must be able to tie a book’s worth of knots. I promise that this just isn’t the case.
The truth is that you only need to know a handful and none are all that complicated. Below,I’ve outlined the five knots every angler should know for connecting something sharp to the end of your line, whether that’s an octopus hook for catfishing or a crankbait for bass fishing. These can be mastered by anglers of any skill level, so learn them and you’ll know how to tie a hook, lure, fly, or terminal tackle to your line the right way in any angling situation. Here we go.
1. How to Tie a Hook on With an Improved Clinch Knot
- Use With: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon
- Best With: 4- to 20-pound-test line
- Pros: Easy to learn, good for most light-tackle applications
- Cons: Should not be used with braid or super line
Improved Clinch Knot Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1. Run the end of your line through the eye of the hook, lure, or fly. Pull enough through to create a 4- to 5-inch tag end.
Step 2: Wind the tag end around the standing line 4 to 6 times, depending on the line’s diameter. As a rule, the thinner/lighter the line, the more turns you should make.
Step 3: Pass the tag end through the hole created at the hook, lure, or fly eye.
Step 4: Now, pass the tag end through the larger hole created between the wraps and the tag end.
Step 5: Slowly pull the standing line to begin drawing the wraps towards the hook, lure, or fly eye.
Step 6: As the coils form, wet them with a bit of saliva and give the standing line a firmer pull to draw them tight and seat them against the eye.
Step 7: Trim the tag end close to the tightened coils.
The improved clinch is one of the easiest fishing knots you can tie, and for many anglers it was the first knot they ever learned. Sometimes referred to as a “fisherman’s knot,” it will quickly secure a hook, lure, or fly to your line, and when tied correctly, it provides ample strength for most freshwater and light inshore saltwater applications. But despite being a very simple knot, it does have drawbacks.
An improved clinch knot relies on pressure created by tight coils resting against a hook or lure eye to stay secure. To achieve this, as the knot tightens, tiny abrasions form on your line, creating a sandpaper like texture at a near microscopic level. This effect creates a bit of friction, and that friction helps keep the coils tight and stops them from slipping under the strain of a fighting fish. This, however, is why you should never use an improved clinch with braid or super line—it’s so slick that a clinch may fail to “bite” properly, and while the knot may feel secure, it will easily come undone under pressure.
Likewise, the thicker your fluorocarbon or monofilament, the more difficult it becomes to ensure tight, secure seating of a clinch knot. That’s why as a rule, I won’t use one with line heavier than 20-pound-test. But if you’re primarily targeting bass, trout, panfish, and even smaller saltwater species like pup redfish and striped bass, the improved clinch will get the job done.
2. How to Tie a Hook on With a Palomar Knot
- Use With: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon, Braided Line, Super Line
- Best With: 2- to 50-pound-test line
- Pros: One of the strongest fishing knots ever developed
- Cons: Has difficulty seating properly with monofilament and fluorocarbon heavier than 50 pounds.
Palomar Knot Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1. Form a loop with the standing line. Make sure it’s big enough that whatever you’re tying on can be passed through it easily.
Step 2. Feed the loop through eye of the hook, lure, fly, or terminal tackle.
Step 3. Tie a simple overhand knot with the end of the loop around the tag end and standing line.
Step 4. Now, pass whatever you’re tying on through the loop.
Step 5. While gripping the hook, lure, fly, or terminal tackle in one hand, slowly pull the standing line, and then the tag end, to snug it all up.
Step 6. After the knot cinches down at the eye, trim the tag end.
If you only ever learn one fishing knot, make it the Palomar. Not only is the knot incredibly easy to tie, but it’s also practically unbreakable. If you were to get snagged in a submerged piece of wood and reared back with all your might, the line will snap long before the knot fails. I’m not even sure it’s possible for a Palomar to fail, because for one to slip, the laws of physics would need to be defied.
Unlike other knots that rely on coils jamming against the hook eye for strength, the Palomar behaves more like a noose. Once the knot is looped around the hook, lure, fly, or piece of terminal tackle you’re securing, there would be no way for it to slip without that main loop somehow working its way all the way back around whatever you’ve tied on. And that’s not going to happen considering the more you pull against a Palomar, the more tightly it grips. This is why the Palomar is one of the few knots that is safe to use when tying braid or super line directly to a hook or lure eye.
In truth, you can use a Palomar knot with almost any line diameter. Just be aware that when dealing with monofilament and fluorocarbon heavier that 50-pound-test, getting one to cinch up properly takes a lot of strength, and you’ll want to wet or lube it to avoid creating too much friction when you pull it tight. This is because thick mono and fluoro are very stiff, hindering the ability of the line to be compressed down into a tight enough loop to fully easily seat this knot.
3. How to Tie a Hook on With a Uni Knot
- Use With: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon, Heavier Braided Line, Heavier Super Line
- Best With: 10- to 80-pound-test line
- Pros: Simple to tie, stronger than an improved clinch knot
- Cons: Can cause line failure under extreme stress.
Uni Knot Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1: Pass the tag end through the eye of the hook, lure, fly, or terminal tackle, creating a 4- to 6-inch tag end.
Step 2: Create a loop with the tag end by moving it toward the eye, and keep it open by pinching the tag end and standing line together near the eye.
Step 3: Make 4 to 6 turns with the tag end around the standing line, passing the tag through the loop with each wrap.
Step 4: Pull the tag end slowly to tighten the coils around the standing line.
Step 5: Once tight, pull the standing line firmly to slide the coils down to the eye and jam it in place.
Step 6: Trim the tag end close to the knot.
The uni knot can sort of be considered the “grown up” improved clinch knot. The tying mechanics are very similar, but one slight variation in the steps ramps up strength significantly. Whereas an improved clinch tightens down directly on top of the hook or lure eye, the coils in a uni knot tighten around the main line first and then slide down and jam against the eye. It seems like a minor difference, but it’s a big one.
An improved clinch knot can slip simply because you’re tying too thin of a line around too thick of a hook eye, which stops the knot from being able to cinch down tightly enough to hold. Conversely, a uni knot cinches down only on the standing line and then slides into place at the hook eye. This ultimately puts pressure on only the main line during a fight, not a stack of coils that can slip. Tied correctly, the uni is extremely strong, though it’s not completely fail-proof.
Under extreme tension, the main line can cut right through the coils, causing the knot to fail. Keep in mind, however, that this would be most likely to happen during long, drawn-out battles with very strong fish like tuna or amberjacks. While most anglers would agree a uni is perfectly fine for use with braid and super line, this failure is more likely to occur when it’s tied with very thin, slick braid. If you’re using braid or super line that’s 50-pound-test or heavier, the odds of a cut-through diminish.
4. How to Tie a Hook on With a Non-Slip Mono Loop
- Use With: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon
- Best With: 12- to 60-pound-test line
- Pros: Adds action to flies and lures
- Cons: Can fail under too much pressure
Non-Slip Mono Loop Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1: Tie an overhand knot in the standing line, leaving a 5- to 7-inch tag.
Step 2: Pass the tag end through the eye of your lure or fly.
Step 3: Now, pass the tag end back through the overhand knot in the standing line.
Step 4: Make 3 or 4 wraps around the standing line with the tag end.
Step 5: Pass the tag end back through the overhand knot near the lure or fly eye.
Step 6: While pinching the open loop near the eye, pull the tag end and standing line to cinch it tight.
Step 7: Trim the tag end close to the knot.
The non-slip mono loop should be part of every angler’s knot repertoire, though it’s often overlooked. The benefits of this tie revolve less around strength and more around action. That said, while you could certainly use the non-slip mono loop to tie on a plain hook, it has much more application when using lures and flies.
Whereas most knots cinch snuggly to a lure or fly’s eye, the non-slip cinches above the eye, creating a loop that runs through the eye. What this does is provide better range of motion. As your lure or fly moves through water, it can pivot more freely from side to side and slide up and down a bit to create more vertical action because it’s riding on an open loop. As a rule, I use this knot for any lure that doesn’t have a split ring or any streamer fly that I need to “swim” to create the illusion of a baitfish, leech, or crayfish.
The downside of the non-slip mono loop is that it’s only as strong as the line you’re using. During a fight, all the tension is on that single strand of line that creates the loop, which is why you really need to pay attention to your targets. As an example, using a loop knot in 6-pound-test for a tiny lure intended for bluegills is no problem, because they’re probably not strong enough to break 6-pound. Cast that same lure on the same line and hook a 20-inch trout or 5-pound bass and that loop of line may fail. Therefore, I generally skip the non-slip mono loop whenever I’m using less than 12-pound-test line or leader unless I’m targeting very small fish. Conversely, I’ve tied on tuna jigs with this knot using 60-pound fluorocarbon, and they didn’t snap me off.
5. How to Tie a Hook on With a Snell Knot
- Use With: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon
- Best With: 15- to 50-pound-test line
- Pros: One of the most fail-proof connections for tying on a single hook
- Cons: Takes practice to master, should never be used with braid
Snell Knot Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1: Pass the end of the standing line through the eye of the hook until it reaches roughly the middle of the shank. Pinch it against the shank and hold it in place.
Step 2: Pull more of the standing line through the eye to create a loop under the hook. Make sure the loop is large enough to pass around the hook several times.
Step 3: Moving the line away from you, wind the loop around the entire hook 4 to 6 times, pinching each wrap tightly to the shank, if needed, to keep it in place.
Step 4: While holding the hook and wraps, slowly pull the standing line to draw the coils tightly around the shank.
Step 5: Once everything is cinched down, give the standing line a firm tug to slide the coils against the back side of the hook eye.
Step 6: Trim the tag end close to the knot.
Have you ever wondered why the eyes of many hooks are slanted, making them somewhat perpendicular to the shank? It’s to help a snell knot seat properly. Unfortunately, snelling a hook is a bit of a lost art, especially since you can easily grab a pack of pre-snelled hooks at any tackle shop. But that’s limiting. What if you can’t find pre-snelled hooks in exactly the size you want? What if you can but you need a longer leader than what’s in the package? If you fish a lot of live and dead baits, you should know how to snell, though I’ll be the first to admit, it takes practice and coordination.
Tied properly, a snell knot won’t ever slip or break. It can’t because it’s never actually tied to anything. A snell is essentially a series of tight coils locked around a hook shank that slide up to the eye. Assuming you’re using a hook with an angled eye, once you run the opposite end of your line through that eye and draw those coils tight against the back of the eye, everything is held together with opposing pressure. During a fight, tension from the rod pulls against the coils in once direction while tension from the fish pulls the hook in the other. Those coils, however, won’t have the ability to slip through the eye, creating a practically indestructible connection.
One thing to know about snelling is that it works best with stiffer line. I tend to only snell larger hooks that I’ll use for big fish requiring leaders of 20 pounds or heavier. That’s not to say you can’t snell with lighter line for garden-worm dunking, though the benefits are questionable when dealing with fish weighing less than 10 pounds or so.
Should I always wet or lubricate my knots before cinching them down?
It never hurts, though it’s more important with some knots than others. As a general rule, anytime you tie a knot that gets its strength from a series of wraps or coils that cinch down very tightly, adding a little saliva is a plus. This is especially true when tying these knots with monofilament or fluorocarbon. Heavy-gauge mono and fluoro will create more friction during the tightening process than light mono and fluoro, making lubrication even more critical.
Although many of these knots require a little abrasion within the coils to maintain strength, too much is a bad thing. It’s always smart to wet an improved clinch or uni knot before tightening, and if the idea of using spit grosses you out, hit the wraps with a little lip balm instead.
Does adding a drop of super glue to my knots increase their strength?
It depends on the knot, but if you put it on the wrong knot, it can make the connection weaker. This is especially true with coil-based knots like the uni and improved clinch. By design, the more pressure you put on them, the more tightly they should cinch. Adding glue to the wraps, however, will lock them in place, halting their ability to get any tighter through the day as you retrieve lures and fight fish. It’s much more common to see a dab of glue used on line-to-line connections than it is line to hook/lure/fly connections.
What is the best knot for really heavy monofilament line?
If you need to use monofilament or fluorocarbon that tests heavier than approximately 60 pounds, you need to buy a crimp kit and forget about knots. Lines this heavy are very stiff. They don’t like to bend, conform, or compress tightly enough to properly tie any of the knots outlined here. Heavy lines are usually fitted with a metal sleeve that gets squeezed tight with a set of crimping pliers after the line is passed through the sleeve, through the eye, then back through the sleeve in a U shape.