Fishing Knot Rules
20 Ways to Avoid Knot Failure
By Vincent A. LaZara
As the saying goes, “The knot in your line is the weakest link between you and your bass.” Losing a bass that makes a mighty leap and throws your hook can be frustrating, but having one break off your knot is just infuriating. Considering the importance of choosing and correctly tying the right fishing knot, it is surprising how little information is devoted to the topic in bass fishing articles and television fishing shows. Even the various books l have read about bass fishing cover only the basics about fishing knots and knot tying, with no significant depth on the topic. This article is intended to remedy the situation.
A fishing knot can never be any better than the line used to tie it. So before getting into the specifics about knots, consider the following general precautions to take about the line itself.
First, use only premium brands of fishing line, to ensure your line is high in quality and correctly labeled for important characteristics like pound-test ratings and line diameter.
Second, store spare spools of line in a sealed, dry container and place it in a dark, cool place to avoid deterioration.
Third, continually inspect the line on your reels and replace it when it shows any signs of wear, damage, or abrasion.
Finally, cut off leaders made of nylon line (typically called monofilament) that have been in the water for any significant length of time, and switch reels or reel spools when longer sections of monofilament line are involved. Unlike fluorocarbon line or braided line, monofilament line will weaken due to water absorption. After only one hour in the water, its average loss in strength is fifteen percent and could be as high as twenty percent. So, a knot with ninety percent of line strength tied with ten-pound test line that starts out with about nine pounds of strength when dry could end up with only about seven pounds of strength after an hour’s fishing. And since monofilament is typically used with top-water presentations, an added benefit is that fresh line has greater buoyancy than when water logged.
There are two causes of knot failure: Slippage and breakage. Slippage can occur for two reasons: Tying the wrong fishing knot for the type of line in use, or improperly tying the right knot. Breakage also can occur for two reasons: Strain on the knot exceeds knot strength, or improperly tying the knot causes it to break under strain that does not exceed potential knot strength.
Bass anglers can go a long way towards preventing knot slippage and breakage by adhering to the following rules.
- Select a knot that will not slip with the chosen line. Some knots that work well with monofilament and fluorocarbon line will slip with braided line. Some fishing line manufacturers recommend knots; check out their websites.
- Select a strong knot for the purpose you have in mind (line to lure, line to line, etc.) Do not settle for a knot because it simply is familiar or popular. Focus on knots that rate at least ninety percent of line strength. Google “fishing knots” and review a variety of different knots to check out their strength ratings. Also, check out the results from “Knot Wars” at http://video.fishingclub.com/pages/knot-wars for tests of the comparative strength of a wide variety of knots.
- Select a knot that you repeatedly can tie correctly on the water. Some knots, while very strong, are too complex. You would have a difficult time tying them correctly under field conditions such as wind, rain, cold, and low light, or when pressured by circumstances to tie speedily.
- Select a versatile knot. For example, the Uniknot is a multipurpose knot that can be used for attaching line to hook, lure, or swivel (passing the line twice through the eye of the hook is the improved Uniknot or Fishin’ Fool knot.) The Uni is also good for attaching line to line of similar diameter, attaching line to reel spool, and even snelling a hook. With a versatile knot, you do not have to remember and become skilled at tying a different knot for every purpose. However versatile the knot, you still may need to learn other knots for other purposes. To tie directly to certain lures instead of using a split ring or snap (see below), you will need to learn a loop knot. To connect lines of very dissimilar diameters, you may need to use an Albright knot or an Improved Blood knot. And if you fly-fish, you may need to tie a nail knot to connect your fly line to your leader.
- Before attempting to tie your chosen knot on the water, practice tying it at home with the same line used when fishing. You will develop techniques enabling you to tie it quickly and accurately. Continue practicing until you can tie the knot almost without thinking about what you are doing. Line used up this way is a worthwhile investment in the prevention of knot slippage and breakage.
- Lubricate knots before tightening to reduce friction. Friction creates heat that weakens monofilament and fluorocarbon lines, thereby causing knot breakage. Many anglers use saliva or water as their lubricant. For an exceptionally smooth snug-down, first moisten the line and wraps with a tiny dab of liquid floatant gel used on dry flies by fly fishermen.
- After a knot is tightened, pull the main line, gradually putting some pressure on the knot to assure it is tied correctly. If it is not, it is far better that it slip apart or break in your hands instead of when your trophy bass is at the end of the line.
- When cutting off tag ends, be careful not to nick knots by trimming too close. Also, use a line cutter or scissors made for the type of line being used to avoid putting undue strain upon the knot. Such tools are available from a number of tackle manufacturers. Never use your teeth to cut line because doing so causes excessive dental wear and could result in chipped teeth.
- If you use your teeth as a ”third hand” when tying a knot, to avoid damaging the line or knot, do not bite down on the main line or any portion of the line that will go into the knot. The only part of the line you should bite down on is the tag end that will be trimmed off. Also, if you tug on line held in your teeth, be very careful about putting too much pressure on your teeth to avoid damaging them.
- Do a visual inspection of each knot to be sure all the wraps are correctly laid out next to one another. Overlapping wraps can put undue pressure on an underlying wrap causing a knot to break under a strain far short of its pound test rating. If a knot looks odd, most likely it was not tied properly. Cut it off and retie.
- When using monofilament and fluorocarbon line with a strength rating lower than ten-pound test, take more care when tying, lubricating, tightening, and inspecting your knots. Due to the inherently lower strength of light line and the fact that knots have even less strength than the line’s test strength to begin with, it is especially important not to risk any avoidable weakness. Also, be aware that braided line below twenty-pound test (typically, the equivalent monofilament diameter being six-pound test) is so thin that knots tied with it require more care to inspect adequately compared to thicker lines of thirty to sixty-five pound test.
- Whenever possible, pre-tie knots before going on location to avoid tying subject to the difficulties of field conditions. For example, if you are drop-shotting, split-shotting, or Caroling rigging, you can pre-tie leaders from the swivel on down with any needed hooks, sinkers, and trailing line. Then you can store your pre-tied leaders in the compartments of a leader wallet or the bags of a small worm binder. Different styles and sizes of leader storage systems are manufactured by Shimano, Plano, and Daiwa. Then, when you need to replace a leader, you can cut it off on the main line side of the swivel and quickly tie your main line to the swivel of the pre-tied leader, eliminating the need to tie any other knots on location.
- Rig your terminal tackle using as few knots as combinations of lines and different fishing techniques require. Every knot between your reel and your bass is a potential point of failure in spite of your precautions.
- If your rod tip guide has a ridge of metal like hard chromium, replace it with a guide that has an insert of material such as chromium oxide, Alconite ®, or Hardloy ®. This will protect line-to-line knots using monofilament or fluorocarbon line by reducing both friction and impact damage that occur every time the knot is dragged over the plain metal rim while under the pressure of fighting a fish.
- When attaching line to a split ring, be sure the knot is not tightened in the ring’s split, but instead on the opposite side of the split. Otherwise, the sharp edges of the ring where it opens up may weaken the knot by nicking or even cutting into it. Since fighting or playing a bass may shift the position of a knot to the opening in the split ring, it is necessary to regularly inspect a knot’s location on the split ring. Alternatively, there are two ways you can avoid the hazard of the split in the ring altogether and still retain the lure’s ability to move side to side upon retrieve. Either remove the split ring and tie the line directly to the lure using a loop knot, or else tie the line to a snap, which has the added benefit of facilitating quick lure changes.
- Protect knots from weakening due to strain and abrasion. Once a bass is removed from the water, the buoyant force of the water no longer counteracts the bass’s weight. So lift fish from the water with a net instead of hoisting them out of the water with your line to avoid placing unnecessary strain on your knots. Also, keep bullet weights from bumping into your knots by separating them from the weights using a glass bead with smoothed edges around the center hole to prevent abrasion. As an added precaution, such a bead can be held in place next to a knot with a bobber stopper anytime the knot will be dragged over structure or pulled through cover that might damage it.
- When using a trailing line as in drop-shotting, attach the weight to the end of the line using a weaker knot than the knot tied to the hook. That way, if you must break off because the weight gets hung up in rocks or wood, you can save your hook and lure while not placing excessive strain on the hook knot. Depending on your chosen knot, you may be able to weaken the trailer knot simply by using far fewer wraps, say one or two wraps instead of six or seven with a Uniknot, thereby avoiding the need to learn a different knot for this purpose.
- After each catch, visually inspect your knots. If a knot shifted on the eye of the hook or tie point of a lure during the fight with the fish, readjust it. Also, retie if a knot looks odd in any way, since the position of knot wraps can alter under the strain of the twists and turns placed on a knot when fighting a fish.
- Retie knots periodically, even if they look fine, because they may be weakened by the strains placed on them in the normal course of fishing. Retie after landing an especially large bass, catching a series of moderate sized bass, or even after pulling a smaller bass through thick weeds. The lower the pound test of the line, the more critical it is to retie in such situations. For example, a knot of ninety percent line test strength tied with eight-pound test line has only about seven pounds of strength to begin with. Diminish that with the weakening due to strain and the remaining knot strength may be inadequate for your next catch.
- Do not put more strain on the knot than it can handle based on its strength. If you are using twenty-pound test line and tie on a knot with ninety percent of line test strength, do not exceed eighteen pounds of strain. Check the reel manufacturer’s guide-book on how to set the drag and always set the drag to account for the strength of your weakest knot instead of the strength of the line.
I have had only one knot fail in the past two years of following these rules. In my haste to retie and cast to some actively feeding bass, I violated rule number seven, which resulted in knot slippage. So I am confident that bass anglers tying fishing knots according to the precepts listed above will experience far fewer, if any, knot failures.
About the Author
Vince LaZara is a retired college professor who angles avidly for largemouth bass on a regular basis in various lakes in southeastern Arizona.