Reel Time: Master your knots

Lefty Kreh
Lefty Kreh, who passed away last year, at his tying bench in Maryland. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Fishing tackle and techniques become more technical with each passing year, but some components of the angling experience have never changed. You can own the latest tackle, employ the most refined techniques and chances are you’ll still come up short if you’ve lost sight of the basics.

Learning to tie knots properly may seem the most mundane of your fishing skills, but, rest assured, it’s one of the most important. It may be a small part of the overall fishing equation, but it is one that’s often overlooked. You won’t meet many anglers who haven’t lost a great fish to an improperly tied knot! You don’t need to master a lot of knots, but learning the basic ones and tying them correctly will improve the likelihood of landing that fish you’ve been working so hard to entice.

The best place to learn and practice knots isn’t on the water but at home on the bench. With good instructions, a pair of clippers and an inexpensive spool of line you’ll be able to quickly learn a number of important knots. YouTube is an excellent resource for learning knots that you’ll find valuable when rigging for fishing in the Gulf or the bay. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Bimini twist may take some time to master, but it can be used as a foundation for all saltwater leader systems. The Bimini allows you to double your standing line into a loop, creates 100 percent knot strength and acts as a shock between small line and heavier leader.

An easier knot to tie is the spider hitch, an effective way to double the standing line that doesn’t have the knot strength of the Bimini twist.  That warning aside, I’ve never had one fail.

The surgeon’s knot is one of the easiest knots to tie, is very effective and can be used to tie your leader (under 60 pounds) to the Bimini twist. This is the knot to use when tying two lines of dissimilar diameters together in the dark. The surgeon’s knot is really just an overhand knot tied with two (treat the double Bimini as one line) strands of line. It is one of the most important knots you can learn. You can use this knot on single strands as well.

One knot that I avoided for years but finally mastered is the blood knot. Preferred by most Keys guides for building leaders, this knot has a slim profile that easily slips through the guides of a rod.

The Albright special is an especially useful knot for the coastal angler. This is the knot to tie when you’re rigging for Spanish mackerel or tarpon. It allows you to tie mono to wire without a swivel and lets you join 20-pound line to a 100-pound leader.

The final step is to tie a hook or lure to the leader. The non-slip mono loop is my choice for several reasons: it’s easy to tie, tests near 100 percent and forms a loop that gives bait and lures more range of motion. The knot has a couple of other advantages – it won’t tighten when a fish is hooked, and the tag end comes out facing away from the standing line, which keeps it from picking up weeds or other debris.

There are a few rules that will help you tie reliable knots no matter which ones you choose to use. First, make sure you give yourself plenty of line to make the knot. You use less line in the long run and learning will be a lot less frustrating. You can master the most complicated knots, but if you don’t tie them properly, they all have a high probability of failing.

There are two critical components of any knot. First, they must be wet when they are tightened and second, they must be tightened carefully so there is no chance of them slipping. Knots break when they slip. I use an eye bolt attached to my bench (and a small eye hook on my boat console) to hold the hook, wet the knot and tighten it with a pair of pliers. Follow these rules, tie the knots that work for you and you’ll strengthen the weakest link in your fishing experience.

One of my favorite references is “Fishing Knots,” by Lefty Kreh. It’s spiral bound so it easily stays open to the page you’re studying, and no one I ever met has the wealth of experience of Kreh. You can order the book here. Learn a few of the basic knots, tie them correctly and you’ll add a whole new dimension to your angling experience.