The only fishing knots you need

Fishing Knots

Pic courtesy of Judith Doyle

It was actually casting that got me thinking about fly fishing knots. I’d mentioned Italian casting to an angler with whom I worked in my days at Trout Fisherman.

Big mistake.

“What do I want to know about Italian casting for?” he argued, blue touch-paper well and truly lit. “I only know four casts and I’ve probably caught more fish than most casting instructors put together. You can ram your Italian casts right up your Jackson…”

It was that moment of empathy that came to mind when I considered the subject of fishing knots. There might be a wealth of knotty information out there but if all it does is stir bad memories of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, you might be of the same resistant mind as my Italophobic fishing partner.

So let’s forget the frills. If you just want to know the strongest and easiest knot for each connector in the tackle set-up, this is for you.


Strongest – 100 Percent Arbor Knot“provides for a method of attaching the backing line to a fly reel that delivers 100% line strength (one hundred per cent of the rated breaking strength of the backing line)”

EasiestArbor Knot“The goal here really isn’t in thinking that a knot is going to hold if a fish has taken all the line down to the end your reel spool, but to have something strong enough to hold in the event you lose a rod and reel overboard and have to pull it up by the line.”


Strongest & Easiest Albright Knot“only moderately easy to tie but it is suitable for joining different types of fishing line”. If your fly line has a loop at the back end, connect braid to loop with a Surgeon’s Knot)


Strongest – Needle Knot“more streamlined and reliable than tying a Nail Knot”

Easiest – Gray’s Loop Quick & Easy version (scroll down at link) – “I have found this to be a generally secure and reliable fly fishing knot, if not quite as neat as the needle knotted version. This simplified loop can be tied quickly on the riverbank if need be.” [Author’s note: yours truly has also found the equally easy Albright Knot (see above) to be applicable in this context, although as none of his research has found it being endorsed as a line-to-leader knot, it could be that I’ve just been lucky…]


Strongest – Orvis Tippet Knot – “very strong and quite easy to tie…most fly fisherman find that it is easier to construct than the tried-and-true Blood Knot.”

Easiest – Surgeon’s Knot – “…one of the best and easiest to tie knots for joining lines of equal or unequal diameters. In low light conditions or with cold hands or when time is of the essence…When properly tied, the Surgeon’s Knot approaches 100-percent line strength.”


Strongest & Easiest Dropper Loop Knot“…the best dropper loop knot is simple, easy, and incorporates just four steps. This fishing knot is also one of the most reliable loop knots, with dropper loop knot strength closer to 100% if comparing with a dropper loop alternative.”

HOOK KNOT (loop for when a loop is needed to allow fly extra movement; snug-fit for when no loop is required)


Strongest – Palomar Knot – At its best with braids but also works well with monofilament and fluorocarbon

Easiest – Davy or Double Davy Knot“[the Davy] is an excellent small profile knot for very small flies (size 22 to about size 18). We recommend moving up to the Double Davy when tying on flies starting around size 16 and up as it adds extra strength and seems to be more reliable.”


Strongest – Rapala Loop Knot“a non-slip loop knot that can be tied directly to the lure allowing it to move naturally and freely. It is extensively used in fly fishing.”

Easiest – Surgeon End Loop“The popularity of the Surgeon’s End Loop lies in its simplicity as well as its strength. Two overhand knots with doubled line and you’re done!”


Fishing knots are like whiskies, of course; we all have our favourites and will defend them strenuously, so feel free to leave a comment…

8 things the best budget fly reel still needs

A Simple Fly Reel

Pic courtesy of BrandonLord

There’s no law that says fly reels can’t be ‘designer’. If there was no market out there for aesthetics, indeed, Abel might have long ago transitioned to lawnmowers.

If you’re choosing a fly reel at the other extreme, though, compelled by budget or personal preference towards cheap reels that do all they need to and no more, then don’t be fooled by the old cliche that “it’s just a line-holder”. Yes, it is but even cheap fly reels must tick the following boxes…

1. The reel will be the first thing to hit the ground whenever you drop your rod. It needs to be sturdy enough to handle the kind of fishing you do.

2. While you want it tough, you don’t want it so heavy that it unbalances the rod, so you feel like you’re fighting the reel every time you cast. Instead, you want the reel as light as possible for the job required without being fragile. If you can maintain the rod’s centre of gravity or balance point – normally found about a third of the way along the rod, starting from the front edge of the handle – it will add impetus to your forward cast.

3. Make sure the reel can be easily disassembled and put back together so that you can clean it thoroughly, especially if you’re a shore angler likely to encounter sand and grit.

4. You must be certain that the spool is deep enough to house both your fly line and the backing line to which it will be attached. How much of the latter you need depends on the type of fishing you’re doing – 75 yards for small lakes and rivers, 100 yards for large lakes and reservoirs. Don’t make a false economy here and settle for a reel whose depth is only made possible by a narrow ‘base’ (ie the central barrel around which backing and line will be wound). You need a broad base (aka a mid- or large-arbour spool) which not only retrieves more line with fewer turns but also stops your fly line from looking like a coiled spring when it’s off the reel, as it will when it’s been wrapped around a base the width of a pencil.

5. In the split-second before you register that a fish is hooked (a bit longer if you drop your fly line in the excitement) you’ll be glad that your reel has some sort of braking system to stop the fish taking too much line too quickly (resulting in either a bird’s nest on your reel or the fish spitting the hook when the line slackens). Reels usually have a ratchet system at least (okay for smaller fish) but do check if the ratchet is adjustable and also the sound it makes at speed. The ratchet on my first, highly inexpensive reel made it sound as if I was molesting Donald Duck in the reeds. I grew to dread winding in.

6. One notch up from the ratchet is an adjustable drag system (memorise your reel’s drag button location from the outset). While the extra reassurance is nice, don’t set the drag so harshly that your leader goes ‘ping’ the moment a hooked fish digs its heels in. In his book Trout From Small Stillwaters, Peter Cockwill advises that if you can’t strip fly line off your reel when holding the line between your lips, then the drag is too tight.

7 If you do go for a drag system, make sure it is either fully sealed from the outside world or alternatively, that you can reach it easily for maintenance. Like a stone in your shoe, grit in your drag mechanism brings a level of torment out of all proportion to its size.

8. Fly fishing reels that come complete with several detachable spools mean that you can fish a range of lines with just the one reel. At some point, though, carrying a second reel will be highly advisable, lest the first one breaks while you’re fishing. ‘Enforced tenkara’ sounds like something from The Bridge on the River Kwai and is probably only marginally more pleasant.


10 tips when buying a fishing vest

fly fishing vestChoosing the right fly fishing vest is like choosing luggage for a long-haul fishing trip. You need the right sort, properly packed. Here’s what you need to bear in mind:

  • Type. There are fly vests for the minimalist; slender and basically equipped, and there are vests for the hard-core angler, with so many pockets and zingers, they could be marketed to Special Forces. Decide beforehand which type is better for you.
  • Material. There’s a trade-off between mesh and fabric. Mesh is a highly-breathable netted material that you’ll be glad of on hot days. It is also stretchable, and so less likely to impede your movement. Fabric is not so flexible or breathable but it is more durable (think thorns). The most popular fabrics are cotton, nylon, and polyester, with cotton the most comfortable if the day is warm. The mesh-to-fabric ratio should be governed by the degree of foliage you typically negotiate to get to your favourite spots.
  • Weight and mobility. These two characteristics are interlinked because a vest that feels bulky even before you fill its pockets will feel like a millstone after several hours on the river, at which point hopping from pool to pool will feel as enticing as a January triathlon. Check that your arms can move freely when the vest’s on and that you’re not conscious of it rubbing against your neck and shoulders, as they will take the brunt when it’s fully packed (a cushioned collar will help take the strain, while broad, adjustable shoulder straps are another plus). A large mesh component will reduce the overall weight of the vest considerably. Bear in mind that the vest will grow tighter by the time its pockets are full, so you want it to feel roomy when you try it on while it’s empty. Unless you are a fair-weather fisher, you might want to be wearing several layers of clothing and a rain jacket when you try the vest on, to be sure it can accommodate them.
  • Length. Depending on the depth of water that you routinely wade, too long a vest may routinely get wet. If you’re rarely wading above the thighs, though, extra length means more storage. Some vests allow the lower section to be detached if you’re venturing into deeper water.
  • Number of pockets. Usually the deal-breaker but then different anglers need different amounts of storage. Once you know the pocket-count, check the specifics. How secure (and waterproof) is the pocket where your car keys and other valuables will go? Is there a deeper pocket for sunglasses, insect spray and a small torch (for all those times you swore you’d be back at the car before nightfall)? Can the pockets be opened and closed easily with one-hand? Does the back of the vest boast an upper pocket that keeps its contents (eg lunch and fluids) well clear of the water when you wade deep? Don’t buy a vest and then fit your gear to the space available: list the most items you’re ever likely to store in its pockets and then make sure the vest can take them all. There should be a pocket that is easily reachable with your dominant hand and big enough for the fly box containing the flies you are most likely to use. Nippers and haemostats should have first dibs on the zingers available and consider buying tippet caddies to hold spools of tippet on the vest.
  • Colour. Some fishers believe we fret too much over this but if you’re not one of them, you should assess how easily the colour of all your fly fishing clothing will blend with the kind of backdrops against which you usually fish.
  • Fly patches. Fleece patches might look fashionably ‘retro’ but they are yesterday’s accessory and can discolour flies as the latter dry. Foam patches provide a surer footing for your go-to patterns.
  • Washability. Oh to have five bucks for every fly angler who wouldn’t normally give this a thought. A multi-pocket vest can become as rank as old sneakers over time, though, so you should address the logistics of keeping it minty-fresh. Not all types slip effortlessly into a washing machine. Some manufacturers stipulate dry-clean only.
  • Somewhere for the rod? When you’ve mentally stored everything else in that vest you’re after, check to see if it also offers a rod keeper. Steadying yourself in fast-flowing water will come easier when you have both arms free.
  • Safety. If boat fishing or wading lively water is your fishing staple, some manufacturers have combined the fishing vest concept with a lifejacket. Some makes also incorporate reflective strips, should you be likely to fish at night.

And once you’ve bought the best fishing vest for you…

a) There is no law says that every single space in a multi-pocket waistcoat must be filled. You’ll be amazed how quickly the weight of all those small ‘essentials’ adds up. If you’re transferring pocket contents from your old vest to a new one, make a mental note of how many items you’ve actually used over the years…

b) Your spine must be the first concern when deciding what weight of vest plus contents you can live with, but if you’re fishing rough water for a short session, consider some advice from the man who invented the fishing vest. American angling legend Lee Wulff said that he liked the feel of a heavy vest when he was wading heavy currents. The ballast meant that he wasn’t quite so much at the mercy of the river’s flow.

c) Consider also some advice from the late fishing writer, Art Lee, for whom buying the perfect vest was just half the battle. If you are to fish effectively, he said, you must know your way around that vest blindfolded. When you’re loading it up, make a note of exactly what item is stored in each pocket. Fumbling time is not fishing time.

d) If you’ve found this post useful enough to share, please share it to any photographers in your social circle, too, as a trout fishing vest can also make good photography clothing. Their gear/storage equation mightn’t be as pressing as ours but it’s close.

Finally, the following reviews will give you some idea of what’s out there:

Top 10 Best Fishing Vests in 2020 Reviews

The Best Fly Fishing Vests – Store And Use Fishing Gear Easier


Farewell to Livingston, I presume – saying goodbye to a fishing-writer’s dream town

Livingston, MTI haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure I’m way too old for a Green Card.

You’ll understand, then, why I read this charming piece on the Montana town of Livingston, a fishing town that is also a writers’ epicentre, with the words of a certain Jim Bowen resounding in my head.

“Let’s have a look at what you could have won…”

The moral of the story: do it while you can, kids…

File under ‘I’ve Seen It All Now’ – fishing-themed putters…

close up photo of golf ball

Photo by Thomas Ward on

Given that they are only intended to hit the ball no more than 40 yards in the most extreme cases, the inordinate growth in the size of golf putters in recent years has been a source of bewilderment to  more traditionalist devotees (count me in).

This, however, takes the biscuit. For the uninitiated, that’s the club shaft emerging from the trout tableau at the top of the photo shown at the link. You hit the ball  with the flat edge sloping diagonally downwards, right of the shaft.

By way of perspective, for those of you who know nothing of golf (and probably care even less) this is putters as they used to be, in simpler times, when folk just got on with stuff and to hell with the window-dressing.

In fairness to the customised version, it seems designed to be more than just decoration. Those carefully-positioned circular ‘stones’ are weights designed to give the club the right balance and momentum as you swing it to the ball.

Whether they help you blot out the sniggering from other golfers as you line up that tricky six-foot putt for the club championship, however, is another matter.


And while I’m on the subject of customisation, some of you with the appropriate expertise may appreciate the role of reels in intercontinental radio communications.

If I knew what the hell was going on here, I’d comment, but I don’t.