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The Experienced Angler

By Mark Bowler

Mark Bowler considers how choice of nylon and hooks can affect the knots you use, including Turle Knot, Conon Knot, Double Turle Knot, Tucked Blood Knot, and Clifford Knot.

The single Turle (or Conon knot) has slipped around the eye. This may be due to the fly-head being too big; hook-eye too shallow
The single Turle (or Conon knot) has slipped around the eye. This may be due to the fly-head being too big; hook-eye too shallow
Thick nylon is hard to bend and often slippery. Here's a Clifford knot for shock leaders using 100lb BS (0.9mm) Sufix.
Thick nylon is hard to bend and often slippery. Here's a Clifford knot for shock leaders using 100lb BS (0.9mm) Sufix.
Kinked tippet. Here, Varivas Super tippet 6X 3.1lb has been stressed on tightening the hook-knot by pulling on the leader.
Kinked tippet. Here, Varivas Super tippet 6X 3.1lb has been stressed on tightening the hook-knot by pulling on the leader.

Many years ago, I was introduced to a knot which changed the way I tied on an up-eyed salmon (and sea trout) fly. The Conon gillie who showed me give me a perfectly analogy of how to tie a knot using a common staple of the British breakfast as an example. “Thread the fly onto the nylon from the back of the eye, and let it slide down the leader. At the end of the leader form a loop of nylon – the egg white – then form another, smaller loop on top of that – the egg yolk.” He now held two loops of nylon between pinched forefinger and thumb: “a fried egg”, he announced proudly.

He then finished the knot by passing the tag end through the ‘yolk’ of the egg from the back twice before moistening and then tightening the small loop into a knot around the big loop (the egg white) by pulling on the tag-end. Back down the cast slid the fly, which he fed through the loop, so the knot rested at the back of the eye, like a neck-tie. Then, simply by pulling on the leader he closed the loop around the ‘neck’ of the up-eyed fly. It is a variation of a Turle knot, which many salmon anglers use, but I’ve used his style of tying it ever since, and it has never failed me. I’ll call it a Conon Knot until someone tells me what its real name is.

Both this knot and the Turle are ideal for attaching up-eyed flies for four reasons:
a) the line has two points of anchor on the hook-eye, thus spreading any pressure points when under strain;
b) the leader passes through the hook-eye, allowing a degree of articulation;
c) it allows the fly to swim with the shank and leader directly in line;
d) the two-point anchor means the knot cannot slip around the hook-eye, thus causing the fly to swim at right-angles (which makes casting frustratingly difficult, and fishing a waste of time).

Until that point I had simply used the knot I always used for tying on any hook – a Half-blood Knot. Life couldn't have been simpler.

That was until the advent of pre-stretched double-strength nylon, ultra-thin diameter line and shiny, slick finishes on fluorocarbon leaders. Sure, these modern tippets are thinner and virtually invisible to fish, but today's preference for supple, slick, ultra-thin leaders make knot-tying a much more involved affair, demanding a greater element of care and attention to detail.

Make a Turle knot – which was designed for stiff, thick gut casts – with today's leader material and the chances are that it will lack the stiffness to naturally form at the neck of the hook-eye; it has a tendency to slip around the eye and form a different knot directly onto the wire of the eye. We don't want this; we want the knot anchored on the shank, behind the eye. The solution is to use the same nylon type, but a thicker diameter or heavier strength, which is inherently stiffer and will help you fix your Turle knot at the ‘neck’ of the hook (whichever way you tie it!). The alternative is to use a Double Turle knot, which Ally Gowans first demonstrated to me. Instead of producing one loop for the ‘egg white’, make two, and then form the overhand knot around the two loops. This is a better knot to use with big, up-eyed salmon hooks, and also those modern manufactured up-eyed salmon hooks which have a narrow eye, as the Single Turle also has a tendency to slip around these, too.

Trout flies
For tying on trout flies – nymphs, wets, lures and down-eyed dries – with ultra-thin, shiny tippet material I still use my favoured Half-blood knot, but with much more caution. I’ll test the knot rigorously before use and often opt for an extra tuck as insurance, particularly when using fine diameter tippets and small hooks, or nylon that has a noticeably slick finish. Today’s fine diameter material can be so slick that a Half-blood knot – even of six or seven turns – can easily slide undone and leave you with the curly pig-tail at the end of the leader – the awful, tell-tale sign that your knot has failed and a huge (they are always huge!) fish has been lost. The ‘tucked’ part of the Tucked Blood knot is simply the tag-end brought back through the loop that is formed when a Half-blood knot is formed and prevents slippage.

And here’s a tip for forming blood-knots – always pull on the tag-end to cinch the knot down, not the leader. Pulling on the leader will result in a kinked length of stressed leader above the fly connection due to the friction generated by the twists sliding down the leader. A stressed leader is an already weakened one.

Friction is something to keep to a minimum when tying fishing knots. Lubricating a knot with saliva just before it is tightened helps reduce stress in the monofilament and thus helps to avoid building in a weakened link.

Testing, testing
Just to add some extra confidence in your knot-tying you can test your knot by catching the bend of the hook in your forceps finger-loop and gently pulling to ensure it does not slip.

A lesson with shock leaders
So, you'd have thought I would have learned by now, but ... last year I was fishing for big tarpon in Cuba using 100-pound BS shock leader – a thick (0.9mm) stiff, leader material (Sufix) which is a little shinier and slicker than the hard mono I normally use for bite leaders. So when a barracuda bit off the fly and with it a section of the thick shock leader, we hurriedly had to tie on another (I can partly blame my boat partner, Dave Graham, because he assisted me). Because the shock leader was now shorter due to the bite-off I opted for a Half-blood knot to help save leader material and save time. This knot had always worked for me before on thick shock leader material for small tarpon, but if I had had sufficient leader material I would have opted for my preferred knot – a Clifford knot. With hindsight, I should have replaced the whole leader.

Before casting the fly, we used pliers to cinch the knot down. I can vouch that it was as tight as a drum.

This is the only day of the year I get to fish for big tarpon, and the reason for our feverish knot-tying was we'd spotted a good fish roll in some dark water in a channel. Carefully the boat was manouevred into the dark waters of the channel, and I was blind-casting for all I was worth with a 12-weight outfit, stripping the fly faster and faster, just as my guide was imploring. I was constantly reminding myself that tarpon have hard, bony mouths and, if a fish took, to strip-strike hard with my left hand and then thrust backwards with my rod-hand to make doubly sure the hook drove home. So when the tarpon swirled onto the fly, just ten yards from the boat, I hit it pretty hard. I will always have etched in my memory 80 pounds of a vertical, airborne tarpon suspended above the Cuban horizon, directly level with my eyes. I can still see the detail of its flared gills as it shook its head like a terrier with a rat amidst a spume of spray, and then my sad, limp fly being flung out through the air like a bull tossing a matador.

Dejectedly, I pulled in my slack line. It was one of the biggest residents that live off Cayo Largo, the guide told me, but then, to make matters worse, I realised that I hadn't been unlucky; I had no fly on the end of my line ... my shock leader ended in a simple little pig-tail's curl. The impact of the strike had caused the plier-tight knot to slide undone. It’s a rotten feeling, losing your biggest ever fly-caught fish to a badly tied knot. Please don't let this happen to you. From now on, for attaching a shock leader to the fly I'll always insist on using the more leader-hungry Clifford knot, which I learned from Nick Curcione’s Orvis Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing. “Harry Kime, who had the good fortune to spend entire seasons fishing nothing but tarpon used this knot almost exclusively for tying flies to 100-pound shock leaders”, writes Curcione. A recommendation backed by experience is always a good way to go.

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