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October 25, 2001

Thoughts on Knots From Some Real Pros

Some of fishing's best known experts offer their advice on choosing and tying strong knots.

Aside from individual preferences and idiosyncrasies experts develop over the years, I heard several suggestions over and over during my interviews. Here are some of the recommendations by consensus:
* Cinch 'em down hard! You want no movement in a knot. With lighter knots, you need to take care to stop short of breaking the line; with somewhat heavier lines, it always pays to fasten the hook or lure to something solid, and after taking a few wraps on the line above the knot with a gloved hand, put your back into it. As Roddy Hayes put it, he tries to destroy the knot; better it should pop in your hands so you can retie rather than pop on a good fish.
* Wet each knot. A little saliva goes a long way to (1) a tighter cinch and (2) less damage to the knot's surface from the heat of friction.
* Don't try to remember too many knots. Figure out four to six knots that will work for almost all the fishing you do, and master them.
* Practice at home when you can concentrate on the art of tying knots, not when you're hurrying with wet hands in a boat.
* Scrutinize each knot. If it doesn't look or feel right, it's not the knot to use. Cut it off and retie.

Skip Smith
The Pompano Beach, Florida, skipper whose knots have held through 46 records (at press time) all over the world has spent countless hours tying knots and testing them himself.
* Slippage - the biggest enemy to any knot's strength. "The better a knot locks down the line, the stronger."
* Always tie a double line - the Bimini knot spreads the stress over 24 twists (with light lines) or 18 twists (with heavy lines). With a new Bimini (so the loop is unbroken), he'll tie a clinch and drop the swivel through the double end before pulling tight. Once the double line is broken, Smith uses an improved clinch with the double line because it's quick and will always out-test the line itself.

Roddy Hays
Hays, who pioneered Madeira's fishery for grander marlin and helped explore the Midway's blue-water fishing, knows about knots under stress.
* He always uses a Bimini but only for a short double line, "basically to attach a swivel or wind-on. I don't believe in using (a long double line) as a means of bullying fish to the boat except in very light-line applications."
* For splicing lines of the same weight, Hayes prefers a blood knot up to 20-pound test; if heavier than that, he goes with a two-turn uni. "If the knots are going on a bent-butt, big-game outfit, I'll join anything with back-to-back Biminis and a cat's-paw (offshore swivel knot)."

Neal Isaacs
One of Hawaii's top skippers, Isaacs has been making great catches in blue water since the mid-1960s when he started fishing off the Texas coast (and where, he says, the long, windy winters offered lots of time to tie and test knots). Most of his fishing, he notes, is with fairly heavy mono.
* He'll take a Bimini, thank you. "In all our tests, the Bimini twist wins over other knots for doubling line like the spider hitch or Australian braid."
* Isaacs doesn't like the half-hitches that make the Bimini bulky: "Instead of the half-hitch, we hold both legs of the loop together with the left hand and use the right hand to loop the tag end four or five times back down both legs toward the twist. Run the tag end through the loop and pull tight." It won't slip and leaves the Bimini very smooth.
* For tying line to line or line to leader, Isaacs says he's found nothing better than the "time-honored blood knot."

Bill Miller
One of the best-known guides and TV fishing-show personalities on Florida's Gulf Coast, Miller owns his own knot machine and has done plenty of testing on it. As an inshore guide, his perspective is a bit different from the blue-water skippers.
* Miller doesn't normally bother tying a double line, typically tying his 8- to 12-pound line right to the hook or lure. "If I'm looking for double strength in my knot, I'll fold the line (to form a doubled tag end) and tie it. I use this in most situations."
* The Trilene knot is his favorite for tying his single light line directly to hook or lure. "It's a little hard to tighten down, but it's an absolute 100-percent knot." For 20- to 80-pound, he prefers a five-turn clinch.
* Miller also uses loop knots at times, tying the basic non-slip mono loop up to 30-pound and, above that, a Homer Rhode loop.
* For tying light line to heavy leader, Miller doubles the end of the light line and goes with a uni. He says the blood knot is also fine in this situation but not as easy to tie.
* For splicing line to line, "there's only one knot to use, and that's the uni knot. It's smooth and tapered and you can cut the tag ends extremely close so the knot doesn't pick up grass as it moves through the water."

Al Anderson
The long-time Northeast charter skipper holds the best sort of world record: the greatest number of game fish tagged and released. His ability to get 'em to the boat shows he knows a good bit about knots.
* Anderson has good results with the clinch knot for mono up to 150-pound, often a single line (not using a Bimini). But, "I take pains to see all my clinch knots end up with five finished turns. To do that, I frequently take six or seven turns (when tying), since turns can be lost when pulling the knot tight."
* He advises warming and lubricating fluorocarbon in particular, since the stiff leader material makes it harder to tie knots that hold.

Stewart Campbell
When it comes to big fish on light line, Stewart Campbell's name is legendary (with blue marlin catches of 30- to 40-to-one, it's easy to understand why). He's always been fascinated by knots, he says, and has put his own line tester to good use over the years.
* "I'm a great believer in the Bimini; I don't believe there's any knot stronger."
* Even when fishing inshore with light tackle for smaller fish, Campbell likes to start with a short Bimini and tie a 10- or 12-foot piece of somewhat heavier mono leader to it using the Yucatan knot. "You can cut it off as short as you want and it's a tiny knot that casts easily, but with that long leader you can lift any fish you're keeping right into the boat if you want."
* For splicing lines, Campbell is convinced you can't beat a loop-to-loop: That is, tie two double lines (Campbell uses a Bimini) and run the spool of new line through the loop of the reel twice. "I've been doing it that way for 15 years," he says, with great success.

Andy Mezirow
One of Alaska's most dedicated light-tackle enthusiasts, the Seward charter skipper has plenty of time on 50-below days in the winter to think about knots.
* He uses double line when pursuing line-class records, typically tied with a spider hitch, often using an offshore swivel knot from double line directly to the lure (jig).
* Mezirow uses wind-on leaders, tying line to leader with surgeon's loops, then loop-to-loop.
* He's a fan of the of the uni-knot system in most cases but ties to hooks using the Northwest's traditional snells.

Bert Lee
Operating his charter out of Tolaga Bay, New Zealand, Lee has to be ready with various lines for everything from the world's biggest yellowtail (to 100-plus pounds) to the world's biggest striped marlin.
* Retie often, Lee says - after every fish isn't a bad idea.
* For tying a single main line to swivel, Lee favors a Darby knot - 4 inches of tight twists up around the line above the swivel and tightly back down with four half hitches (two on each side of the swivel ring, rather like a Bimini).
* For heavy wind-on leaders with light line, Lee ties his 80-pound leader to a couple of feet of 30-pound with a five-turn blood; he ties that, with the same kind of knot, to another 2 feet of 20-pound, finally tying that the same way to the 8- to 12-pound main line doubled with a short Bimini.

Scott Kerrigan
One of the leading mates fishing around much of the Caribbean, as well as a photographer and author, Kerrigan has made knot-tying something of a science.
* "I use a spider hitch for all light tackle, up to and including 30-pound." For heavier lines, he goes with a Bimini.
* If a Bimini is hanging up in the roller guides, Kerrigan switches to an Australian braid since it lacks the bulky finishing half-hitches of a standard Bimini.
* With heavy mono, knots want to unravel. To prevent it, Kerrigan coats them with Pliobond cement.
* For leader no greater than five times the line's strength, Kerrigan says a close-trimmed blood knot is "compact, passes through guides well, and is somewhat weedless." But with a new (unbroken) Bimini, he'll take the Yucatan. With a leader more than five times the line's strength, Kerrigan goes with an Albright coated with Pliobond.