Clinch Knot Alternatives For Fly Fishing

If you weren’t a Boy Scout or a fisherman, chances are knot tying is a new language to you, especially when it comes to the clinch knot. As a flyfisherman, knots suddenly become the most important thing you need to know. More important than fly selection, casting form, and your gear. You can tempt a fish to bite with the wrong fly or a floppy cast, but if you want to reel that pig in, you better have your knots tied correctly. There’s nothing worse than breaking off a fish on your line, only to pull your line and find a knot slipped.

Rather than explain these knots, I’m going to direct you over to Scientific Angler’s article which gives an excellent explanation of each knot in your rig and where to use them.

To start things off, here are the two most frequently used knots you need to know as a fly fisherman.
  1. Improved Clinch Knot – This is the basic and most commonly used method of attaching a hook to your fly line. The design of this knot puts the force from a hook being pulled by a fish onto the line itself, not into the knot. A poorly tied knot with either slip when pulled, or put force onto the line tied up in the knot, which leads to a break. Moreover, a knot like the improved clinch, will CLOSE as its being pulled, securing it even further.
  2. Surgeon’s Knot – This is the second most frequently used knot. Use it to attach more tippet to your tapered leader as you chew it up switching flies. If you ever break a tapered leader, you can use this knot, along with consecutive lengths of decreasing size tippet to rebuild your leader.

Why Not the Clinch Knot?

Most of this is probably old news to you, since if you’re reading this, you already know a thing or two. And so, since you do, you probably hate tying improved clinches. Especially when trying to a tie on a size 18 midge with 5X tippet. I’ve been tying these for 6 years and still get frustrated every time. I find myself keeping balance in knee deep water for what seems like hours, just trying to slip my tag end back through the loop to finish the clinch knot. It always seem like this is the same time when someone else shows up at the hole I’m fishing and starts moving in while my lines out of the water.

If you’re dead set on sticking with the clinch knot, there’s a cool article here at with some neat tricks for tying and removing the clinch knot. 

While I can definitely tie them better, I’m stubborn and I still hate tying them. So, I’ve started looking into alternatives to the clinch that won’t sacrifice too much strength. Knot tying has come a long way with new technology to measure breaking strength and force mapping. And since I’m a scientist by trade, you bet your ass I eat this stuff up.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to say any of these are easier for everyone to tie, since that’s subjective. Some people can tie a clinch knot with their eyes closed. I find the following knots easier to tie, but that might just be a mental thing given the fact that anything’s better than the same old clinch for me.

Here are a few new knots that I’ve started learning to tie and why:

Turle Knot

This knot is interesting since it lets the line come straight out of the eye of the hook, as oppose to the clinch knot which can shift around the eye. I’ve used this knot for nymphing as it lets the nymph drift nice and straight.

(This guy is awesome to listen to. Oh, capital!)

Palomar Knot

This knot is actually just a slip knot tied with your fly already threaded on the line, and which you loop the knot back over the fly. It’s stupid easy to tie and I’ve begun using it here and there for tying on tiny dries and nymphs (#18 and smaller) because you don’t need to bother holding the fly while tying it. Super useful if your fingers are numb too!

(This guy is super excited about knots)

Davey Knot

Another knot that is super easy to tie and wastes very little tippet. One of the things I hate about the clinch is how much tippet you need to feed through to easily tie it (sometimes wasting more than three inches of tippet). Lots of guys claim to be able to tie this in the dark.  While I haven’t tried tying it in the dark, it’s another knot thats ridiculously easy to tie and is in contention for being my go-to knot.

For a lengthier run down of knots, and to watch a guy with a beard that makes Chuck Norris jealous, check out this other awesome video by Rio