ALL fishos use knots. They link your line to the reel, line to trace and trace to terminals. We use them on anchor lines, tents and tarps. Some get by with just one or two favourites while others use a wider range of lashings. We have all had a knot failure at some stage. Sometimes it’s on a snag or while casting but the worst are when you are fighting a fish.
Recently I was at Lake Awoonga. The day bite was slow, so we went into night mode. This involves anchoring near a weed bed and throwing cast after cast…all night. My fishing companions boated a few nice barra, so I knew persistence would pay off.
The second night I connected with a big fish that boiled, jumped and was gone. I wound in and studied the braid end where a length of fluorocarbon should have been knotted. The tiny tangle in the head torch beam told the story. Knot happy!
Amazingly my mate cast to the spot and retrieved my lure.
Events like this really suck. A fish you really wanted is gone thanks to your poor knotting skills! Of course, we all look for a scapegoat. Some blame “slippage”, “fatigue”, or some other reason. In a few cases the line is faulty or damaged. Occasionally fish with sharp teeth destroy the knot or it’s damaged after hitting a hard surface. Wear and tear from long use is sometimes the cause. Finally, in a tackle system where the knot is the weakest link, not surprisingly it will break first if you go too hard.
Just like my knot failure at Awoonga, sometimes there are clues that gives you an idea of what went wrong. In other cases, a knot failure remains a mystery that haunts us for years.
If the loss of a trophy doesn’t motivate you to be a better knot tier nothing will. There are a range of resources designed to help you tie knots and virtually all anglers can do so. Rather than rehash knot tying, in this article we will focus on why some knots fail and what to look for when checking them.
Mono and Fluorocarbon
Monofilament and fluorocarbon are stretchy. This and the degree of limpness and pliability varies between brands. Both have varying levels of memory which is where the line wants to coil up or retain a “set”.
These lines will partially crush or distort under pressure. Line that comes from a reel spool that has been wound on under high pressure will often feel crinkly. This is where line has packed down and bit into the surface of the line underneath. This characteristic helps to “seat” a knot and along with stretch, assists in knot longevity.
Both materials will deteriorate over time. Many anglers replace a top shot or fill of mono line annually to avoid weakened line. Likewise replacing trace material regularly is good insurance.
Most anglers have little problem tying good knots in mono or flouro lines but when you add braid, things get a little more complex.
Braid is not stretchy and has no memory. When braid was first released anglers tried the same knots, they used for mono but found slippage was a problem. Using more turns partly solved that issue. Then hard trace material became popular, and anglers found the need to modify their knots further.
As braid has virtually no stretch and has a slippery or smooth coating, you cannot use the same technique as for mono to hold it in place. While mono will come undone occasionally, braid is more likely to work loose particularly if it is subject to flexing or working. Tightening the tag end will reduce this happening. Using multiple locking hitches provides insurance and as a bonus a visual queue the knot is undoing. The little tuft or tag end gets longer as the hitches let go.
Braid is often thought to be long lasting, but some brands degrade quite quickly. I have had braid snap like cotton after a year or two. Some think the cause is strong sunlight or heat. Price is no indicator with some cheaper braid lasting for decades while some expensive brands degrade in a season or two. No knot will last for long if the braid is degraded.
If your knot breaks on the braid side, it is possible you have degraded material. Test your braid by tying a simple over hand knot then tug both ends forcefully. Bad braid will snap quite easily. In a pinch you can reverse the line on the spool, but this load should be replaced.
Heat and friction
Friction creates heat and should be avoided in knot tying regardless of material. Use saliva or water to lubricate and reduce the chances of damage as you cinch up the knot. The use of a flame to melt mono is a risky strategy as it is easy to accidentally damage the adjacent materials without noticing it.
How does a knot work?
Every knot is designed to do a job. Some join lines while others link the line to terminal tackle via a ring or eye. By studying the design used you can see what will cause the knot to fail. Let’s look at a few examples.
The FG knot is a popular “finger trap” style knot. It is used to join braid mainline to leader and there are a few variations. It’s a low-profile knot that goes through the guides well. The braid is woven tightly along the trace and locked using half hitches. Next time you tie one, check the following: If bindings come loose the entire knot will slide off the trace. Make sure they are tight by pulling both trace and braid very firmly (look for the braid to change colour slightly within the knot) after making the first locking hitch. Check there is no space between binding loops where movement can start.
The initial or end binding is the most vulnerable. It must be seated firmly.
Constant “work” may introduce “play” in the first hitch tied around trace and braid. If it slips off the trace tag it will introduce slack into the series of locking hitches. That is why some people burn a nub onto the end of the trace or use superglue. Snug the first hitch down very firmly. Multiple hitches on leader and braid will reduce the likelihood of slippage.
A hard exterior on the trace will resist the braid biting into it. Tie this type of leader under very firm tension and use a solid level of force to pull the knot up.
Use at least 5-10 half hitches on braid and leader, then at least five more on the braid. Some use a Rizzuto finish which is neat and long lasting. This ensures a loosened half hitch is unlikely to cause an immediate knot failure.
This is another popular join for braid and trace. It is fast to tie, and in my opinion is better suited for light line applications.
Over tightening the overhand knot in the mono trace can cause a weak spot. It should be tight enough that you cannot unpick it but not so tight it destroys the trace itself.
Braid may work out of the locking loop. The Improved Slim Beauty introduces a double lock method to reduce the chances of this happening. Leave a three to five millimetre tag.
Trim off excess mono but leave a short tag in the braid.
A strong alternate is the GT knot where the braid is tied using a six to nine turn Uni knot that includes the trace. This is a very good knot too although it is clunky through the rod guides.
This is an excellent and simple knot used for many purposes. It rarely fails if tied correctly. It is suitable for mono and fluorocarbon lines. If used with braid double the turns.
Pull the tag end firmly to help seat the knot. Use pliers (carefully) to snug up heavy mono.
Snip the tag off leaving a few millimetres to reduce the chances of it returning through the loop and the knot undoing.
If the knot strikes hard surfaces (lure casting at bridges, rock walls, etc) check and retie regularly as the loop below the knot will suffer abrasion and may break.
If the target species has sharp teeth (tailor, mackerel, etc) check the knot for tooth damage.
Non-Slip Loop Knot (Lefty’s, Kreh loop, etc)
A loop knot is the best choice to ensure a lure swims at its optimum. Anglers using heavier leader make this connection to avoid “sandbagging” the lure’s action. Lures with a nose tow point work best with this link too.
If the loop through which the tag end is passed is not closed tight it can allow the tag to slip out.
Leave a generous tag. This will also reduce the possibility of the knot undoing.
Ensure the tag points toward the lure eye not out at right angles or back up the line. This may indicate the knot has not been tied correctly.
After a fish or snag check the knot has not suffered abrasion or damage.
This knot is very simple to tie. Focus on getting the tag secured in the loop.
Improved Albright Knot
This connection is popular with those using light line, fine braid or mono to mono connections.
This knot fails when the braid loosens and then the short leg of the trace slips through. Repeated casting is a major reason for knot disintegration. The other is the braid tag working back through the locking loop.
Ensure the braid loops are all firmly seated and have tightened fully on both legs of the trace.
When finishing, pass the braid tag around the mainline braid and the long side of the trace loop three times to lock the knot. Braid is slippery so three turns will help stop the tag end working back out of the locking loop.
Leave a short tag.
Some use super glue to lock the knot but the improved “three passes” method is very secure.
Wind on Leader (WOL)
The WOL relies on friction or the “finger lock” to hold the trace inside a length of hollow Dacron or braid. This allows the angler to wind a long length of trace through the guides.
Introducing slack, a ripple or other irregularity in the Dacron will disrupt the “finger trap” and allow the trace to slip out. Using wax and a finishing binding will stop movement in the Dacron under normal conditions.
Trace should be lightly scuffed using sandpaper to enhance the grip within the Dacron.
An over filled (overhead) reel or where an angler retrieves line into a hump can cause the WOL to contact the reel bridge. This may damage the finishing binding or disrupt the finger trap effect.
If you tie homemade WOL follow a proven recipe. Ensure the Dacron loop is well seated, and the finishing binding is tight and resistant to working or damage as it passes through the rollers or runners.
A DIY Knot Test
For knots that join braid to mono (FG, WOL, Albright) carry out the following test. Tie the knot. Put the trace under your foot and hold the braid so the knot is under tension in front of you. Rub your thumb nail and index finger along the knot repeatedly using moderate pressure. Note how long it takes for the knot to disintegrate.
In my tests I could unseat a commercially tied WOL binding quite quickly which led to the trace slipping out of the Dacron. This binding must be tight and ideally coated in flexible cement, so it resists this friction. The pressure also caused ripples in the Dacron which reinforced the need to avoid reel frame contact, chaffing, etc.
After some effort, I made an FG knot loop move and the knot failed soon after. This highlighted the need for the loops to be well seated and tightly wound onto the trace. Half hitch redundancy delayed failure but once a loop moved the knot was doomed.
Some anglers have a “confidence knot”. This is a knot they tie well, rely on and prefer. As unscientific as it sounds, this is a good way to go. Even when a new knot offers better outcomes, the confidence knot is the go-to when it is raining, late at night or a new or complex knot has failed. It is a real comfort to have a confidence knot for when things aren’t going well.
Knot failures are the worst. As no one is a perfect tier bad knots are an ongoing pain, but you can reduce their likelihood by choosing the right option, tying it correctly, checking it at least after every fish or snag, and knowing what to look for when you do so. Some like the FG knot, may provide early warning that things are unravelling. Most knots are not so generous. No knot will last long if the material used to tie it is rotten or worn. By following these suggestions, you can reduce the incidence of “knot happy” moments.