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The Surgeon’s Knot

Knots & Rigs with Mark Williams

THE Surgeon’s Knot has seen a tremendous resurgence in popularity in recent years. While it’s been a favoured connection with generations of freshwater fly anglers, it has become increasingly popular with saltwater fishos as well. The saltwater fly fishing boom and the development of the sight or flats fishing scene has resulted in the surgeon’s knot becoming a preferred connection for SWF anglers who want to build their own tapered leaders.

When casting to easily spooked fish in clear, shallow water, the quality of the presentation of the fly can be a key to success and leader construction can be a significant factor in making a subtle cast. Hence the requirement for a simple, reliable knot with a good break strength for connecting lengths of leader of varying diameters and material to suit the species being pursued and the conditions on

the day.  The other saltwater fishing style that has seen the Surgeon’s Knot’s popularity soar is the light line lure fishing scene, in particular with those anglers pursuing bream with both soft plastics and hard-bodied lures. The bream luring specialists needed a simple, reliable connection between their light GSP main line and light fluorocarbon or hard mono leader material and the Surgeon’s Knot has been adopted by many anglers from the bream competition fraternity. Time is of the essence when competition fishing and the surgeon’s Knot provides a reliable mainline to leader connection that can be tied quite quickly.

While on an extended fishing trip to the US and Central America in 2003 I had the opportunity to meet Gordy Hill, a leading US orthopaedic surgeon and renowned fly fisherman from the Florida Keys. Gordy, who has a world record bonefish on fly to his credit, was quick to inform me that no decent surgeon would ever use the Surgeon’s Knot on a patient, so I can’t really say where the origins of that moniker came from. I have since had that fact confirmed by other medical professionals as well.

The Surgeon’s Knot is basically an overhand knot; the Double Surgeon’s and Triple Surgeon’s versions of the knot simply refer to how many turns you use in creating the connection. It’s generally accepted these days that for maximum knot strength the Triple Surgeon’s Knot provides the best results, although I know that many trout fly fishos have used the Double Surgeon’s Knot with good results over extended periods. Noted US rigging authority the late Bill Nash rated the break strength of a properly tied Double Surgeon’s Knot tied in monofilament at 100 per cent, although he didn’t recommend the connection for use with fluorocarbon lines. I’ve been using the Surgeon’s Knot regularly in recent times for connecting GSP mainline to light fluorocarbon leader when lure fishing without any problems, though. Once again it comes back to having confidence in the connection you’re using.

It is a relatively simple knot to tie and some anglers claim to be able to tie it in the dark, which doesn’t really surprise me at all as it is quite straight forward. The most important element to tying the Surgeon’s Knot is to tension up all four legs of the knot equally. I usually do this quite slowly so I can watch the knot forming and once I’m sure the connection has been created correctly I’ll lubricate the knot with saliva and increase the tension to finish the knot off.     

There are other useful variations of the Surgeon’s Knot as well. It can be used for attaching droppers on fly leaders or when constructing baitfish jigs. This variation is covered in Geoff Wilson’s excellent Complete Book of Fishing Knots & Rigs. US fly fishing great Lefty Kreh says the Surgeon’s Knot can also be used for connecting braided wire to monofilament lines, although I can’t say I’ve done this myself. Another variant is the Surgeon’s Loop, which is tied in the same manner as the traditional Surgeon’s Knot, but with the line doubled. It provides a quick, simple means of creating a loop in the end of a line. To tension up the Surgeon’s Loop properly it’s best to place the loop over a smooth thin object such as a nail hammered into a work bench, then pull on the tag end and main line together to complete the knot.

The Surgeon’s Knot is a connection that I’ve only added to my rigging arsenal in recent years. Prior to that I’d assumed it was some old trout fishing connection that had been superseded by more modern, reliable means of joining lines. Of course, the Bimini Twist/Albright combo will probably result in a stronger connection, but for the types of fishing that I’ve used the Surgeon’s Knot for in recent years, namely light line lure fishing and fly fishing, it has provided a fast, reliable means of connecting lines. Lefty Kreh says in his must-read book Fly Fishing in Salt Water that the surgeon’s knot is one knot that every fisherman should know.  So you’d better learn it!


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