3 Knots Every Fisherman Should Know

by Bryan Schatz on December 16, 2010 · 25 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors

I recently took up fishing. This means that I have recently taken up drinking beer at the pier and on top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. I sit and drink and watch the ocean alongside my voiceless companion, Fishing Pole. I enjoy Fishing Pole’s company, primarily because of his complete silence. He communicates only through infrequent gestures, and thus, does not disturb or cloud the comfortable ramble of my thoughts with unnecessary chatter. I also like Fishing Pole because, though he rarely communicates, when he does, it is profound. It’s an immediate and sharp bend towards the ocean and it means, “FISH!” And what greater joy exists than the fight of the catch and the satisfaction of receiving delectable sustenance from the environment that surrounds you?


Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t know. I think my fishing pole is mute, and the world is conspiring against me with my fishing endeavors. Despite research, advice from the bait shop and a slew of fishermen, not to mention many, many hours spent trying out everything I have heard, my fishing spoils equal zilch.

“Fishing” is an interesting verb; some like to joke that the reason they call the act of trying to catch fish, “fishing,” is because it is more accurate than the the verb, “catching.” True enough. Still, “fishing” seems misleading to those of us who are utterly bewildered with how to successfully participate in this sport. It didn’t occur to me to begin with the absolute basics of the sport until I had been proven so pathetically unsuccessful, for a significant duration, that I was forced to brainstorm how to overcome the myriad mistakes I was assuredly making.

First, I attacked the problem of not knowing what bait to use, what size hooks to tie on my line, and the effective technique for pier fishing. As I ventured into this unknown world I quickly came to realize that fishing is a uniquely individual sport. Not only in the sense in that it is often performed in solitude, but also that each fisherman has a specific set of guidelines that he believes incorporates the ingredients necessary for fishing fruition. And these guidelines are quite frequently in contradiction to the opinions of other fishermen, even at the same pier.

To set the scene, I’ll share with you some conversations. They went something like this:

Me: So what kind of bait should I use at the pier?

Fisher: I only use squid. Does the trick. Cut it up though. Whole squid is too big.

Me: OK, thanks. (Then I went and bought a bunch of squid and still have a ton of it in the freezer. No fish make residence in my freezer, however.)

Next conversation, after having no success:

Me: Hey, mind telling me what kind of bait you’re using?

Fisher: Yeah, you should get the sardines. Use a number 2 hook.

Me: Great. Thanks. (I caught nothing. I did however think that I hooked on a monstrous fish–which in reality was probably my hook caught in the rocks on the ocean floor–and struggled so hard against it that my line snapped and I lost my hooks and sinker…something that has occurred with unfortunate frequency since the first occasion.)

Next, again after having no success:

Me: You catch anything?

Fisher: Two so far. Sand perch.

Me: Nice, what kind of bait are you using?

Fisher: Shrimp. Nothing around here bites on anything else.

Me: Huh. Ok, thanks. What size hook?

Fisher: Number 4

This continued on in the same contradictory and confusing pattern. I can only conclude that perhaps this kind of advice should be taken as sort of a poll. The answer that comes up the most frequently is probably what you should go with. This requires a large pool of individuals, so ask everyone you see fishing, create a spreadsheet for the data, and base your actions on the numbers.

Other aspects of the sport that must be considered include the flow of the tide, the depth of the ocean, the type of fish you want to catch, how tight you want the drag, the type of bait, the time of year, the time of day, the daily migratory patterns of certain fish species, and about a million little pieces of gear that all apparently have a purpose and are a requirement in the fish-catching biz. But really, all of this is far too advanced for me (and likely many like me) at this stage. Oh, and did you realize that there are dozens of knots used in fishing?

Which brings me to the main purpose of this article: the basic knots even newbie fishermen like myself need to know.

Pier Fishing: You may not catch any fish, but you'll always reel in the ladies.

Image from Shutterstock

Knot Tying

You cannot go fishing if you cannot tie a knot. The first several times I took Fishing Pole out, I flustered and fought my hooks and sinkers onto the line with what I called the “mystery knot.” It is impossible to reproduce and generally doesn’t work in the way that it is intended. After a particularly frustrating evening of fishing and ending up with a “knot” that looked like a bird’s nest at the end of my line, I finally broke down and realized it was time to learn some fishing knots.

Different knots are used for different situations, and having a variety of them in your arsenal and knowing when to use them will help make you (and me) a successful angler. Though there are dozens of knots that can be used, there are three in particular that come up repeatedly as being the most important ones to know how to tie. They are the Palomar Knot, the Improved Clench Knot (also referred to as “the fisherman’s knot”), and the Blood Knot.

The Palomar: Popular among bass anglers and those who use braided lines, the Palomar Knot serves as the simple, “go-to” knot for many fisherman. While the knot works well with both monofilament and braided lines, it is particularly useful for braided, which can be difficult to make knots with.

Step 1: Thread your line through the eye of the piece of tackle you are attaching. Thread it through the eye once again so that you end up with a four to six inch length of doubled line.

Step 2: Tie an overhand knot in the doubled line and let your hook hang loose. Don’t let the line twist and do not tighten it too much at this step.

Step 3: Pull the loop of line over your piece of tackle.

Step 4: Tighten the knot by pulling the tag end and holding the static line. To finish, clip the tag.

The Improved Clench Knot: An easy, common, and useful knot, the Improved Clench Knot serves as a versatile way of tying tackle to the end of your line. Trevor Kugler of JRWFishing.com suggests that you lubricate the line by putting the knot in your mouth before pulling it tight, which apparently makes it significantly stronger.

Step 1: Insert the end of your fishing line through the eye of the hook.

Step 2: Double back on the standing line and make five loops around it.

Step 3: After making your loops, bring the line back to the initial loop and thread the line through it from behind the eye of the hook.

Step 4: Thread the end of the line through the large loop, pull on the end of your line slightly so that the coils tighten, and pull on the standing line so that the coils draw tightly and neatly together.

Step 5: Cut the excess end line.

The Blood Knot: This is used for when you need to tie two pieces of fishing line together. Some make the mistake of using it for trying to tie a leader to a fly line, when a nail knot would actually serve the purpose better. That being said, the Blood Knot is the knot to use with lines of similar or exact diameter.

Step 1: Lay out your two lines facing in opposite directions of each other. Make sure they are of similar diameter, monofilament line. Pick one line and wrap it around the other three to four times.

Step 2: Thread the end of the line through the V that is formed by the two lines.

Step 3: Repeat steps one and two. When you thread the second end through the “V,”  make sure it points in the opposite direction of the first line.

Step 4: Gently pull on the standing lines until the knot comes together. Before tightening it completely, place it in your mouth to lubricate it, thus making the knot stronger.

Step 5: Cut the tag ends.

Now that I’ve got some knots down, I’m heading back to the pier with at least a little more confidence. I’ll buy some shrimp, because that’s what most people were using who had actually caught some fish, and I’ll try my luck again! Hopefully I’ll be back with a proper “fish story.”

References and Resources:

Haig-Brown, Roderick. Fisherman’s Summer. William Morrow & Co. NY, 1959

Dahlem, Ted. How to Book of Knots, Nets and Smoked Fish. Great Outdoors Association. St. Petersberg, FL. 1968

What seems like an excellent source on Pier Fishing in California: www.pierfishing.com. Not that it will help those of you residing in other states/countries, but perhaps some of the information can translate to a variety of areas.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Leon December 16, 2010 at 7:35 am

Thanks for the article: well written as usual. But you forgot the one main aspect that draws most guys to the “sport” of fishing: time away from the wife! Who cares if the fish don’t bite, at least you’re not hanging wall paper!

2 Adam December 16, 2010 at 10:22 am

I got a boat back in July, so suffice it to say, my recent interest in all things fishing has skyrocketed. I’m having a lot of trouble finding simple beginners guides like this on the internet though, which is frustrating. I just picked up a book on offshore fishing that has been holding my interest for the last two weeks, but I’m still looking for more. I need some in-shore information. What baits and rigs work for what species, that kind of stuff.

3 Dave December 16, 2010 at 10:33 am

When asking a fisherman about what he’s using for bait and where he’s catching fish, don’t expect a straight answer. Fisherman are notoriously secretive about this information. The only people who might, just might, give you accurate answers about this is your father, maybe your best friend, a brother (maybe), and . . . well, I can’t think of anyone else (your spouse should, but only if it was included in the wedding vows).

Good luck.

4 Rob December 16, 2010 at 10:51 am

Well written and humorous article aimed towards the people new to the sport.
Depending on where you are, the techniques, rigs, bait, etc, will vary greatly. Having fished all my life, im always looking to broaden my fishing horizon so even I am new to many species in fishing. For everyone looking for more information for shore based fishing, check out http://www.pierandsurf.com. It’s a forum that covers many regions in the U.S.

If you’re in VA, my name is REKER on there. Give me a shout and ill be glad to show anyone around.

5 Justin December 16, 2010 at 11:39 am

I am an avid fisherman and have competed in a few bass tournaments as well. With the exception of when I use braided fishing line and certain, the palomar and improved cinch knots are my most used knots. In a future rendition, adding a loop knot to this list would be great.

6 Craig December 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Don’t forget the bowline and cleat hitches — quite useful if you ever want to get off the boat!

7 DR December 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm

The blood knot looks just like a square knot except with a bunch of wraps. The square knot is a super easy way to join the ends of two ropes, although purists (rightfully) put down the square knot for this purpose and would suggest the sheet bend.

# square knot (both links – same site)

# sheet bend

Thanks for the good article.

8 EHMoose December 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm

See, your problem is that you were using a spinning rod, not a fly rod….

An article on tying flies would be very manly.

9 Carter December 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm

There is certainly a whole new world of terms and techniques when it comes to fishing. Once you get into fishing, it can grow quickly in time and money if you let it.
I, for one, simply like the being outside part of it.

10 Martin December 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm

This article was hilarious! I especially liked the part about the “mystery knot.”

11 Matt December 16, 2010 at 5:03 pm

A helpful tip I’d like to offer is to lick or spit on the knot before tightening it down. This greatly reduces friction that can greatly weaken the line, especially with monofilament. If you really want to learn to fish though, go out with a guide. It’s well worth the expense to have someone’s brain to pick. Fishermen are notorious liars, but a guide exists solely to put you on fish and show you how to catch them.

12 JR December 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm

As an avid bass fisherman, I must say the palomar is my go to knot in most situations.

Very well written article with great graphics to help people learn these knots!

13 Tryclyde December 16, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Not to sound nit-picky, but it’s an improved clinch knot, there’s no such thing as a clench knot. Other than that, good article. I would also add a surgeon’s knot to the list since many anglers now use leaders.

14 Rusty December 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm

There are lots of videos on youtube if you want to see instructions for tying knots. It’s the kind of thing that’s a lot easier to understand when you see someone doing it.

15 Trevor S December 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Also some sound advice. Lubricate all of your knots. Lubricate those tied in flourocarbon even more because the fricton in the stiff line can evaporate the “regular” amount of saliva used.

I also second the need for a fly tying article, just for sheer manlyness.

16 Brian December 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

I’m an avid bass fisherman on Lake Guntersville in north Alabama. Here the norm is heavy braided line because it cuts through the Eurasion Milfoil and Hydrilla grass that the lake is known for. I generally use the Palomar knot, but I also like the Uni (as in universal) knot as the palomar can be difficult to tie on large lures with treble hooks as they can get tangled when trying to pass the bait through the loop. Here is a link for Uni Knot


It can also be used to join lines together. Sometimes a blood knot will not hold up to joining braided lines.

17 Dave December 17, 2010 at 10:35 am

Thanks for the article;
As someone who has fished all his life, albeit with a fly rod and out of a stream, I’ll let you know something that takes a lot of new fishermen a while to learn. The goal of fishing is not to catch fish. If it were we’d use a net, not a rod, and our bait would be buckets of chum, not flies made from deer hair. The goal of fishing is to go fishing. So next time someone asks “How’d you do?” Tell them, “Great! I fished all day long and didn’t once think about work.”

18 Paul December 17, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Very well written article, as a man who fishes (or is it “catches”) at least 2 times a week, Palomar is the only reasonable knot to attach a hook or a spoon or anything that will imitate or hold the bait to the leader line. Fishing to me is a process to reboot myself, I rarely come home empty handed, but even if the fish don’t bite, its still better then spending my time in the office. Someone mentioned that it’s a great way to spend time away from your wife, I disagree, but then again it depends on your relationships. I personally love taking my wife and my son with me (not ice fishing – far too cold for them). At the end of the day, my son still talks about a day when I took him salmon fishing, he did not land anything, but at least he was able to hold a fish on his rod for a few brief seconds that was probably half his weight. It is a great hobby to have, hope you continue your learning process in the hunt for the fish.

19 Joel December 20, 2010 at 10:45 am

Great article Bryan–indeed all men should know how to tie a couple of knots and occasionally fish. I’m an avid angler myself and definitely can echo that most fisherman aren’t too eager to tell newbies which bait to use, knot, line, sinker weight, hook size, and definitely good spots on shore or their favorite lake/pier/river. Its partially to protect what is a precious moment–reeling in a hog every time as much as possible. Just think about, the average guy doesn’t get much time away from the partner/fam and they don’t want to have to compete in any way with anyone else out there because it could lower that possibility for them. So this is all to say, don’t give up! Stay out there, it usually takes a full season to gain the trust of the locals and then they start sharing their wealth. What the seasoned angler wants to see of course, is new anglers, but they want their future brethren to earn the expertise, just like they did. I know, it ain’t fair, but I promise you it’ll pay off in the end.

I can say almost every angler has a copy of Vic Dunaway’s “Baits, Rigs & Tackle” which contains his “Uni-Knot” system that Brian mentioned above.

Last thing–every father should teach their son to fish–now that’s MANLY!
joel from deadbait

20 Another Brian December 21, 2010 at 1:48 am

I enjoyed this well written article and the posts that followed. I think the uni-to-uni is a better knot for joining lines. I also use it for tying off to terminal tackle whether I’m using braid or mono. So I think you could actually replace all three knots in this article with just the uni. A loop knot should be the second knot to master if you fish lures.

21 Leather Supplier December 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm

This is great info for those who didn’t pay attention during boy scouts!

22 Travis December 27, 2010 at 8:50 pm

As a former saltwater fishing guide, these knots are great; the only suggestion I’d have is replacing the blood knot with a uni-uni knot (or, if there’s a wide variation in diameter, a doubled line uni-uni).

A loop knot (as mentioned in some of the other comments) is also a great knot, allowing more movement – I prefer loop knots for artificial baits.

Adam, some of the best resources for beginner’s in inshore fishing are the books by Frank Sargeant – the Snook book, the Redfish book, the Trout book, the Tarpon book; he also has some Florida specific books (Secret Spots). Another great resource is Florida Sportsman magazine, which used to publish a quarterly called “Inshore Angler” that was for the entire eastern seaboard and the Gulf.

23 Samiam December 28, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Good knots to know for fly fishing. There is a good app for the IPhone for knots to I use. Lots of lashes and stuff in it for other stuff than fishing. Like tying a keg to the roof of your car or wood for building things in the man cave.

24 Jeremy January 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm

I love going bass fishing with my dad when i’m home from school for summer. I have to say we almost exclusively use the palomar knot. Since we started using it, I don’t think I’ve ever had a fish break it off at the lure. We use it for everything from texas rigs and carolina rigs, to catfish rigs, or just tying a crank bait on the line.

25 David April 20, 2013 at 11:49 am

Well done…As I used to work on the sport boats, where the top 3 that we used daily for us and the passengers.

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