A critical, observant, and logical look at knot tying by Fox Statler.
As simple as it may seem, the way you tie on your fly can catch you more fish.
Being a fly fishing guide for more than 25 years, I have learned that outstanding nymph fishermen use small and
successful tricks or finesses to gain the edge on the average Joe. The small finesses are the little tricks that
induce the extra strikes when the fishing is poor and the better strikes when the fishing is
good. From rigging
their leaders and tippets to the slightest variance in their cast are often the difference that transforms the day of
fishing from marginal to great. I have several of these little tricks that often make the day for myself or my
clients. One in particular is the knot that I use to tie on my nymph. Believe it or not, something as simple
as a knot can make a difference in presentation and whether an elusive 24 inch Brown takes or ignores the
morsel that you are presenting. While tippet size, leader length, fly line weight and several other factors
can also influence your prey, the knot is the part of your rigging that is the closest to the fish and its’ effect is
Most nymphs are tied on Turned-Down-Eye (TDE) hooks --- why? Can anyone provide an advantage for using
a TDE hook when nymph fishing? I don’t care what shank length or size it is, they all share the same disadvantage, the
Turned-Down-Eye. Actually I believe the TDE hooks were made for snelling,
tying the line on the hook by wrapping it around the hook shank and then out the
hook-eye. TDE hooks actually favor the dry fly angler more than the
nymph fisherman. For the dry fly angler, the angle of the hook-eye lets the tippet dangle to the water
without tipping the fly over forward. While for the nymph fisherman, the TDE hook lessens the
hook gape and inverts the nymph making it drift up-side-down. The inversion of the fly would not be
such a disadvantage if it kept the fly inverted at all times and stopped
snagging with the bottom.
Then the tier could tie the back of the fly in the gape side instead of on the hook's back and make the
pattern's appearance upright at all times. This is particularly true if the fly is imitating a
swimming nymph, because a swimming nymph always rights itself before swimming away.
Large predator nymphs like Stoneflies and Dobson flies are examples of this.
In Charlie Brook's book, "Nymphing For Larger Trout", he makes a point of how
the aquatic swimming nymph always righted itself before swimming away.
Because of this behavior, Charlie tied his swimming nymphs in the "round", as
its called. In other words, he tied his patterns with the wing case all the
way around the fly. Thus, no matter what position the fly was in, it
appeared to the fish right-side-up. However for non-swimming nymphs, like
sowbugs, just the opposite is true. Non-swimming nymphs cannot right
themselves, instead they are at the mercy of the current and extend their legs
hoping to grab something before something grabs them.
Well, are Straight-Eyed hooks or Turned-Up-Eyed (TUE) hooks any better? Knot really. That was not a
misspelling but a pun to make a point. The knot really makes the difference no matter what type of
hook you are using. If you tie the nymph on with just about any conventional or traditional knot when
dead-drifting the pattern and the nymph is not touching the bottom, it drifts dangling straight down or
vertically below the line or indicator. This may be a normal presentation
for some nymphs like ---- I can’t think of one. Well you might say an emerging nymph, but emerging
nymphs are swimming up toward the surface not floating vertically a couple of feet below the surface. Sorry, in my rivers nothing floats vertically several feet below the surface. I don’t think they do in yours either.
But if the knot actually determined your nymph’s position regardless of the
style of hook it would be an enormous advantage for the angler. This is
possible. Here are your choices: Guaranteed Vertical; Guaranteed
Horizontal with the hook-point-down; and Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-up. Which would you - the
angler - choose? Well truthfully there is, or could be, a time and
presentation for each of these hook positions. Guaranteed Vertical is used
for emerging nymphs, but don’t dead drift them. Swim them to the surface.
Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-down would best be used in deep water
when there is not a chance of coming in contact with the bottom. And
lastly, Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-up is the best choice for most
Why is Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-up the best choice? Most true aquatic and
pseudo aquatic nymphs move through the water in a horizontal position. From Oligochaete
worms to minnows, horizontal is the normal presentation. The hook-point-up is the best choice
if the bottom is barely a possibility. Snagging the fly on the bottom loses it or dulls it. Also,
hook-point-up hooks the fish in the stouter portion of its mouth, the upper jaw. Hooking the fish
here gives the angler more leverage and lift on the fish during the fight. Ever wonder why
carp don’t come to the surface easily? Their tail is almost always above their mouth during a fight.
So what is this wonderful knot that I use to guarantee the hook position of a nymph?
Believe it or knot, it is any slip knot that you tie best. It could be a “Universal Knot” or
a “Clinch Knot” or any other knot that lets the tippet slip through the middle of it to
tighten. You will see it is not the knot - but the relationship of the hook-eye, the tippet,
and where you place the knot on the hook that makes all the difference in the world.
Lets take the simplest presentation first - Guaranteed Vertical. With a Straight-Eyed, TUE,
or TDE hook, tie the fly on using any knot that tightens on the hook-eye. The pictures below
are all #12 Sowbug tied on different style hooks. All three bugs have the same amount of
lead wire, 10 wraps of .025, straw backing, thread, and dubbing. The pictures are, from
left to right, a Straight-Eyed hook, a TUE hook, and a TDE hook.
This is most likely the way that ninety-nine percent of the fishermen tie on their nymphs
with some sort of knot tightening on the front of the hook-eye.
Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-down
The next two presentations are a little more difficult depending on the hook the
nymph is tied on. So lets try Guaranteed Horizontal with the
Hook-Point-Down. We are tying on a Straight-Eyed or TUE hook. Using either style hook the tying method is the same. Put the tippet through the hook-eye
on the hook's back side going down to the hook's belly. Again this is important, the tippet
through the back side of the hook. Tie a slip knot on the end of the tippet. Run the nymph through
the loop of the slip knot tail first. Position the loop of the slip knot between the head of the nymph
and the hook-eye (on the fly's head threads). Tighten the slip knot at this position on the hook with the knot of the slip knot
on the hook's belly side. Pull the slack out of the tippet up through the hook-eye.
That makes these two styles of hooks, Straight-Eyed and TUE Guaranteed Horizontal
with the Hook-Point-Down. Now, what about the TDE hook?
Again run the tippet through the back side of the hook-eye going down to the belly.
Again tie a slip knot on the end of the tippet. This time, run the nymph through the loop
of the slip knot head first, I repeat head first. Position the loop between the hook-eye and
the head of the nymph (on the fly's head thread). If you have this correctly positioned
the tippet should be under the loop. Tighten the slip knot with the knot of the slip knot on
the hook’s belly. Pull the slack out of the tippet back through the hook-eye. This is Guaranteed
Horizontal with the Hook-Point-Down for the TDE hook style.
Guaranteed Horizontal with the hook-point-up
Last presentation, Guaranteed Horizontal with the Hook-Point-Up. Well if you made it through
“horizontal with hook-point-down”, this presentation won’t be to hard to understand. Lets
start with the simplest hook style the TDE hook. Run the tippet through the belly side of the
hook-eye going to the back (this is opposite of the “horizontal hook-point-down” presentation). Tie a slip knot at the end of the tippet. Now depending upon the size of wire the hook is made
of: if it is a thin wire hook like a dry fly hook (which I tie all my nymphs on) run the tail of
the fly through the loop of the slip knot; if it is a heavy wire hook run the hook-eye through
the loop of the slip knot. In both cases position the loop of the slip knot between the head
of the fly and the hook-eye and tighten the slip knot with the knot of the slip knot on the
back side of the hook. Then pull the slack out of the tippet from the belly side of the hook. If you tied it correctly, on the thin wire hook the slip knot is between the hook-eye
head of the nymph. The tippet is in front of the slip knot coming through the hook-eye. For the
heavy wire hook the loop tightens at the same position but on top of the tippet. The
Straight-Eyed hook is tied in the same manner depending upon the weight of the fly.
For light flies the slip knot tightens behind the tippet, for heavy flies the slip knot
tightens over the tippet.
For the TUE hook there is only one choice for tying “horizontal hook-point-up”. Put the tippet
through the belly side of the hook. Tie a slip knot on the end of the tippet. Run the hook-eye
through the loop of the slip knot. Position the loop of the slip knot between the hook-eye and
the head of the nymph. Tighten from the back side of the hook. Pull the slack of the tippet
back through the belly side of the hook-eye. If tied correctly the slip knot loop is over the tippet.
Questions & Answers
Have you asked yourself whether or not this could make a difference in
other types of fishing: soft-hackles, streamers, maybe dry flies? Let’s just say
it depends on how you are presenting them. Are you fishing them like a
nymph? Then yes it does.
Which style of the three hooks (Straight-Eyed, TUE, and TDE)
do you think I choose for my nymphs? My preference is Straight-Eyed dry fly
hooks. The hook-gape is not lessened by the hook-eye and the light
wire penetrates the flesh and bone of the fish with less force. Which is
essential when your tippet is 6X and smaller.
Do I tie my nymph's back on the hook's belly. No I
don't, who would buy them that way? But I do give the entire fly a half twist on the hook after
I tie them on my tippet.
I tie my jigs on different also but that’s another
article as well.
Rare is the nymph fisherman that will take the time to be this meticulous when tying on
his/her nymph. But -- I am a rare nymph fisherman and my reputation is a testament of its worth.