Only 3 knots? Really?

In our post, Knots: Back to Basicswe took a step back and talked about what we believe are some principals that should guide you in your knot exploits.  That knots are a big deal was hopefully conveyed quite clearly.  Similarly, we discussed how knots can be just plain intimidating.

Good news! There’s no need to fear, for is here!  I’m here today to proclaim the following: You only need to know 3 knots for most any fly fishing situation. Just 3!

3 Knots
Admittedly, I’m doing a little hand-waving here.  Let’s assume your backing is attached to the spool and the backing to the fly line.  Now you only need to know 3 knots.  Besides, you can tie the others at home, take as long as you like, and cheat to your heart’s content with videos, drawings, and even super glue if you like.  The simple fact of the matter is that there are 3 crucial connections that must regularly be made in fly fishing.  The first is the point at which your leader attaches to your fly line.  The second is where your leader attaches to your tippet.  The final, and most important, is where your tippet attaches to your fly.  We’ve got guidance for all three.

For each of the animations below, think of the blue line as the one closest to your fly and the green one as the one closest to your reel.  Don’t worry, I’ll identify what’s what for each knot.

Fly line to leader: The Castwell Knot

This one seems a little too easy. All you need is a leader with a loop in it!  The fly fishing rendition was named for James Castwell, the (supposed) first guy to use it.  He discusses on his webpage here.

What we really have is a knot known to those in the rope-knot world as the “sheet bend,” applied instead to fly fishing.  It’s also known as the flag knot, lap knot, and weavers’ bend in other circles.  I’m telling you all of this for one reason: I want to convince you that it’ll hold, and hold well.  If it’s so widely used, it’s got to be a good one, right?  Trust me, it’s strong and it doesn’t let go.  Seriously.

Its low bulk also makes it easy to pull through the guides.  While I’ll suggest never to pull the end of the fly line back through the tip of the rod unless you’re moving spots or done for the day, this helps in the situations when it does happen.  The tip of your favorite rod thanks you!

Castwell Knot

Green is your fly line, blue is your leader with a loop in it.

  1. Lay your fly line over the loop in the leader
  2. Bring the fly line around the back of the loop in the leader
  3. Thread the tag end of the fly line over the main fly line and through the leader’s loop
  4. Wet it and cinch it down.  Trim the tag!


When changing to a new leader, simply cut off the small length of fly line used to attach it, or even back it out.  With a little coercion, it’s actually possible to do.  The relieving fact is that there are absolutely no circumstances in the world of fly fishing I can envision that would apply the correct pressure to back it out .  It’s not coming out until you say so!

In case you can’t manage to back it out when done, use the smallest tag end of fly line you can. This way, you are cutting off the smallest amount of fly line possible when changing to a fresh leader.  Considering the length of most fly line heads, you can change dozens of leaders without ever hindering fly line performance!

Caveat: You must pull it tight after you tie it.  Yank on it a few times. Now yank it again! This won’t be a problem, as you’ll likely be jerking it around to no end to see if it’s going to slip.  Some anglers have noted that the knot won’t work with sinking lines due to the density of their materials.  I’m here to say they’re wrong!  You’ve just have to make sure you’ve got it cinched down all the way. Do it right, and it won’t let go!


Leader to tippet: The J Knot

This is the knot to use when joining two pieces of line.  A surgeon’s knot also works and is even a little easier, but I’m giving you the J Knot for a few reasons. First, the J knot is stronger.  Second, it will never slip, a problem that can plague the surgeon’s when joining very different lines. Finally, it’s very similar to the final knot I’ll show, so learning 3 knots becomes a lot more like learning 2!

J Knot

Green is your leader, blue is your tippet.

  1. Overlap the leader and tippet by several inches
  2. Form a loop by tying a (loose) simple overhand knot with the tag end of the leader and tippet, pulling the entire length of tippet through
  3. Loop the leader tag and tippet around the outside of the original loop (on the “opposite side”), then thread it back through the original loop the same as in step 2
  4. Repeat this process one more time, pulling the tag end of the leader and the tippet around the outside of the original loop and back through, same as before.
  5. Wet it, cinch it down, and trim off tag ends!


There are renditions which involve one more step of around-the-outside then back through the loop, though I’ve never had issues with slippage when tied as above.  Add one more step if you’d like.

Caveat: This knot works best with an unimpeded length of tippet.  What I mean is that it’s not easy when you’ve got a fly attached to one end.  This seems like an unlikely situation, but it’s worth mentioning.  Tie this one before you tie your fly on.

Tippet to fly: The Double Davy Knot

A true 5 second tie! Try that with a Palomar, improved clinch, San Diego jam, or any other knot. This one eliminates all the twisting, tucking, and turning as well.  To me, this only means less compromising of line strength.  Win win!

Double Davy Knot

The blue line is your tippet, and the orange scissor handle is the eye of the hook.

  1. Thread the tippet through the hook eye and tie a simple (loose) overhand knot.
  2. Pull the tag across the loop, loop it around the outside, then thread it through the middle again.
  3. Do this one more time, pulling the tag across the loop, looping it around the outside, and threading it through the middle.
  4. Wet it, cinch it down, and trim the tag!


As I alluded to earlier, this is a knot that bears great semblance to the J Knot shown above.   A “single” Davy knot is indeed an even simpler tie, but it slips when using very small tippet.  No good! While we preach simplicity, the ultimate goal is a strong knot that you can use reliably in all situations.  Use it to attach fly to tippet, then to attach a dropper as well.

Knots for all!

See? Much easier than you might’ve thought.  Take a few minutes to practice these at home and commit them to muscle memory, and you’re set for life.  We hope you enjoyed and that we’ve made your fly fishing adventure just a little easier.  Feedback is always welcome.  Until next time, tight lines!



Article Name
Knots: 3 are all you need!
Knots: The only 3 you need to know to go fly fishing! We show the Double-Davy, the J, and the Castwell. Simplicity is key. Who knew knots could be so easy?