How to Tie a Fly

Scott Linden • July 09, 2024

If you never have to tie on a new fly, you’re not fishing hard enough. Trees, rocks, brush and once in a while a big trout will part you from your fly. Or a dry fly hatch starts, and you’ve got a wet fly on your line. It’s tie on another one or go home and make up excuses.

If you’d rather keep fly fishing than do chores, you’ll need to learn the clinch knot, the simplest way to attach a fly to a leader. And just like fly casting, driving a golf ball, or shooting straight, you’ll want to practice before you head to the stream. Here’s how:

Go big, first

The trick here – and on every fishing knot, for that matter – is to allow plenty of tag end to work with. Life is better with more of what sailors call “standing end,” the leftover that’s beyond the knot itself.

Start with a hefty cord and anything with a loop in it you can pretend is your fly’s hook. Run the tag end of your oversized tippet (the thinnest part of your leader) through the hook eye.

Once through the hook eye, leave a big “hole” at the eye and wrap the end five times around the tippet. Still got enough tag end, right? Run the end through that big hole you left. Touch the knot with your tongue to lubricate it, hold the tag end with one hand and the tippet with the other, and gently pull tight. Cut off the tag and go fishing.

Image relating to How to Tie a Fly

Make life simple(r)

Here are some things that make knot-tying simpler and less stressful: Before you fish, clear out the glue from all your fly’s eyes by poking with a pin. On the water reel in most of your loose line so you’re not managing it in swirling currents. Tuck your rod under your arm so both hands are free. Hold your fly and leader at eye level, and as it gets toward dusk, even higher to see them better in what’s left of the light. And if you’re um, of a certain age, invest in a pair of reading glasses or flip-down magnifying lenses.

Another loop if you like

Okay, if you’re ready for the next challenge and the fish are bigger, you can tie an “improved” clinch knot with one more step. Before you tighten the knot, bring the tag end back up above your spiraled line, leaving a loop. Thread the tag through it, lube it up and pull tight. That’ll do for just about any fish short of a big steelhead.

Perfect practices makes …

Got it? Now, practice a few dozen times with the cord, then a big fly on your thickest leader. Dial it down to your smallest fly and lightest tippet. Do all that before you ever set foot in the stream so when go-time comes and you need a fly change, it’s a piece of cake, even waist-deep in the current.

Now, you can fish the hard-to-reach spots, drift deep, make those tricky casts between trees with confidence … because you can always tie on a new fly.

For a visual demonstration, be sure to check out the video above!

--Scott Linden