How Many Knots Do You Really Need To Know?

Through all but the first two of my many years, I’ve been a fisherman. As such, I’ve learned to tie lures and hooks to leaders directly or dangling from a loop, to connect lines to leaders, to splice lines of similar and dissimilar diameter and material, and to perform each of those tasks in low light or no light, with or without reading glasses.  

With confidence, I can tie maybe 12 acknowledged fishing knots but only can name half of them.

As drawn from the back-cover claim of a book on the subject, written by old friend Bob McNally, there are roughly 200 known, named knots for fishing. From a distance, most appear to be variations on common themes. Under the microscope (or my nose-rider readers), each actually does include some subtle uniqueness incorporated for rare and specific applications. 

Which leaves each of us, as fishermen, with this choice: Either earn a Ph. D. in fishing knots (of equal real-world value as mastery of the kazoo), or learn some quick, functional connections and spend the majority of your fishing time actually fishing. 

I’ll concede that knots are important – critically so – to successful fishing. A great knot seals the deal. A failed knot is the equivalent of a zero on a final exam. Rather than study and practice the knots in your textbook, you sat in a back corner and licked the glue off the pages.

To do their jobs, knots must be tied precisely and snugly. There is no “almost” or “good enough” in this arena. Just right and wrong. And still, in the end, complex knots seem little more than baby backlashes with instructions.

In support of that claim, I’ll suggest this: Without restraints on time or required steps, any of us could create a new fishing knot. A couple of twists and turns, pull this through that, then make another loop and push the rabbit through the hole, then bake it at 350 degrees for 10 minutes…and VOILA! New knot. Go ahead. Name it after yourself. 

Or, you can establish an orbit nearer the planet and identify a handful of fairly simple but proven connections, one for each valid need, and train yourself to tie them at dusk and dawn under pressure: Everyone’s fighting a fish but you, the sun’s going down, and you have to change lures right now or be ridiculed through eternity for not hooking up. Even if you can master only three or four from the hundreds of fishing knots deftly tied on command by people who pride themselves in that ability, congratulations, you’re not obsessed. If you can tie more than 20 fishing knots and name them aloud as they’re being licked and pulled tight, you’re knot obsessed. And nobody ever caught a fish while they were tying a knot.

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