Terminal Tackle


by Scott Sadil

We could argue whether the Captain’s Knot, first taught to me by members of the Lucero family, from Baja’s Agua Amarga, is actually a perfection loop, a traditonal means in saltwater fishing to secure your fly, on a loop, to your tippet. 

Or, as McGuane once suggested, in discussing knot choice, we might, at the very least, “quibble darkly.”

Fishing knots are like that.  To claim they call forth strong opinions is like saying everybody has his or her favorite rock band, point guard, or tequila.  All knots have their pros and cons.  Some knots work better tied with one material than when tied with another.  Every knot can fail if not tied correctly.

But there’s more to it.  The knots you choose today are almost inevitably the ones that worked for you before.  Who’s going to change, risking God knows what, if the knot or knots you used in the past helped you land that lunker of a lifetime?

Toro and Efren Lucero

Today, of course, with experts crowding the margins of your YouTube screen, there’s no shortage of free advice.  My opinion?  You get what you pay for.  Guides and boat captains, on the other hand, do everything in their power to avoid knot failure—and they have the breadth of experience to back up their choices.  Watch them.  See what they tie.  Ask them to show you how it’s done.

That said, I’ll rarely let anybody tie a double or even triple surgeon’s knot in my leader, not if the stakes are high.  Blood knots only, thank you.  And I have a buddy who guided Tierra del Fuego’s Rio Grande, way back when, who had a client hook and lose a big sea-run brown, only to be told, while his client held up clear evidence of a failed knot, “That’s the last time you tie on a fly for me.”

I’ve heard my pal tell the story more than once.  That scolding still makes him wince.

When friends and I were figuring out how to fish the Baja surf, we relied on Practical Fishing Knots by Lefty Kreh and Mark Sosin, first published in 1972 by the old Winchester Press.

Oddly enough, the book doesn’t include the now popular Lefty Kreh loop knot. Nor does that same knot appear in Fly Fishing in Salt Water, Lefty’s book so many of used to refine our saltwater game.

Good fish demand good knots

Now, the so-called Kreh Knot or Kreh Loop goes by other names—the Non-Slip Mono Loop, for example, and it’s a close cousin to the Rapala Knot—and I’ve seen it tied by guides all around the world, or at least as far as I’ve roamed over the years.

Odder still, however, when I tie on my own flies for saltwater fishing, I never use it.  For me, it’s the Captain’s Knot.  Why?  Because it’s seen me through countless good fish, more than my share, if you care to know the truth.

At the same time, I never use a Captain’s Knot when I’m fishing for steelhead, never when I’m fishing for trout. 

What’s that about? 

What it’s about is that fishing—like gardening, breadmaking, and writing, to name but a few other pastimes—remains interesting to me, at my age, because of what I don’t know, what I can’t control, and the superstitions and faith and outright juju that delving in mysteries demands. 

Kurt Pawlak and roosterfish

Which isn’t to court the fool.  After hearing a youngster on a recent Baja trip describe a number of mishaps, I asked him, point blank, how many fish he had broken off since we arrived. “Oh, somewhere between twelve and fifteen,” he said, as though this was nothing out of the ordinary.

I hope I held my tongue.  Twelve?  Fifteen?  Son, you need to work on your knots.

If it were me, I’d be ready for a padded room.

Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil believes that fishing knots are like St. Peter, revealing truths from which you can’t hide.