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Operate Smoothly With the Surgeon's Knot

By Jason Borger - February 24th, 2003

A compendium of all the knots currently in use in fly fishing would likely make Gordian himself fit to be tied. At the core of that vast snarl of choices, however, are several fundamental knots (with a few slight variations) that will allow an angler to tackle everything from light trout to light salt. One of the most widely used, and widely useful, is the Surgeon's Knot. If you can tie an overhand knot, you can tie a Surgeon's Knot. There are three variations of the basic Surgeon's Knot that are the most generally applicable.

Surgeon's Loop
The first variation is the Surgeon's Loop, which can be used to create connector loops for leaders and tippets, as well as connecting the backing to the reel in lighter-duty applications. Here is an example for reel connection:

  • Fold a loop approximately eight inches long in the end of the backing material, and then tie an overhand knot, taking the loop of backing through the knot three times. Smoothly pull the backing loop and the ends of the material to tighten the knot. Cut the tag end close, and you've got your Surgeon's Loop (Figure 1). Now it needs to be attached to the reel.
  • Insert the loop through the front of the reel, snake it over the top of the spool arbor and then pull it back out the same opening it went into. Open the loop and take it over the top of the reel (so the reel is "captured" inside of the loop) and then pull the line tight. The loop will slide down on itself, forming a half-hitch and locking the backing to the arbor.
Surgeon's Knot
Rather than making a knot in a single piece of material, this knot is used to join two separate pieces of material (typically monofilament) (Figure 2). It is a particularly useful knot when joining two materials that have widely dissimilar diameters.
  • To attach the tippet to the leader body, for example, begin by overlapping the ends and forming an overhand knot with them. Take the long end of the tippet material and the short end of the leader body through the knot three times, and then pull all four ends smoothly to tighten the knot (lubricate this knot with water or saliva before pulling it tight).
  • Cut the knot close to prevent excessive hang-ups on weeds, algae, and other obstructions.
Now Close Your Eyes
The third variation of this knot is "worth its weight in gold" when night has fallen, the mosquitoes are on the hunt, and the fish are sloshing wildly somewhere out there in the black.
  • The initial step is no different than the traditional Surgeon's, but rather than making one loop and going twice through with the ends, make TWO loops and take the ends through ONCE. Pulled down it is the SAME knot (although it tends to waste slightly more material). And DON'T attempt to clip the tag ends; all the distractions of night-fishing make it far too easy to cut off the WRONG end.
  • Want another trick? Make the two loops around two spread fingers, then feed the ends back through the space between those two fingers. You never lose track of the knot even in complete darkness.

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