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Rated line strength isn't necessarily an indication of knot strength

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 5/26/2012

In a recent post the question was asked how big a fish would be required to break six pound line. Surprisingly, the answer is a very small fish under certain circumstances, and very large under others. I answered the post and also used this topic as basis of my tip in the recent Fish Explorer newsletter.  So I thought I might expound a bit further on the realities of line and knot strength in terms of monofilament (and fluorocarbon).

First off, when you purchase a line, say eight pound test, what are you buying?  It’s my understanding that most line strengths are minimums, meaning the line will break at or above the rated strength.  So a line that always breaks at ten pound or better could be sold as ten, eight, six, or less.  I’ve seen a variety of line diameters with the same line strengths and vice versa. Point is, when comparing line strengths, compare the diameters also.  Otherwise, you’re not making relative strength comparisons. 

Note if you decide chase line class records you need to get IGFA rated line. Those lines are manufactured to break at or below the strength listed.  Should you not use such line, the line class will be based on the highest strength the line you used tests out at.  Simply if you bought “normal” off the shelf line and set out to set the four pound line class record for catfish and happened to land your fish, you’d have to submit your line with your application.  If it broke over four pounds you’d be put in the next line class up and it might be good-by record.

Something I’ve always found to be mildly humorous is line strength is based on a knot free line.  Yep, it gets wrapped around “barrels” at both ends and stretched until it breaks.  Not a very realistic test from my viewpoint, as I have never figured out how to fish a line without some sort of connection, most commonly referred to as a knot.  You don’t normally see lines rated for knot strength do you?

Occasionally you’ll see an article rating lines for various properties, including knot strength, but with the constantly changing market place it’s difficult to keep up, and even within a brand manufacturing process get changed.  Further, everyone has different knot preferences and some knots work better than others for specific lines and purposes.  So what’s one to do?

I don’t have a clean answer, but I can share my solution to the problem in terms of my needs.

First off, I use the following knots for most of my fishing, improved clinch, clinch, double surgeon, triple surgeon, Duncan loop, blood knot, and Albright knot.  Second, I fish mostly monofilament leaders, and occasionally fluorocarbon. Third, as I’ve aged I’ve found that my knot tying isn’t as precise as it used to be.  Yep, I’m more prone to tie bad knots than ever.  Frustrating as hell when I make a cast and find my knot failed, even more so when fighting a fish, and my leader blows up on me, especially at the knot.

So what I want most in my leader material is for it to be forgiving of bad knots and retain a high degree of strength when they occur.  As a fly fisher I have a habit of adding knots (wind knots or better called casting knots) while fishing. So no matter how well I tie my knots, I know at some point while fishing I’m going to weaken the system with a few extra half-hitches.  Thus, a line that is a bit forgiving is a plus to me.

An easy way to get a feel a line’s knot holding strength is to throw a half-hitch (wind knot) into the line and pull steady until it breaks.  As half-hitches typically reduce the line strength by 50% or more, this simple technique with quickly expose whether a line can take “bad” knots and retain reasonable strength.  I avoid lines that break easily with a half-hitch and opt for those that hold up better to my bad knot tying practices. And rest assured some super strong lines fail at very low strength when a half-hitch is introduced.

This simple check shouldn’t be the only criteria when purchasing lines or leaders, but failure to give consideration to which knots will work best for your lines, fishing needs, and knot tying skills will cost you dearly as some point.  That is assuming it is important that you land that fish of a “life time”.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
channelcat13, 5/26/2012 12:13:06 PM
Awesome article, Dave. Thanks. For me, I exclusively fish the palomar knot for all hooks. I learned the dropper loop from saltwater fishing and will use that to slip on a second hook, or attach a weight. I could see the value of that loop for drop-shotting as well, although I don't do that except when rockcod fishing with ganions. When I was a kid, I was on a tuna boat once, and my step-dad rigged his gear up. He really liked the cinch knot. I took one look at his knot, and told him it was no good. He looked at me crazy. I told him to give it a jerk, and when he did, it came off! Recently, I was fishing lake pleasant in AZ with a friend for stripers from shore. We noticed a big bobber was missing from the surface, and my buddy told me to get it. I set the hook and in 3 seconds, a beefy striper was off. I thought I did something wrong. When I reeled in the line, however, I saw the dreaded, tell-tale sign of a cinch knot gone wrong. I then cursed him out for not using the palomar, which in my experience, only gets tighter. All of that being said, I do use the cinch knot (improved) for putting line on my spinning reels. Recently, however, I have figured out a way to use the palomar knot to put line on reels. In recent years, I have been "spooled" by several large cats and 1 wiper at P-Lo. In all of these instances, the line always broke before the knot, even with 30 lb braid! When I have been spooled using a cinch or improved cinch, my line is often completely gone. Perhaps I just suck at the cinch. It is the first knot I ever learned from a deckhand trying to teach an 8-year old how to fish, so I still have love for it. I just don't trust it. Great article, man! Thanks. Danny (CC13)
TroutLion, 5/26/2012 12:32:40 PM
Great article David! You have exposed the knotty truth.
MathGeek, 5/28/2012 6:31:55 PM Here's an article some students wrote on breaking strength of leaders with and without knots.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 5/28/2012 8:04:16 PM
Thanks for the article link. Rather nice when some posts an article that generally supports my "emperical" evidence article. Note that there were several line diameters. I wonder if any were IGFA rated? Didn't see that mentioned in the article.
Vanish, 5/29/2012 9:20:05 AM
You guys are going to hate me for this, but its an improved CLINCH knot, not CINCH. :D If you don't use the improved version, you'll definitely run into the old sprial occasionally. I don't see how that could happen with the improved version. One issue I have with the palomar knot is that you have to pass the line through the eye twice, which on small flies is impossible.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 5/29/2012 9:54:07 AM
Thank you for pointing that out. I never hate folks for making note of my errors, as we all make them. So I corrected my mistake (privilege of being an editor), so other note, I mispelled clinch as cinch. Every knot has a place, depending on line type. A clinch works well with heavier lines, whereas the improved is better where the clinch tends to slip.
takeakidfishing, 5/29/2012 12:27:35 PM
With most of my fishing done at night.I use knots that are easy to tie in the dark.I have never had problems with the Palomar knot or the simple clinch knot.When tied correctly both knots are easy to tie at night and hold up.Last weekend I pulled in a 20 lb plus carp using a clinch knot.It held up to the 5 plus minute fight without problems. Erik
takeakidfishing, 5/29/2012 12:29:37 PM
David I agree..A clinch knot used on 8lb test or higher has never failed me.However on 4 lb test it will slip on a tiny bluegill
itchyreelfinger, 5/29/2012 5:02:44 PM
I use the Improved Clinch knot about 80% of the time and the Palomar the other 20%. 5 wraps for braid, 6 for mono/flouro 10# plus and 7 wraps for anything under 10#. I will admit that I have had failed knots lose me fish but I would bet a dollar to a donut that the issue was my knot tying (being in a hurry, not lubricating it enough when I tighten it) and not the knot itself. I think the key to the Clinch Knot is how may wraps you make on different line weights.