Fly Fishing,    Insider,    Fly Fishing for Beginners

How Do I Tie on My Fly

By Eric Shores 5/17/2016 5 minutes

I remember as a kid fishing the beaver ponds in the mountains with my grandfather. Grandpa never was big on sitting around untangling kid's fishing lines, which I'm sure you understand. Anyone who has fished with kids knows that most of your time is spent trying to keep their lines in the water. I think he figured I would learn more if I fixed my own messes, so I chose to tie my flies on with a series of overhand, granny knots. It worked. I caught lots of 8 to 10 inch rainbows. The recipe for success back then was a Lead Winged Coachman with a tiny bit of angle worm on the back. But I digress.

The point is that one day up at the beaver pond I hooked “Walter,” a whopping, 14 inch cutbow.  I wanted that trophy so bad I could taste it.  I already pictured myself presenting it to my grandfather, when suddenly Walter took a great run across the pond toward the pile of sticks that made up the dam. I had never experienced such strength and power. I tried to slow him down but all was for naught. The line snapped right at the knot and all hope of landing Walter was dashed.

Read More Learning to Fly Fish in Montana

Grandpa thought it was hilarious - me not so much  (I could have been a hero). It was then that he decided I really did have the fishing gene. I was serious about it and I wanted to learn. The reason I had lost the fish was due to my choice of knots.  A simple overhand in monofilament cuts into itself, weakening the line by up to 60%. That's why, knowing what I know now, I don't recommend putting wind knots in your leader.  A 60% loss in strength when you're already fishing 5x, doesn’t leave you with much. So began my formal training as a fly fisherman.

Experimenting with the Clinch Knot

First on the list, the fisherman's knot or the clinch knot. You know, the one around and around back through the loop, wet with a little saliva and pull tight. Later as my education continued, my uncle, an incredible fly fisherman, introduced me to the “improved” clinch. With this knot you add one more step and go back through the last loop you just made. This locks the knot and keeps it from slipping. It's recommended to learn this knot if you are a beginning fly fisherman.  

Has your leader ever come back with no fly and little curly cues on the end?  If so, the knot slipped. My suggestion?  Add my uncle's improved version of the clinch knot to your repertoire.  I always remind my clients to remember to wet the knot.  I wet all my monofilament knots.  As you pull mono tight the friction of the knot tightening creates  heat, which weakens the filament. Keeping it wet helps to cool it down. 

The improved clinch was my go to knot for years. I could tie it under any conditions - extreme cold, pitch black darkness, whatever. One day, this all changed. While I was guiding a father and his two sons, one 12 and one 14 yrs old, I found myself in for a big surprise. These kids were really good. The 12 year old knew how to double haul and could put a streamer 2 inches from the bank every time. They both tied up their own gear and all their own knots.

A Fascinating Discovery


I was watching the younger of the two tying on his fly and I realized it wasn't a clinch knot. I thought he was going with my old system - just a bunch of grannies - but when I looked his fly was tied on a nice little loop. I tested the knot for strength and found it to be more than adequate.  When I asked him what kind of knot it was, he told me it was a double surgeon.  I had used double surgeons for years to tie on a tippet, but I'd never heard of using it for tying on a fly.  

He showed me how to tie it. It was simple, fast and strong, but most of all it allowed the fly to move freely on the loop, resulting in much greater movement and action. To tie the surgeon's loop, thread the leader through the eye, throw a loop in the two lines, and go through the loop with the fly twice. If you tighten the knot at this point, the loop will be too large. Instead, you need to hook the loop over the eye of the fly, then slowly tighten it until it cinches right up close to the eye, then let it slip off before it tightens around the hook eye. This gives you a sweet little loop and a fly with lots of wiggle and sass.  I've been tying my loops like this ever since.

Read More Fly Fishing Tips: Dropper or No Dropper?

I believe that no matter how thin you go on a tippet, the fish can see the line. If they can see a size 20 mayfly nymph at midnight on a moonless night (and I know they can) they can see your tippet. What gives it away is not the tippet size but how the fly behaves on the end of the tippet. When a tippet is too thick, the fly behaves like it is on a piece of wire and appears very unnatural. Typically thinner tippets will get better action, although this matters less if you're fishing streamers, dries or dead drifting nymphs. The beauty of the loop is that you can get away with murder on tippet size, because the fly is free to move and wiggle in the loop.

So if everyone else is fishing 4x you can go to 3 or even 2x.  I'm always a big fan of fishing the thickest tippet possible. I think it makes it easier to quickly get the fish in, raising the odds you will actually get it into the net. It also reduces the stress on the fish, making it more likely that you'll see that same fish on another day.  A thicker tippet is also better for ripping the flies out of the grass when your cast to the bank has gone out 2 inches too far.

The Secret to the Kids' Success

A little side note on the kids. On the way up in the car their dad told me how his kids catch scads of big fish while he never seems to catch any. Later I got to thinking about this loop - could it really make that much difference? We stopped at a nice wading stretch on the Madison. Their dad went upstream and I went downstream with the boys. We stopped at a nice deep hole that I knew was home to some mighty big fish.  We ran a bugger and a bead through and got a couple of 12 inchers.

I figured that was about it, and it was time to get back to the boat to meet up with their father. Then the older of the two said “let's see what is really in this hole," and he pulled out a 4 inch long, deep-diving rapala.  And see he did! He proceeded to whack a 19 incher followed by a 20 inch brown. He had his own system for casting it, then the perfect swing through the hole. WHAM!  So that's how you two catch all those big fish. "Yep," he said, "But please don't tell our dad.  If he finds out we’re either both dead or grounded for a month!" 

Never did see that crew again but who would guess what a veteran fishing guide like me could learn from a 12 yr old.  Today I use the surgeon's loop to tie flies almost exclusively, and because of it, I land more big fish.  So if you're sitting around waiting for the wind to go down or the rain to stop, grab a piece of mono and practice a surgeon's loop. You might just like it. 

Read More Fly Fishing Tips: When to Use a Sinking Line

This is a small town with a big heart, a veritable fisherman’s paradise. Located near the fish-filled Madison River, and surrounded by the waters of Ennis Lake, the Ruby River, Hebgen ... moreLake, Quake Lake, Henry’s Lake, the Big Hole River and scores of smaller streams, the town boasts what many consider the best trout fishing in the world. As well known for its wranglers as its anglers, Ennis has succeeded in maintaining the look and feel of its original, gold town roots. Warm and hospitable, the area offers a wide variety of accommodations ranging from simple campsites, rustic motels and gracious hotels, to full-service, luxury resorts. Fly shops are numerous, stocked by local experts ready to advise and assist, while guides can be booked for trips throughout the area.

Boredom is the only thing unavailable in Ennis. Throughout the summer season the city hosts a series of events, including its renowned 4th of July Celebration Parade and a genuine, old-fashioned rodeo. In August, fly-fishing luminaries from around the US, flock to Montana to compete in the Madison Fly Fishing Festival. Athletes also find their way to Ennis to compete in the city’s Madison Trifecta, two shorter races followed by a full Marathon at 9000 feet, the highest elevation run in America. For the true sportsman, October falls in with the annual Hunter’s Feed. What’s caught, typically elk, moose deer, pheasant and bobcat, gets cooked on the streets and served up to hungry spectators.

Flanked by three grand mountain ranges, The Tobacco Root, Gravelly and Madison, Ennis is scenic and entertaining – truly an authentic, fly fisher’s haven.
Fishing Waters
The Madison River is arguably one of the best trout fishing rivers in all of southwest Montana, if not the entire world! It’s certainly the most talked over, written up and frequented ... morein the state of Montana – which is considered by some the capital of fly fishing. Anglers will find plenty of great access sites to wade or float along the Madison’s banks and reservoirs (including Hebgen Lake and Ennis Lake). Rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and more abound in this majestic fishing stream.

The Madison begins its course almost twenty miles into Yellowstone National Park. Within the Park, fishing rules apply: no live bait and catch and release only. Once outside the Park the river meanders past working ranches, stately conifer forests and cottonwood lined banks, interrupted by riffles and quiet runs that contain large rainbow and trophy brown trout. Flowing alongside Yellowstone’s West entrance road, the river enters Hebgen Lake, created by Hebgen dam, until it reaches Quake Lake, a bit downstream from the dam. At this point the river is commonly called either the Upper Madison or the Lower Madison, although in fact, they are one and the same.

Upper Madison – Quake Lake to Ennis Lake
Directly below Quake Lake the river roars into 5 long miles of Class V whitewater with steep gradients and large boulders along the way. As the rapids decline, the magic begins. For the next 53 miles, often referred to as the 50 Mile Riffle, the cold river runs north and the fish jump high. Annual runs of spawning trout make their way from Hebgen Lake, rainbows in the spring and browns in the fall. Known the world over for its “hard fighting” trout, it’s not unusual to pull a 25” brown from these upper waters. In deference to the purists and fly-fishing enthusiasts, it’s wading only from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge. Boats may be used to access the river, but if you’re going to fish, your feet must be on the riverbed. Fortunately, the Hebgen Dam releases water throughout the year, leveling its flows and relieving it of spring runoff issues and summer shrinkage.

Lower Madison – Ennis Lakes to Three Forks
A short section of the river between Ennis Dam and the power station maintains relatively low water levels and provides wonderful opportunities for wading. Past the power station the river regains its muscle and for 7 miles winds through Bear Trap Canyon. Hiking trails offer the only entry, great for those that like to walk and seek the solitude of a designated wilderness area. Floating is permitted but requires a lengthy shuttle and the ability to work through Class III-IV whitewater. Once out of the canyon the river flows in shallow riffles until it reaches Three Forks and joins the Missouri. From Warm Springs to Greycliff, the river is easily accessible for drifters and wading.
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
3 days
Experience the Madison River Like Never Before Learn the best spots on the Madison River with 3 great fishing days with Red Mountain Adventures. Eric Shores, with over 35 years of ... moreexperiencing guiding on the Madison River will take you down a journey of the best places to fish.

The journey starts on the Upper Madison River on a guided float trip covering about 8-11 miles of premier fly fishing water. The following day includes a recipe (location flies, and technique) on a do it yourself wade location near the fly fishing town of Ennis. The third day moves you on to where the Madison River dumps into Ennis Lake for a full float day stalking the giants.

Note: The order or location may change based on where the best spots are at the time.
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2 - 8 anglers
3 days - 7 days
Experience the best of Montana fly fishing with our authentic all-inclusive packages at the T Lazy B Ranch. We fish some of the most famous Montana trout rivers including the Madison ... moreRiver, the Jefferson River, and the Yellowstone River.

Packages include:

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7 night/6 day lodging, meals and 6 days of guided fishing

Pricing assumes double accupancy 
/ Boat
1 - 2 anglers
5 hours - 1 day
Join us for a fun day of fishing on one the Madison River, one of the top rated trout rivers in the US, and a legend in southwest Montana.
Welcome to Southwest Montana's finest fly fishing adventures. Blue ribbon trout water is literally steps away when you visit us in the picturesque town of Ennis, Montana. You may spend ... morethe day on our home river, the world famous Madison or drive to one of our other local rivers such as the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby or the Jefferson. Whether you are a new angler or an old pro we have the expertise and patience to make your time on the water chasing wild trout a success.


Eric Shores

Eric Shores has been guiding clients on Montana Rivers for over 32 years. He's as wily as any old brown trout when it comes to getting his clients on to fish and his stories will entertain you along the way. Many of our clients have become life long friends after a memorable day on the water with Eric.


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