When I began fly fishing, one of the intimidating skills to master was tying knots. There were so many to learn! One to attach your backing to the reel (arbor knot), one to attach your flyline to the backing (Duncan loop or Bimini twist), another to attach your leader to the flyline (nail knot), one to attach tippet to leader (blood knot, or double surgeons loop), and finally a knot to attach a fly to your tippet (clinch, Duncan loop, Davy knot, etc.). Some knots were specifically useful for joining two lines of differing diameter or construction.
Regardless of the knot used, there were some instructions that were common for all.
First, the knots have to be tied exactly. Deviations, whether intentional or accidental would likely result in a knot failure, which could mean losing a fish of a lifetime.
Second, knots should be moistened before drawing them tight. This allows the loops of line to slide into place properly.
Third, friction is important to the knot holding properly, but too much friction when drawing the knot tight could actually damage the knot and cause it to fail when under pressure, even though it looks fine. So draw the knot together slowly – take time for the knot to properly form under a small amount of gradual pressure.
Finally, test the knot before use. Inspect it visually, and place pressure on it to make sure it holds under stress.
As I started fly fishing, I kept a little instruction book in my vest to remind me how to tie certain knots. It took a lot of time for my unlearned fingers to tie each knot, and I had to refer to the book often. I hated changing flies or breaking my tippet becuase it took me 10 minutes and multiple attempts to tie a new knot.
I noticed that there were lots of knots I could choose to learn, but only a few that I used a lot. I determined to learn those 3 or 4 knots very well. I practiced at home. I watched videos of other people tying them. And I fished.
I lost fish due to my lack of knot tying expertise. I could tell when the knot failed because the line showed little corkscrews where the knot had been before it fell apart. I would get angry at myself, and feel guilty for not being a better fisherman. Then I pulled out the little book and started over again, trying to do better and hopefully learning from my mistakes.
Early on after a knot would fail, I would re-tie. The next fish I caught would leave me weak in the knees, knowing that thin gossamer lines with my feeble knots were the only thing that connected me to the life on the other end. The trout would shake its head, sending vibrations up the line through my rod and to my hand like electricity; the current alternating between terrorizing and thrilling me.
As time went on, my connections improved. As my knots improved, so did my catch rates. Still, years later there are times that my connections fail. Sometimes I am unable to determine why. Perhaps the tippet material was faulty from manufacture. Or perhaps it had grown weak because of the environment it was exposed to, ultraviolet rays damaging in ways the eye cannot perceive. Even though my tying was practiced and I has confidence in it, perhaps I took my skills for granted and the knot failed due to my inattention.
Always, I begin again. Practicing the fundamentals, but never guaranteed success. In order to catch fish, I must risk losing fish.
I must risk the embarrassment of losing a fish among friends or onlookers. I must chance smirks and heads shaken sadly at my apparent lack of skill.
But when the trophy is landed…isn’t it worth the risk?
As a child my connections to life were simple and clumsy. I reveled in those ties, and celebrated short lived victories much more than I mourned over the losses.
As a teenage boy, my attempts at connection had matured, but they were still unsure and often faulty.
In my first marriage, I thought I was skilled at the connections of matrimony. So I allowed myself to be distracted with other things; and taking my skill for granted I lost that connection.
After that, there was a period of time when I chose to no longer seek connection, but rather to insulate and protect myself from loss, and the smirks of others. I vowed never to lose a connection again, and feel the pain of loss; the guilt of failure.
But then slowly, with help and encouragement from others, I reached into my vest for a little book for instructions, and began to tie again. The book said in part ” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
I paid attention to how the new connection was constructed, and remembered that a little friction was inportant…but not too much. I didn’t take the connection or my skill in creating it for granted. I allowed time for the knot to intertwine and come together correctly with small amounts of gradual pressure, the two disimilar materials to binding into one. The knot was formed, seated, and has been tested.
The new connection has electricity; it still leaves me weak in the knees. Periodically I check the knots and they are strong and hold fast.
And, oh, the trophy was worth the risk.
“Life is not tried, it is merely survived, standing outside the fire”
– Garth Brooks