Freshwater techinques can help saltwater anglers

Line-to-leader connections used in freshwater can work well for saltwater anglers too. (Photo by Chris Burrows)

Freshwater tips for salty anglers

Saltwater anglers can sometimes develop a bit of arrogance. I didn’t realize how bad I had gotten until family life led me to reconnect with freshwater fishing, which I had been away from for nearly 15 years. 

Years of fishing mostly offshore, with a few trout, flounder, and drum trips mixed in had caused me to develop some sort of weird bias against fishing in lakes, streams, and ponds, which was what I grew up doing. Thankfully, I saw the error of my ways. 

While fishing for mountain trout and largemouth bass hasn’t supplanted my desire to catch fish that swim in the ocean, I’m happy to say that I enjoy it all, once again. What’s more, learning new techniques to catch freshwater fish (seems that a lot has changed in nearly two decades) has helped me develop as a saltwater angler too, especially with light tackle. It can be helpful to you too. Here’s one way how.

People who are proficient at catching freshwater trout and bass are very often wizards when it comes to fishing with light line. Fly fishermen especially are extremely adept at making light line connections that don’t diminish much of their line’s rated strength.

Which knot?

We have a bit of a cushion when it comes to fishing offshore, and you are trolling 30- or 50-pound outfits for dolphin, often with leaders constructed out of 100-pound mono or No. 9 wire. Even if you hook a monster, the drag on the reel is generally set well beneath the rated breaking strength of the line. If you are wading a river in Western North Carolina and the fish are spooky, you may well have to go to a 6x or 7x tippet to get a bite. A 7x tippet has an average breaking strength of 2.2 pounds. And it’s feasible to hook a trout that weighs well over that in a bigger river. It’s a different experience entirely, but it comes down to making good connections and using your tackle appropriately.

I struggled with one of my bass fishing connections for most of a season. My problem was finding a knot that connected braid to my fluorocarbon that not only held a good amount of strength, but also slipped through the guides on my baitcasting rods. I spent a lot of time experimenting with Uni-to-Uni connections, Albright knots, and the Slim Beauty. But I was less than enthralled with all of the results.

The loop-to-loop connection was the winner out of the bunch due to retained strength. But I just wasn’t happy with the size of the knot that created the loop in the fluorocarbon. I had to leave the leader outside of the top guide when casting, which either drastically reduced my casting accuracy or forced me to fish a shorter leader than I wanted. This wasn’t a setup I would be comfortable chasing drum or specks with. Eventually I decided I had to find a better way.

The Nail Knot

A knot based on the venerable fly-fishing connection known as the “Nail Knot” saved the day. I tied Nail Knots religiously in the era of my life where I lived in the mountains and chased trout all the time. Returning to that hobby, virtually everyone has gone to a loop-to-loop since fly line manufacturers started selling lines with a loop welded into the end of the line. The Nail Knot has all but disappeared. However, it is a strong connection that looks complex at first. With some practice, it becomes relatively simple to tie if you use a straw or a purpose-made tool. 

The Nail Knot is perfect for attaching a thinner diameter line to a thicker one, with the wraps of the knot being made from the thinner line around the thicker line. Fly fishermen use it to attach backing or their monofilament leader to thick plastic fly line. In this case, braided line forms the wraps around a fluorocarbon leader. 

I started by simply tying the Nail Knot between the two lines and testing. Sometimes this worked, but sometimes it slipped off. After all, fluorocarbon and PowerPro are both very slick lines. I experimented with a different number of wraps, but always to the same result. Then I tried something a bit different and got exactly the result I wanted on the first try. Subsequent tests gave the exact same result. 

Proper tool helps

I tied the Nail Knot first, using 10 to 12 wraps around my Nail Knot tool. I made sure I left plenty of the tag end on both lines as well. I pulled the Nail Knot tight, to a point that it wouldn’t back off. But I stopped short of cinching it down completely, and making the knot “pop” into place. Then, with the tag end of the fluorocarbon, I tied a five turn Uni knot around the braid. I pulled it about 80 percent tight but didn’t pop it into place either. I then slowly put pressure on the running end of each line to pull the knots together and only then did I pop each knot to cinch them down completely. I put two half-hitches on the end of each knot, pulling them down as far as I could. Then I used my nippers to cut the tag ends as close as possible. 

While I haven’t put the breaking strength of the connection on the scale just yet, it more than passed the test where you put on leather gloves and try to break it yourself. What I found was a very solid knot where the castability of the connection far exceeds any braid-to-fluorocarbon knot that I had previously tried. It worked great on my last trip to the pond to catch bass. And it has already landed red drum well above the slot limit with no issues.

Keep an open mind

I adore fluorocarbon leaders. If there has ever been a magic bullet when it comes to leader material, that is it for me. Where others are fishing tiny traces of fluorocarbon or mono, or even going directly to the hook with the braid, I want a few feet of fluorocarbon, always. It sinks, and I swear the fish don’t see it like they see other leader material. Now I can pretty much fish any length of leader that I want, and I don’t have to worry about a knot being inside the guides on my baitcasting rod. 

I like to use a sliding popping cork with live shrimp in the fall and early winter for specks. And I know that this is where this new (to me, anyway) knot is going to pay off the most. That setup demands a long leader, because bobber stops simply don’t work with braided line. I can fish pretty much any length leader that I want now, with the stopper knot as far up the line as I desire, and I don’t have to worry about it.

We can learn a lot from anglers who don’t even fish in saltwater. They fish in different places, oftentimes for species that we have never seen in person. Some of them are incredibly good at what they do. You might be surprised at how well some of their tricks translate to what we do in tidal creeks, sounds, the pier, or even offshore. A modified knot that came with knowledge I got early in my fly-fishing days is just one example of information that can be picked up if you just keep an open mind.

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