The Clinch Knot, Improved
by Lily Morris
On a cloudy late august afternoon, I arrive in West Tisbury at the house of outdoorsman Nelson Bryant to learn about fishing knots. Instantly, I’m made to feel at home when his partner, Ruth, offers me a Blondie and milk, and they make sure I sit to the left of Nelson’s chair so I can speak to his good ear.
As a young boy on the Island in the early ‘30s, Nelson fished for bluefish and stripers with what he calls the “heave & haul” method. Using marline–a twine made of tarred hemp–he would tie the hook and sinker on with a bowline or some other simple knot, bait it with a chunk of alewife or squid, and heave the line into the water. When it came time to haul it back, he would wrap the line around a shingle as he pulled it in. If he grew impatient of that method, he’d just turn and run straight up the beach towards the dunes, dragging the line in behind him. Marline was easier to tie, less expensive, and of a slightly larger diameter than the linen or silk lines that were available then, making it a better choice for hand-lining.
At the age of 10 or 11, Nelson’s father gave him a rod and reel for surfcasting. It was strung with fine linen twine, which also needs just a simple knot to attach a hook or lure. Nelson explained, “It wasn’t until after WWII that they came up with monofilament—‘mono’ for short.” Mono is made of a single strand of nylon with varying breaking strengths—it can be quite strong, but it has a slick texture. Traditional fishing knots won’t stay tied with mono, so fishermen developed new knots to use with it.
On the old wooden table in front of us, Nelson has already gathered a couple spools of mono, hooks, and a pair of fingernail clippers to cut the line. With practiced hands, he snips a length of mono and starts the twists for the improved clinch knot (see illustration), used to tie monofilament to a hook, lure, or swivel. He completes the knot, and before he snugs it tight, he slips it quickly in and out of his mouth, explaining that the best conditions for seating a knot in mono are a little moisture (saliva works well) and steady even pressure. The improved clinch is favored by fishermen for its strength, keeping the line at 95 to 100% breaking strength. Anytime you tie a knot in a line, it weakens the line, so a knot with close to 100% strength is a good one.
When Nelson sees me start to look a bit lost in his discourse, as he continues on about leaders and fishing rods of different types, he gets up, saying “Let me get a rod to show you… stay right where you are.” A few minutes later, he reappears with a couple of fishing rods and a twinkle in his eye. I think how lucky I am to have found a new friend; especially such a generous, self-proclaimed “haphazard Yankee” who loves to share his enjoyment of the Island’s bountiful outdoors.