Analyzing The Top 7 Fly Fishing Knots, Tippet To Fly [Clinch Ranked Last]

Published January 26, 2021

Do you question the knots you use on the river? If “knot” you should. This is a must-read for anglers of all experience levels.

Fly-fishing-trout-sketchDid you know that:

  1. Over 75% of fly anglers experience frustration when it comes to knots failing
  2. Almost 70% of fly anglers use either the clinch or improved clinch knot, tippet to fly

The #1 knot in our fly fishing index below showed a —very significant —66% increase in break strength over the clinch knot, when using fluorocarbon tippet material.

Let’s explore in more depth below !

Top-7-fishing-knots-ranked

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Chapter 1:

Research Study Overview

Fly-fishing-graduate

There’s hearsay and andecdotes and then there is hard data. Hundreds of hours testing and analyzing knot strength has lead to the Fly Fishing Knot Strength Index results below.

Overview

Because of our Anchor Fly Knot Strength Survey, which surveyed over 240 experienced anglers, as well as our own curiosity—we identified a problem and performed independent testing on fishing knot strength to solve this problem.

Problem

⇒76% of fly anglers experience some level of frustration when it comes to knots failingWoman casting

      • Of those, 55% expressed moderate to severe frustration
        • 35% of anglers experience extreme frustration

⇒Insight: 69% of all the anglers from the data in our survey use either

      • The clinch knot (41%) 
      • Or its “improved” brother the improved clinch knot (28%)

57% of the anglers we surveyed have fished for more than 10 years and 7% fished 2 years or less

Research Questions

  1. Out of the two most popular fly fishing knots (clinch and improved), which is stronger?
  2. Is there a stronger, more reliable knot to connect tippet to fly than the predominantly used clinch/improved clinch, AND that is easy to tie?
  3. How much does hook size effect breaking strength?

size 10 jig hookAdditional | What a difference a hook makes!

We also found that one size does KNOT fit all

One data set that we feel makes our findings below unique and noteworthy for the fly fishing community is that knot strength appears to vary significantly depending on changes in hook size. In the case of the uni knot, (monofilament trials)—we observed a188% decrease in strength from a size 18 to a size 16 jig hook!

Study // Solve

Anchor Fly has spent hundreds of hours testing and analyzing knot strength, tippet to fly.

We tested the 7 most popular fishing knots on 4 different hook sizes using both fluorocarbon and monofilament.

7 most popular fly fishing knots (tippet to fly)

    • Trilene knot
    • Double Davy knot
    • Uni knot
    • Davy knot
    • Orvis knot
    • Improved clinch
    • Clinch
How-to-tie-trilene-knot
How to tie trilene knot

4 different hook sizes

    • Size 8 nymph hook
    • Size 10 jig hook
    • Size 16 jog hook
    • Size 18 jig hook

2 different types of line

  • Rio fluorocarbon (5 lb breaking strength)
  • Scientific Angler monofilament (5.9 lb breaking strength)

Main Points (Quick Reference)

  • The most popular knots anglers use (clinch and improved clinch)

    • Out of the 7 most popular knots the clinch knot had the weakest overall break strength (across all hook sizes) for both fluoro and mono
    • Out of the 7 most popular knots the improved clinch knot had the 2nd weakest break strength for fluoro (behind the clinch) and the 3rd weakest for mono (behind the clinch and davy knots).
    • The trilene knot is easy to tie, uses minimal material and has a 66% increase in break strength over the clinch knot when using fluorocarbon.

Chapter 2:

Fly Fishing Knot Strength Infographic

Fly-fishing-terminology

There’s hearsay and andecdotes and then there is hard data. Hundreds of hours testing and analyzing knot strength has lead to the Fly Fishing Knot Strength Index results below.

fly fishing knot strength index

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Chapter 3:

Individual Knot Data

Fly-fishing-knots-icon

The knot data below breaks down the numbers for each knot that we tested. This list is ordered by overall score e.g. the trilene knot ranked the highest in our Fly Fishing Knot Strength Index.

1. Trilene Knot

The trilene knot is not widely used by anglers, but absolutely crushed our testing. This gem of a knot was a surprising victor and one that we feel incredibly confident in and now use on the water in most situations.

The trilene knot has a slightly bulkier profile, but is well protected, easy to tie, and doesn’t use large amounts of material. It has a superior breaking strength across all hook sizes for both fluorocarbon and monofilament. In my opinion this is the holy grail of knots when it comes to tying on your fly!

Trilene-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The trilene knot is the top knot in our index and is in a league of its own when it comes to the data. It won across the board for all tests (aside from size 10 & 16 hooks when using mono). It is easy to tie but the extra pass through the eye of the hook makes for a bulkier profile.

Highlights

  1. #1 total break strength, fluorocarbon
  2. #2 total break strength, monofilament
  3. #1 for all hooks except sizes 10 & 16 mono

 

Downfalls

  1. Because of two passes through the hook eye, the trilene is difficult to tie with very small hooks
  2.  Slightly bulkier knot profile

Trilene | Final Thoughts

The trilene knot has everything one looks for in this important connection of tippet to fly. It is very easy to tie (a clinch knot with one extra step), and is most consistent in strength among all hook sizes. Because of its added strength and ease index rating, the trilene knot is my new go-to knot on the water.

2. Double Davy Knot

The double davy knot is neck and neck with the uni knot as the fourth and fifth most widely used knots for tippet to fly by all fly anglers, although it came in as the 2nd best knot overall.

The double davy knot is very easy to tie, but has one more step than the davy. This added step provides slightly more protection for the knot. 

As opposed to both the clinch and improved knots, this knot is easier to catch improper seating. It typically will not seat (slip straight off the hook) if tied improperly. This is a fact we’d obviously rather know upon tying it—as opposed to when we hook a fish. 

Double-davy-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The double davy knot ranked 2nd in our overall index. It scored very high in all categories but not #1 for any category. It is a solid knot that we are very confident in.

Highlights

  1. #2 overall
  2. Easy to tie
  3. Doesn’t use much material
  4. Excellent knot profile

Downfalls

  1. Not as strong as the trilene

Double Davy | Final Thoughts

We have solid confidence in this knot. Because of its added strength and ease index rating, I use this knot on the water, especially if I am targeting smaller fish. We find this knot good to use for dropper tags when material is limited.

3. Uni Knot

Based on our survey the uni knot is right there in popularity with the double davy. This is a very strong knot, but does use a lot of material. It also does not score well in terms of its ease of tying and has a slightly bulkier profile.

Uni-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The uni knot ranked 3rd in our overall index. It is a strong knot that performs incredibly well with monofilament.

Note: The uni knot took dead last on a size 18 hook when using fluorocarbon

Highlights

  1. Performs very well when using mono
  2. Solid breaking strength

Downfalls

  1. Needs more material than most other knots
  2. Performed poorly on small hooks with fluoro
  3.  More difficult to tie than other knots
  4. Larger knot profile

Uni Knot | Final Thoughts

The uni knot is a solid knot, but it uses a lot of material. At $25 per spool of my favorite tippet the uni knot is not one I want to be tying all day long. I use this knot to tie on my tippet rings, but look elsewhere for other connections when rigging.

4. Davy Knot

Based on the data from our survey the davy knot is the third most widely used knot for tippet to fly by all fly anglers. The davy knot uses very little material, is very easy to tie, and has a super slim profile. The davy knot is awesome for technical fisheries or fishing for smaller trout.

Davy-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The davy knot ranked 4th in our overall index. It was middle of the pack in terms of break strength, but its ease and profile index scores gave it a bump in our overall index.

Highlights

  1. Easy to tie
  2. Doesn’t use much material
  3. Excellent knot profile

Downfalls

  1. Performs very poorly with larger hooks
  2. Not confident in break strength when targeting 15″ trout or bigger.

Davy Knot | Final Thoughts

Because of its simple profile and ease index rating I would use this knot on the water when targeting smaller fish. We find this knot good to use for dropper tags on smaller fish when material is limited.

5. Orvis Knot

Based on our survey this comes in close to the trilene knot in terms of popularity among fly anglers. The knot is strong, but one downfall is its poor ease index rating. The orvis knot is the most difficult knot to tie on this list. 

Like every knot, one gets more fluent with practice. Although, even with experience seating the orvis knot is super tricky with smaller tippet, but a knot tying tool can make this a little easier.

Orvis-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The orvis knot ranked 5th in our overall index—it is worthy to note that its poor ease index rating bumped it out of 4th place. 

Highlights

  1. #2 in total break strength when using fluoro
  2. #3 in total break strength when using mono

Downfalls

  1. Needs more material than most other knots
  2. Difficult to tie for beginners

Orvis Knot | Final Thoughts

The orvis knot is a an incredibly solid knot, but is difficult to tie and uses more material than other knots in this list.

6. Improved Clinch Knot

Based on our survey this is the second most widely used knot for tippet to fly by all fly anglers—2nd to the clinch knot listed below. The improved clinch knot is a slightly difficult to tie on the water with small tippet, due to the last step of “improving” the knot.

This knot is a staple for a good majority of anglers, however our testing shows that there are better options available.

Improved-clinch-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The improved clinch knot ranked 6th in our overall index. It has the 2nd weakest total break strength for both fluorocarbon and monofilament tippet materials.

Highlights

  1. Because it is such a staple, most anglers can tie this knot very quickly

Downfalls

  1. #6 in total break strength for fluoro
  2. #6 in total break strength for mono
  3. Performed poorly on sizes 10 & 16 hooks

Improved Clinch Knot | Final Thoughts

It might be tough for an angler to get away from this knot if they have been using it their entire career. With that being said, switching from the improved clinch should increase the security of your tippet to fly connection.

7. Clinch Knot

Based on our survey the clinch knot is the most widely used knot for tippet to fly by all fly anglers. It sits right there with the davy in terms of it’s ease index. However, the clinch scored dead last in our fly fishing knot strength index. This was due to its poor break strength when using both fluorocarbon and monofilament.

Clinch-knot-data

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Noteworthy data from testing

The clinch knot ranked 7th in our overall index despite having a very solid ease index rating. Due to slippage this knot is not recommended on larger hooks.

Note: The clinch knot is one of the easiest knots to tie on the water, but it is difficult to assess improper seating. This means it is tricky to tell if tied properly before either slipping or breaking.

Highlights

  1. Popular knot, and what most of us learned when starting to fly fish
  2. Very easy to tie
  3. Uses minimal material

Downfalls

  1. #7 in total break strength for fluoro
  2. #7 in total break strength for mono
  3. Performs very poorly on larger hooks

Clinch Knot | Final Thoughts

The clinch knot is one that is typically passed down from teacher to student and could be very hard for an angler to get away form using. However, if one does decide to move on from this knot they will be rewarded with less lost fish and more confidence in their tippet to fly connection.

The best knot for you is the one you can tie properly.

Chapter 4:

Methodology & Limitations

Reading-the-water

Methodology, Limitations, Equipment & About

Methodology Overview

We set up a testing environment by suspending a Dr. Meter brand fish scale above a 12 quart pail. The pail was chosen so consistent and smooth pressure could be added. In our case, we poured water to increase the weight of the pale. Next, we secured the tippet material to the scale using a palomar knot. The tippet was then tied to a hook with whatever knot we were testing in that trial. 

We  set up a GoPro Hero 8 Black by suspending it to the side of our testing apparatus; this was key for documenting the breaking point of each attempt as accurately as possible. We would hit record and state the details of each trial, and start the test by placing a steady stream of water into the bucket. Because the scale stops for static objects it was important that we kept slight but dynamic pressure on the scale prior to placing the pail gently on the hook being tested.

We would then watch the recording to get the most accurate reading and document that reading as 1 trial. We then averaged out all the trials to get an initial breaking strength of each hook for both fluorocarbon and monofilament.

View this video if you wish to see the testing equipment and a sample trial

Equipment

  • Dr. Meter hanging fish scale
  • 12 quart pail that weighed 2.05 lbs. empty
  • Jig hooks size 10 - 18
  • Streamer hook size 8
  • GoPro Hero 8 Black

Tippet Used

  • 5x Rio Fluorflex Plus, Fluorocarbon Tippet
    • Specs: Diameter - .006in/.152mm, 5lb tensile strength
  • 5x Scientific Angler Absolute Clear, Trout, Monofilament Tippet
    • Specs: Diameter - .006in/.15mm, 5.9lb tensile strength

View this video if you wish to see the testing equipment and a sample trial.

Limitations // Details

There were certain limitations in our method and this section is an attempt to clarify those elements. Despite any limitations it is noteworthy to say that there was keen attention to consistency, which at the end of the day helped us to compare “apples to apples” and provide what we consider to be healthy conclusions.

  • We did not test the tippet tensile strength ourselves. We performed all calculations based off the tensile strength that Scientific Angler (mono) and RIO (fluorocarbon) offered on their product
  • We used a Dr. Meter fish scale which was not intended for this use
  • We did not clip tag ends
  • Due to human inconsistency there was no way for us to be 100% certain we were tying the knot the same way each time
  • In cases where there was not significant tippet damage we used the same section of tippet for multiple trials.

Reasoning

The tests would not have been possible if we did not reuse sections of tippet. There was too much tippet damage to reuse on knots like the trilene, but for knots like the clinch, with a breaking strength that was far less than the tensile strength the knot would break well before the tippet allowing us to reuse sections of the line. This worked on knots with minimal break strength, as the knot would still fail before the tippet

If you have questions on any of the above mentioned or additional questions pertaining to limitations please feel free to reach us in the comments section at the bottom of this web page.

Documentation // Consistency

For each trial we would document:

1.Rank on a scale of 1-5 how well the knot was tied --anecdotal based on experience. 

Justification

We did not use this in aggregating data, but did want to document this as an attempt to try and spot correlations and/or inconsistencies  

2. How many times that section of tippet had been tested

    • This was documented as an attempt to shine light on any correlations between reusing tippet and a diminished breaking strength. None were found.

Reasoning

The tests would not have been possible if we did not reuse sections of tippet. There was too much tippet damage to reuse on knots like the trilene, but for knots like the clinch, with a breaking strength that was far less than the tensile strength the knot would break well before the tippet allowing us to reuse sections of tippet. This worked on knots with minimal break strength, as the knot would still fail before the tippet

3. The length of tippet being tested 

    • The tippet section used varied in length from 8” to 3” 
    • Important to see if there were correlations between length of tippet tested and breaking strength. No correlations found

Note:

  • For knots with wraps such as the clinch, improved clinch and the trilene we would use the same number of wraps each time. 5 wraps for 5x tippet.
  • We did note where failure happened e.g. knot, tippet or hook | Slip or clean break and only used trials that broke at the knot for aggregating data

1)Break strength percentages - calculated by taking the average of each trial during field testing and coming up with a percentage of breaking strength by putting the average against the absolute tensile strength of the tippet material we used during the test.

For Example: Fluorocarbon clinch test on a size #18 jig hook average 2.11 lbs. of pressure at failure. Rio Fluoroflex (5x) has a tensile strength of 5lb. 

Equation

2.11/5 = .422

    •  .422 (100) = 42.2%

In this example the breaking strength of a clinch knot on a size #8 jig hook, using Rio 5x Fluoroflex is 42%

2) Fluorocarbon and Monofilament total break strength - calculated by averaging break strength results for all hook sizes

3) Ease Index - Anecdotal tying data based on a combination of subjective experience and results from experiments. This is a rank from 1 to 75 with 1 being incredibly difficult to tie and 75 being extremely easy

Note: We weighted ease at 3/4 points (max 75) in our index as we did not consider this quite as important as break strength which was weighted at 100.

4) Profile Index - Anecdotal tying data based on a combination of subjective experience and results from experiments. This is a rank from 1 to 25 with 1 being incredibly bulky and 25 being extremely clean

Note: We weighted profile at 1/4 points (max 25) in our index as we did not consider this quite as important as ease (max 75) and much less important than break strength (max 100).

5) Overall Index Score - Sum total of fluorocarbon break strength, monofilament break strength, ease index and profile index

We spend so much time and money on the sport we love. We must take a moment to assess, tweak and/or change the things within our control that give us the greatest chance of increasing our success on the water.

Chapter 5:

Study Summary

catch-release

Study Summary // Main Points // Conclusion

The conclusion sways heavily toward the trilene knot for most situations. However, depending on what type of angler you are will determine the best knot for you. Many anglers might prefer to choose one knot for all situations. I personally use knots based on my situation when I am on the water. This study allows one to do either. The trilene knot is a great one size fits all knot but if you’re targeting smaller fish or on a more technical fishery, your knot preference may change to fit those needs better. 

Trout-on-the-flyWithout a doubt the main points from this study are

  1. The trilene knot boasts a 66% increase in break strength over the clinch when using fluorocarbon tippet material
  2. The trilene knot offers a 55% increase in break strength over the improved clinch when using fluorocarbon tippet material
The trilene knot is superior in strength and ease of tying. Our research shows that adopting this knot for your tippet to fly connection will make for fewer break-offs, thus more fish in the net and added boost of confidence.
 
If for some reason you don’t like the trilene knot you may find the “Break Strength By Hook Size” section of the infographic very useful, as you may want to change knots based on hook size.
 

Operator Error and the Importance of Proper Knot Tying

The best knot for fly fishing is the one you can tie properly.
 
catching trout on fly iconWith all the importance placed on break strength above —It is incredibly important to know that if a knot fails there are certainly, and very likely other factors that are possibly at play. 
 
Based on our testing and experience, we estimate that 90% of knot failure comes from user error, or improperly tied knots. No matter how long you have been using a knot it is highly plausible it could be improved with practice. Because humans are creatures of habit—if an angler was taught a mistake that mistake will be present until a change is forced.
 

Knots require several steps to completion, and with fly fishing, uses incredibly small materials. This creates a situation where missteps can occur AND because of the habitual nature of knot tying a misstep can find its way into the routine of the process. If a misstep occurs anywhere in the process, the knot is not used as designed and is significantly less effective.

3 main factors to look at when it comes to tying your knots and avoiding failure

  1. Proper tying
  2. Proper seating
  3. Quality and state of tippet

1. Proper Tying | General Knot Tying Tips

This section contains, what we consider to be some key tips when tying your knots

  • Bring awareness to your body. Tying knots on the water comes with many distractions (weather or temperature, losing daylight, anticipation/excitement, etc.). Take a breath and focusing on the task at hand takes stress out of the body and places more energy on your main focus–this important connection.
  • Cut your tippet at an angle off the spool, as this gives a point, which I find goes through the eye of hook easier
  • Knot-iconHolding your hook the same each time, as well as taking your tippet through the eye of the hook the same direction each time helps to provide knot consistency 
  • Base the amount of wraps on the diameter of the tippet. Thinner tippet means more wraps. I use 5 wraps with 5x tippet
  • Bring awareness to how you are securing the knot with stabilizing pinches during tying. Stabilizing pinches can greatly increase the effectiveness and ease of tying any knot, especially with small tippet
  • Moisten knot prior to seating firmly
  • Practice your knot to create a learned balance between securing the knot with the tag end and seating with the running line. It can be helpful to practice using paracord or yarn.
  • Seat your knot slowly
  • Give the tag a firm 90 degree tug and tweak the tag end so that it runs at a 90 degree angle from the running line before cutting
  • Don’t cut tag end too close to the knot, especially with knots that are not improved (clinch, double davy)

2. Seating Your Knots

One of the main take-homes from tying a great deal of knots during this research has to do with seating. I have been fly fishing for over a decade and definitely improved my knot tying. Managing the tag well is the most effective way to manage proper seating. 

Notice subtleties when it comes to seating. 

  • What is the shape of the tag at the end, prior to seating firmly?
    • Is it obstructed by the hook eye or does it ride cleanly below the hook eye? 
  • Are you seating the knot with the tag end? If so, you should stop as tying this way decreases the knot’s break strength.

Tips for seating your knot

In general:

  • Secure the knot by gently synching the tag. Find the proper balance of tag tightening and running line tightening.
  • Seat slowly and by allowing the tag to sit stable or maintaining slight pressure. Seat mainly by pulling on the running line e.g. don’t use tag too aggressively (if at all) when seating. 
  • Pull the tag firm at a 90 degree angle at the very end to refine your knot.

For most knots try and get the tag to be at a 90 degree angle and tug slightly to finish.

3. Quality and State of Tippet

Tippet material is a truly incredible technology. Companies like Trout Hunter, RIO, Scientific Angler, Stroft, Cortland, and Umpqua have generated incredible products. These products are strong but delicate and can become damaged quite easily. 

Damaged tippet significantly impacts the overall tensile strength and knot quality.

Possible ways for tippet to be damaged 

  • Pulling it from the tippet container
  • Seating the knot
  • Tying the knot
  • Getting snagged on branches or rocks
  • Knots slipping
  • Threading through eye of hook

If any damage occurs to your tippet that tippet should be replaced, especially if you are targeting larger fish

Practice your knots

Ego’s aside, operator error cannot be highlighted enough. It can cause knot failure at a fraction of the tensile strength in some instances. Prior to considering knot strength we encourage you to practice your knot—even if you have been tying it for years.

Overview iconAs mentioned above–because of the habitual and routine nature of knots a misstep can find its way into your knot. Therefore, even if you think you have the knot down pat, spend some time practicing it.

Practice your knots starting with something thick like paracord and working the size of material down to the actual tippet you will be using…

A consistent knot is vital to maximizing it’s breaking strength. Due to the myriad of variables that go into tying a knot (tippet material, hook size, how cold the weather is, how much of a hurry one is in, etc) it is almost impossible to be 100% consistent every time. However, the more you tie a knot the more consistent it will be–thus, increasing your odds at maximizing its breaking strength.

The Different Knots We Recommend for Rigging

  1. Tippet to fly – trilene knot for most scenerios
  2. fly-on-lineFishing with streamers (large flies) – non-slip mono loop
  3. Adding tippet to leader – triple surgeons knot or blood knot
  4. Dropper tags – triple surgeons knot
  5. Tippet ring to sighter – uni knot
  6. Leader to fly line – nail knot
  7. Backing to fly line – double surgeons loop to welded loop on fly line
  8. Backing to spool – arbor knot

Study Overview Video

The main purpose of the video below is to show how the testing was performed.

Reeling it in!

Thank you for coming to our site–we hope you have found this article helpful.

Please feel free to use the comments area below for feedback or additional questions. If you feel inclined and wish to share this article with your social platform(s) it is well appreciated 🙂

4 thoughts on “Analyzing The Top 7 Fly Fishing Knots, Tippet To Fly [Clinch Ranked Last]”

  1. If your clinch knots are only 41% then they are being tied wrong. My tests show about 70% of line strength with 5 to 6 turns and an even and complete draw. Also, you should have included the non-slip mono loop knot because it rates 90 to 100% of line strength and works on most flies size 12 or larger.

    1. Eric Carter-Spurio

      Thanks Larry!

      Clinch
      I would love to hear more about your methodology–specifically what line type and test, how many trials, as well as the size of hook you are getting those results on. Do you have a link by chance?

      I do completely understand the role of human error in determining the breaking strength of a knot, and with that, I feel incredibly confident in my tying of the clinch knot.

      BUT what is super interesting to me about your comment is this: I have been using the clinch knot for almost a decade, moreover I personally tied this knot and measured real-time results 50 times, easily. IF human error was in fact the culprit of poor break strength scores for the clinch knot–wouldn’t that suggest it is an INCREDIBLY difficult knot to tie properly? To me, this would suggest that the average angler should avoid this knot when using more refined tippet material.

      Non-slip mono loop
      I love this knot and use it myself on larger flies for sure. The reason this was not included was because we ran our study based on the 7 most used knots from a survey that we ran. I think most anglers consider the non-slip mono loop in a different category because it is typically only used with larger flies/streamers.

    1. Eric Carter-Spurio

      We did not run any tests, line to line. I currently use triple surgeons line to line, but with stronger tippet to fly knots, I think I am going to switch to a blood knot.. What do you currently use?

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