The Yellowstone River
Photo from Alex Emery

Podcast Ep. 123 – The Yellowstone River, Introducing Newcomers to Fly Fishing, and the Value of Good Knots with Alex Emery

In this episode we Wadeoutthere with Alex Emery from Livingston, Montana.  Alex started fly fishing as a child with his father in New Jersey and continued during school at West Virginia University, becoming involved with the fly fishing club as well.  After college, Alex’s search to continue his passion for fly fishing, and build a life and career connected to the outdoors brought him to Sweetwater Travel Company Guide School, in Livingston, Montana, where he has been guiding on the Yellowstone River and surrounding area for over six years. 

Podcast episode appears at the end of this short article.

We discuss:

  • The Yellowstone River
  • Tactics and techniques for success on the Yellowstone
  • Fly patterns that work on the Yellowstone
  • Fly fishing clubs and peers in fly fishing
  • The joys of introducing newcomers to fly fishing
  • Unconventional approaches to traditional tactics
  • The value of a good knot

Reflections – Find Your Best Knot

“The best knot is the one that you’re best at.  So find one of them and get good at it.” – Alex Emery

I learned knots from my father as a child.  I can’t remember it, but I knew them before I started fly fishing, so I must have been a child.

We fished those knots on spinning rigs for trout in the rivers and mountains of Montana with a nightcrawler from a styrofoam cup at the gas station or grasshoppers plucked from alfalfa fields and stored in a Pepsi can.  

In Colorado, I made some friends that said “hey, come fly fishing with us.” So I did.  We had no money and no way to get it.  I bought the things I needed and some things I didn’t from the Walmart out the south gate of the Air Force Academy and fished the South Platte River on weekends when I could sneak away from parades and inspections.  Tying the knots my father taught me on 6X tippet and size 22 BWO’s and zebra midges, and other small flies that I learned the fish demanded.

I tied them over and over.  There were broken lines and lost flies and missed hooksets.  And many, many lost fish.  I didn’t catch a ton of trout those years, but I caught enough. I learned to look forward to the river, and eventually I went because I needed to come back.  

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Small Flies, Light Takes, and Lost Fish.  It’s Good For You
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | The Art of the Lost Hookset

The Knots I Use

I tied those knots because they were the knots I was good at.  They are common knots. There may be better options, but these are mine.

I tie the flies to my tippet with the improved clinch knot.  It’s an extra step from the standard clinch knot, but I’ve learned I need the improvement to trust it.  

I tie the tippet to the leader with a surgeon’s knot, although I go through three times.  I’ve recently been informed this is neither a surgeon’s knot nor a double surgeon’s knot.  Twice through is a surgeon’s.  Four times a double surgeon’s.  I suppose I’m one and a half surgeons.  I kinda like that…

Finally, I tie a regular clinch knot from my leader to the fly line, having given up on loop to loop years ago, frustrated with its clunkiness in the guides. I trust the clinch knot here because the line is thicker, and I’ve never had a break.

Because I’ve tied those knots so consistently I’m proficient at them.  More importantly I’m confident in them.  

I stuck with them because they are all I knew and I got good at them because it’s all I tied.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Fly Fishing with Confidence. Part 1. Why Confidence Catches Fish.

Fly fishing the Yellowstone River
Photo from Alex Emery

Exploring New Knots

The other day I found myself on the snowy banks of a local stream. Blue skies, and cold fingers tying something different.  Normally I tie a dropper off my lead fly with an improved clinch knot.  I’ve gotten pretty proficient with it over the years.  Confident.  I’m less experienced with tag flies above my lead fly.  In pursuit of a better way, I watched a George Daniel YouTube video about tying on droppers.  It’s a great video and I learned a good technique for tying in tag flies above my lead fly with a surgeon’s knot.  Here is that video:

WATCH: GEORGE DANIEL | Adding Dropper Knot is a Cinch with a Modified Clinch Knot.

Something George explains in the video is how he ties his droppers on with a simple clinch knot by pinching a loop in the tippet, twisting it in his fingers, then bringing the tag end back through the loop, and finally pulling that loop tight on the hook.  It’s all pretty quick and pretty slick.  

I like this.  I’ll try it.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | How to Get the Most From Your Time on the Water.

So I tried it.  I tried it a few times, on a few different days… in December in Utah.  Winter fishing has taught me a lot, and one of the biggest lesson is the value of efficiency.  The cold requires expediency with knots and tackle.  I didn’t have that.

I still use George’s technique for tying in tags (and I’m building confidence), but I ended up going back to my improved clinch knot tied onto the hook bend for droppers.  It was faster, because that’s what I’m best at.  

I figure George knows what he’s doing though, so there’s a good chance I’ll try it again someday.  Probably in a chair by the fire with a whiskey over Christmas.  My family will get a kick out of it, and I won’t be wasting time on the water.  Maybe George will get a kick out of it too if we ever get the chance to talk.  

What is Best and What I’m Best At

Alex’s comments on knots and tying the knot you’re best at made me think about the balance between what we are best at and what is best.  It’s a fine line between doing what we know because it works, and trying new things. Sometimes it’s best to move ahead. I used to tie the leader to the fly line loop to loop.  It’s what I was best at, but I never liked it, and I waited too long to change.  

There’s something bigger to what Alex is saying.  Something more valuable in the consistency and proficiency he advocates.  Sure, it gives us a baseline, but that basic skillset in the knots we are best at tying gives us confidence to change flies and rigs and fight fish hard.  It’s the fundamental piece of that confidence really. A good knot allows us to “get good at” the endless other techniques in fly fishing that might bring us more fish than the day before.

Key Takeaways

  • Fly fishing clubs are a great way to have peers as mentors 
  • It is important to have confidence in your ability to tie knots and make changes quickly to grow as an angler
  • For veterans – the GI Bill can pay for you to go to most guide schools
  • Fly fishing artist AD Maddox, has an art studio in Livingston, Montana.  Visit at 
  • The Yellowstone is the longest undammed river in the continental 48 states.  Quite a freestone.
  • The Yellowstone changes every year after run off making for interesting fishing
  • Cutthroats, rainbows, brown trout, whitefish are all species in the Yellowstone.
  • Whitefish is a good sign for the health of the trout population.  
  • Fish hoppers on the bank but also in the middle.
  • The rubber legs and wooly bugger are good flies to fish and easy to tie on the Yellowstone
  • The wooly bugger is great because as you are drifting it it’s still fishing  without needing a perfect deadrift. 
  • You can often get more action out of an unweighted fly with split shot

Learn More

You can get in touch with Alex or follow him on Instagram at:

To schedule a guided trip with Alex visit:

If you want more information on some of the topics we discussed try reading these blog posts from Wadeoutthere:

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | In Defense of Whitefish
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Change One Thing to Know What Worked
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Slow is Smooth. Smooth is Fast.

For more fly fishing stories, lessons learned, and artwork check out my blog and online gallery at

If you enjoy the Wadeoutthere Fly Fishing Podcast, and want to help it grow, please leave a rating and review.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed talking with Alex. Wadeoutthere friends.


Jason Shemchuk

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