In The Ashley Books of Knots (ABOK), Mr. Ashley frequently refers to various knots having or giving good or bad "lead" in a given situation. Two examples:

  1. The ANGLER'S LOOP has an excellent lead and is easily tied...
  2. The BOWLINE KNOT is often used for the same purpose, but it has a poor lead, ...

I am not familiar with this usage of the word "lead" and it is not totally clear from context. Also, if ABOK provides a meaning elsewhere within, I have not found it. Likewise, various dictionary entries are not helpful, as most focus on the sense of "leadership" or "dull malleable metal."

It feels like it has something to do with fishing, but I am not a fisherman, so if this is correct, please try to explain the concept in your answer.

  • I don't believe "lead" in the case of the Ashley Book of Knots nomenclature is referring to fishing (which would be a "leader") but rather an element of the knot. I also found a reference from the ABOK where each knot refers to even and odd "leads" and "bights". I was able to determine that bights are unclosed loops but I haven't found an explanation for what element of the knot is considered to be "lead". Apr 22, 2015 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


There are quite a few uses for the word "lead" in the wide world of knots that I can think of. However, I believe your question refers to the orientation of the rope as it comes out of the knot. Take a piece of rope:

Trailing end => ----------- <= Leading end

Tie a knot at one end:

Knot => @------- <= Leading end

For a knot to have "good" lead the rope will pull perpendicularly on the knot. A "bad" lead means the rope pulls slightly more on one side of the knot than on the other. Check out the pictures of each knot and you can see how this might be the case.

Imagine you're leading a horse by a rope and your knot has poor lead. Even though you're pulling straight ahead, the horse may feel as if you're pulling it ever so slightly to the left or right. Just one way of thinking about it.

  • A picture may be worth a thousand words, but holding the thing in your hands is worth a billion. I tied each knot in a long small cord, with the opposite end secured to a table leg. I then put both hands through the loop and gently pulled back. The difference is very subtle but noticeable. The Bowline resists more on the "running end" side, whereas the Angler's Loop provides very little difference.
    – cobaltduck
    Apr 23, 2015 at 13:25
  • As an afterthought, even though I have accepted this, do you happen to have any sources/ citations?
    – cobaltduck
    Apr 23, 2015 at 13:43

The Ashley Book of Knots (ABOK) has a glossary.

Page 601, "Lead: The direction of a rope."

On page 187, from knot #1017: "The Angler's Loop has the best lead of any loop."

This means that the rope comes out of the knot centered. The knots in other loops such as the Bowline are unbalanced, so the lead comes out at an angle.

This is a very useful quality for certain applications (such as fishing).

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