blog TUBES Even small soft hackles can be tied on tubes

Even small soft hackles can be tied on tubes
Even small soft hackles can be tied on tubes

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Like all things Latin, tube flies were a mystery to me until I started gathering up some materials and tying them. Apart from just learning how to tie tube flies, my goal was to create a decent selection of flies suitable for our SW Montana trout (and maybe a few for Puget Sound cutthroat). This really meant adapting most of the patterns I already use to the tube fly style. Of course it is still a work in progress but as the title of this post reflects, as a novice tube fly tier, I have developed a few initial observations that may prove useful to others. For the moment, we will have to leave the question as to whether tube flies provide any significant advantage on the water for the trout angler over traditional hook based flies. Many tube fly enthusiasts claim they do, but until I can test out some tube flies on the water, I cannot claim any advice one way or the other. Although there are ample suppliers of tube fly materials online (J. Stockard included), tube fly supplies aren’t that prevalent in brick and mortar fly shops and retailers, so despite claimed advantages, this style of tying isn’t mainstream as far as I can tell.

In the U.S. tube flies are clearly popular in the Pacific Northwest for salmon and steelhead (and I suspect the same goes for the salmon and steelhead anglers in the Northeast). In those markets, tube fly materials are probably easier to locate and peruse in local fly shops. Ironically, in Bozeman, my favorite fly shop carries some tube fly supplies and the shop manager is a great proponent of them. It is always good to get local advice when trying something new. So what have I learned so far?

Tying flies on tubes is easy. Selecting the right tube is pretty much a matter of choice and experience. The vise or vise adapter is a critical component. If you can’t secure the tube and keep it from spinning, you really can’t tie anything effectively. Although I settled on the HMH vise adapter, I am sure most of the products on the market are equally suitable. I do like the HMH style adapter because it allows the use of interchangeable needles of various diameters so moving from one tube size to another is very easy.

The needles that came with the adapters were for standard size medium and large tubes, but I quickly found that any stiff, straight pin or sewing needle could be used in the adapter. Even the Pro needle that wouldn’t work in my Dyna King vise could be secured in the adapter. The Pro Classic Black Tubing in the small size proved useful for tying small flies, but would not fit on the medium and large needles. A two-inch stiff straight pin proved to be the perfect solution and functioned just fine. I haven’t settled on a favorite tube yet as both the HMH and Pro tubes have their advantages and disadvantages from a tying standpoint. I’ll probably settle on something by year’s end.

A great majority of the tube fly patterns I was finding in books and online were for steelhead, salmon, pike, saltwater species and occasionally for bass. Other than the omnipresent Woolly Bugger, not many traditional freshwater trout patterns were being touted as tube flies. But what I quickly found out is that just about any pattern can be tied as a tube fly and I wanted to build up a reasonable collection of the different patterns I normally use to try out in the spring and summer here in SW Montana. So here’s what I’ve done and some of the lessons I’ve learned.

First, one does not normally think of fly tying as a dangerous hobby, but tying on tubes brings with it one process step that does generate some safety concerns. Depending on the style of tubing being used at least one end (the front) of the tubing must be flared (slightly melted) using a heat source to provide some type of boundary for thread wraps that a hook eye does. Many of the online videos show tube fly tiers holding the tube close to a candle flame but cautioning tiers to take care as the plastic and fly tying materials are highly flammable.

I opted not to have a burning candle sitting on my overcrowded fly tying space but instead chose to use one of those small propane igniters which remains off by default. It only takes a second to flare the end of the tube with heat, so care must be taken not to overdo it. The tube can be flared before or after tying the fly, unless you are adding a sonic cone, cone head or other doodad at the front of the fly. Then it has to be flared after tying the fly. I found in general, it was much easier making the flare before tying as it provided a precise reference point for the entire pattern.

I also found that although you can make the flare on the tube when it is off the needle, that can cause issues if you are over-zealous with the heat as the tube end may shrink smaller than the needle you must tie it on. My best flares have been on tubes sitting on the needle and passing the flame over the tube end for one second or less. The big plus from a safety standpoint with tube flies is that there is no hook to snag your fingers on. I’ve bloodied my fingertips more than once trying to sweep material back along the hook shank during tying.

As can be seen from the mishmash of stuff I’ve tied below, tube flies as a tying style can be adapted to most patterns. I am still struggling with the best way to organize and store them as normal fly boxes are useless. Right now they are just piled willy-nilly in small plastic containers. I am sure I will settle on some logical way to contain flies and hooks on the stream before summer arrives. What remains to find out is how they fish. I am pondering the idea of going to the river armed only with tube flies to give them a decent opportunity to prove themselves. I am already experimenting with different rigging and hooks. I’ll have to wait for some warmer weather before I can put anything to the test on the water.

Some routine dry fly patterns from left to right: Stimulator, Elk hair caddis, foam hopper and Prom Queen
Some routine dry fly patterns from left to right: Stimulator, Elk hair caddis, foam hopper and Prom Queen






Some routine wet patterns from left to right: Olive bugger, Leech, Brooks stone, Clouser, black bugger, crayfish
Some routine wet patterns from left to right: Olive bugger, Leech, Brooks stone, Clouser, black bugger, crayfish

*Novice observations on the construction of a fly tube

Check out Mike’s other tube fly post, Sequens Lure Tubi Musca.

NOTE from J Stockard: At the suggestion of our guest blogger, Mike Cline, we’ve just added an excellent selection of tube fly supplies from ProSportfisher.


  1. I’m starting to delve into tubes too. So far I’ve only tied basic types, but could see where adapting other existing pattern types could be beneficial. My primary targeted species are bass and striped bass, so it’s going to be fun and interesting tying tube patterns for them.

    1. Jim,
      I was to live in the South and fly fishing for bass with top water patterns in weeds, lily pads and such was always trying unless the bugs had strong weed guards. With tubes, you could tie any top water pattern, even foam and balsa poppers on the tube yet orient the hook up when rigged up. I wish I had been tying them on tubes 20 years ago.

      1. Mike,
        I have tied some Tube Fly Poppers out of Foam. What I have used was Q-tips plastic tubing.
        When tying to plastic tubes esp. using foam you will need to apply a thin coat of thread to the tube first. Then you take Zap-a-Gap glue and place a good base on the thread before you apply foam popper. When the foam dries with the thread and plastic tubing you will have a complete setup.
        Please allow enough time for complete setup.
        I would experiment on your own of different steps to take as this is what fly tying is all about.

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