Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT

One of my early tube flies
One of my early tube flies

Every once and awhile something catches your fancy. For whatever reason, rational or not, you embrace it and dive in. For close to 55 years I’ve been tying flies but never once had I tied or fished a Tube Fly. Of course I knew they existed, but for whatever reason, I never gave them much (or really any) thought. I didn’t know about their advantages over traditional hook based flies. I didn’t how they were tied or how they were rigged differently than traditional flies. I had no idea what equipment and materials were required to tie them. Until, I got the opportunity to fish them for Winter Steelhead on the Bogachiel River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington this last November. When I wrote about that experience as Ice in the Guides I mentioned the use of tube flies on that trip in passing. Since then, as the title of this post portends “I followed the lure of the tube fly”.
The journey was different and new. Tying flies on tubes instead of hooks has been around since the 1950s and the tying style was invented in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1945. The style quickly caught on in the Pacific Northwest for salmon at the same time but really remained under the radar until the 1990s. All of us that have been tying traditional flies for years I suspect have no problems with new patterns. We see or read about a new pattern, check our material and hooks to see if we have the right stuff and use our traditional methods to construct the new pattern. Absent the proper materials or hooks, we know exactly where to go and what to get to remedy the shortages. Such isn’t the case if you’ve never tied or used tube flies as was my situation. Was tying a fly on a tube significantly different than tying a fly on a hook? I didn’t really know the answer. So as I am wont to do, I really dove into some serious research looking for answers to questions I didn’t even understand how to ask correctly. There were some books related to Tube Flies, not many, but some pretty pricey. There were lots of Tube Flies for sale on the internet as well as a few different (not many) tube fly material suppliers. There were even some good online tutorials and videos demonstrating various aspects of tying tube flies. For me however, the journey down the path of the tube was going to require some real time experience. You can learn the theories of chemistry from a book or the words of a professor, but you’ve got to go into the laboratory to see it for yourself. I had to figure out how to get started on the laboratory stage of this journey.
When you tackle a traditional fly pattern, the instructions generally say “tie this pattern on a # 6 TMC 300 3X long hook or equivalent”. There’s not a lot of equivalency when it comes to tubes. There are tubes of all sorts–brass, aluminum, copper and plastic tubes. There are junction tubes, hybrid tubes, tube liners and tube bottles and assorted other do dads associated with tube flies. Looking at the offerings of online retailers and their almost always glowing product descriptions and reviews was a bit like the title of this post. They might as well have been in Latin for all the sense they made. But I dove in and purchased a few different things to see if I could sort out this tube fly thing. It was December in Montana so there wasn’t a real sense of urgency to get it perfect on the first go arounds. Ice flies yes, but my tube flies probably won’t see their first tests until Spring. Although most of the stuff the guys in the YouTube videos were spouting made some sense, until I was able to pull together the right test tubes (pun intended), beakers and chemicals, etc., I couldn’t put the professors’ lectures to work in the laboratory. The first thing I realized if I wanted to tie tube flies, is that a different type of vise is needed or you have to have the right adapters to use your traditional vise.

I guess my vise jaws are abnormal!
I guess my vise jaws are abnormal!

When it comes to Tube Fly vises or adapters most of the advice out there falls along two lines. 1) You don’t really need a dedicated (and expensive) Tube Fly vise to tie tube flies unless you really want one or tie hundreds of Tube Flies a week. 2) The inexpensive Tube Fly adapters on the market can be secured in your traditional vise and are more than suitable to tie any Tube Fly you can imagine. Number 1 is probably good advice. Several hundred dollars for a dedicated tube fly vise is a fair bit and until I could actually see the value of Tube Flies on the water and the vise in tying efficiency, I wasn’t going down that road. Number 2 seems logical and it was the path I started down. With adapters ranging in price from about $15-50 dollars, the expense allowed room from some experimentation. My first experiment was a failure. I acquired a Pro Tube Needle for $17 which proudly came with the following sales pitch: “If you don’t have a dedicated vice for tubefly tying, this is the tool for you. It is a flat conical needle to squeeze your tube onto, and then the tube is ready to be tied. Fits onto all tying vices with normal jaws.”. Well not really, it wouldn’t work in my Dyna King Barracuda Indexing vice as the knurled jaw tension knob prevented the needle from being clamped tightly in a horizontal position. It slipped down anything I put tension on the tube. I never thought my vise had anything but normal jaws, but I guess I was wrong. So I started looking for a different adapter, but now I was armed with the knowledge that my vice was not normal! I settled on one of the HMH Tube Fly adapters for my next try. It worked, so I could start turning all the various professors’ theories into reality.

Lots of different types of tubes and do dads
Lots of different types of tubes and do dads

My next step was to sort out the tube side. Again I acquired a variety of different tubes trying to understand what tube materials were the most appropriate for the types of flies I was contemplating. I chose not to acquire one of the large kits or assortments on the market such as the HMH kit that J. Stockard handles or the ProTube sample pack as I didn’t want to be saddled with a lot of materials I might never use and I wanted to try selected stuff from different manufacturers. That’s me, not advice one way or the other. To be honest, once you have some of these tube materials in-hand and a suitable vise setup, much of the confusion goes away. Like a lot of things in our sport, early innovators adapted existing materials to new ideas. As those ideas gained traction in the market, manufacturers began developing new, purpose built materials to implement and enhance those ideas. Tube flies are no exception. Early tube flies were tied on make shift tubes cut from turkey quills, out of Q-tips, empty ball-point pen refills or similar items. Vise adapters were honed out of nails or sewing needles. The early tube flies were adaptations of traditional salmon flies, but today, tube flies are being tied for all sorts of fishing situations and the variety of materials available today reflects that evolution. I haven’t settled yet on the most appropriate materials for the Tube Flies I might want to tie going forward. I really need a season on the water to see what works and what doesn’t. A few of my first Tube Flies are pictured below. They are not going to win any contests. I’ll post more later as I learn how to tie them and fish them. Although tying a fly on a tube versus a hook doesn’t really require any change in method, a lot of interesting nuances are surfacing that may be useful going forward. I have concluded that tying Tube Flies versus traditional hooked based flies isn’t any more or less expensive. The price of tubes and hooks combined is comparable to an equivalent quantity of traditional hooks. A lot of the excitement around Tube Flies (mine included) has to do with their proclaimed effectiveness, versatility and adaptability on the water in different fishing conditions. For me that remains to be tested on the water next spring and summer here in SW Montana as I Sequens lure tubi Musca.

cline tube fly 1

cline tube fly 2

cline tube fly 3

 

 

 

 

* Following the lure of the tube fly

Check out Mike’s other tube fly blog post, Novitius incuriose tractata super constructione musca tube*.

Note from J. Stockard:  We have an excellent selection of tube fly supplies and tools. Check it out now.

 

4 Comments

  1. Hi Mike,

    Quae in lingua Latina (which is a poor attempt at “wazzup wid all the Latin”)? You’re not one of my high school Jesuit teachers in disguise come back to haunt me, are ya? I feel like I forgot to study for a midterm. 🙂

    Nice article…and the ties look quite good from out here.

    I know you’ve purposefully avoided posting the professed list of advantages that tube flies offer, but in the interest of sharing I’m going to open that can of worms, put you on the spot, and see if I can learn a little something here.

    The lists I’ve seen elsewhere include these points:

    — Can add other hardware like blades and beads. [I don’t have a hankering to.]
    — They offer more control over fly’s weight. [I have no issues with the size flies I tie.]
    — Adaptable to trolling. [Great but I don’t wade that fast.]
    — Fly detaches from hook, robs fish of leverage. [I can’t imagine any leverage on a #14.]
    — Flies don’t ride in the teeth & get torn up. [A tiny little tube ain’t going to escape those teeth either.]
    — Damage the fly & add another to the same hook. [No easier than tying on another fly.]
    — Damage the hook = just change the hook. [I dream about bending hooks straight on big fish, but never do.]
    — Can change a fly’s hook size. [Tying up a few different sizes seems easy enough.]
    — Can widen or elongate a fly. [Already pretty easy on littler flies.]
    — Can fly airlines & keep flies in the carry-on. [But if I lose my hooks and rod I’m just as up a creek.]

    In the absence of a big need to make big streamers, the single solitary reason I’ve ever heard that sounded like it might represent a real advantage actually came from you, last fall, in an email you sent me. You commiserated with me on the pain and suffering associated with tying a fly whose hook rides up. You suggested that a tube fly, later slipped over an up-riding hook, might be easier. That one made a ton of sense.

    Now I know that any alternative approach is sure to spawn a stream of innovation, but at the moment it strikes me that tube flies are mostly aimed at large streamers. So what am I missing? Please enlighten…and as my Latin is rusty, I would like to request we stick with The Queen’s. 🙂

    – Mike

  2. Mike

    Quod a fine Soliloq.

    One should only tout the efficacy of anything after some experience (first hand or not). Thus I cannot yet claim sufficient experience with tube flies to challenge anything you wrote (except the airline carry on thing). I don’t think tube flies are going to replace traditional flies anytime soon, but there are two or three advantages that have become evident to me on traditional trout patterns. One is the ability which you noted is that the hook can be placed hook point up when fishing. This is useful, because tying some patterns on traditional hooks with the point up is tedious to the point of the impractical. A second advantage is weight. Foam hoppers, stimulators and other #10 and larger floating flies float like corks on tubes. Because tubes give flies a full body without a lot of material that can become water logged, they retain their floatation longer. Coupled with smaller, shorter hooks, floating flies tied on tubes have a significant weight advantage. In turbulent waters, these high floating flies are very effective. The third advantage is the ability to use smaller hooks on larger flies. This spring I was using tube tied Brooks Stone fly nymphs up to size 4 with size 12 short shank wide gap barbless nymph hooks. Hookups were very good whenever the fish sucked in the fly. I think this will be a big advantage in a month or so on the Gardner when we are free lining big nymphs in the fast edge water.

    I’ve promised myself a full season of trying out various patterns on tubes. Have got a whole summer and fall to go on a lot of different river situations. Whether or not tube flies for trout are worth the effort remains a conclusion that must be settled on only after a lot of experience. Although, FWIW I’ve never had airline security challenge fly boxes in carry-on.

    Et in tempore muscae tubo usu, et concludere, cresce,

    The Latin is merely an attempt to point out that indeed Tube Flies remain somewhat of a mystery and obscurity for the average trout angler and fly tier.

    Mike Cline
    Bozeman, Montana

  3. Fair enough Mike; my comments were only meant to ask the questions and to reveal my first reactions. You called up-hook tying “tedious” and “impractical,” and I’d add “painful” to that. It also impedes any campaign meant to clean up one’s language in front of the kids.

    I guess I can see how tubes can extend the body of a fly well past a hook bend, similar to the use of other kinds of sprogs and splints to make extended abdomens…that kind of thing would allow use of smaller hooks, thus no spooky-looking barb, less metal, higher float, etc. I also suppose I can see how a tube could produce sufficient width that thread build-up could be avoided.

    I use bits of plastic tube to make case-building caddis cases (my own pattern), but I slide the it of tube on after the traditional tying is done–the tube shape becomes a deliberate part of the fly’s profile…so that’s different. I only tie over the tube for cosmetic color and texture reasons.

    Okay, fair enough; I’ll wait a year. As for the Latin, I call my salt water fishin’ buddy “quid pro” when I go out for Ling Cod in the bay with him. No, wait, that’s squid pro. Never mind.

    – Mike

  4. Hi Mike,
    The Pro Sportfisher Flexineedle is manufactured long on the back so that it can be custom cut and made to fit any vise…Dyna King included. Select a tube (mostly for length) that you will tie on most often, snug it/secure it onto the Flexi needle. From there a quick trip into the jaws and a mark with a Mr. Sharpie or equivalent will allow you to make an accurate cut. The cut (rotary cut off tool, diagonal pliers) should be made so the needle sits inside the back end of the collet that shrouds the jaws of your vise. That will allow the Flexineedle to sit parallel to your work table and sit very stable in the jaws when mounted. Just and FYI. I ended up with a full length needle, and two others cut for specific tube sizes frequently used.

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