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Fly Patterns
Tube Fly Basics

King’s Hot Butt Prawn-Black
Designed by Matt King

Tube:         HMH Plastic Tube, Small
Thread:      MFC 6/0 Black
Bead:         Hot Bead, Orange, Large, ¼”
Hackle:      Saddle Hackle, Black
Body:         Crystal Chenille, Medium or Medium Large, Black
Collar:       Marabou, Black, followed by 10-12 Pieces of Ostrich Herl, Black and 6-8 Natural Amherst Tail Fibres
Flash:        Flashabou, Twisted, Pearl or Crinkle Mirror Flash
Carapace: Golden Pheasant, Black (optional)

A tube fly is nothing more than a fly tied onto a tube as opposed to a traditional hook shank.  Modern tube flies trace their history back to the late 1940’s, just after World War Two.  Actual tube fly history traces its roots even further.   Northwest first nation’s anglers used tube flies tied onto feather quills for Pacific salmon.  Tube flies are popular with Atlantic salmon fly fishers and have become popular pattern selections for West Coast steelhead fly fishers as well.  Tube flies are also excellent choices for saltwater and freshwater tying applications but for some reason have yet to experience the popularity they do with their anadromous brethren.  Some creative fly tyers have adapted a modular approach to their tube flies creating interchangeable head and tail sections to adapt to a variety of presentation challenges.  This approach works well with certain nymph patterns such as damselflies and large baitfish designs.  Tube flies can also be stacked end to end forming large flowing articulated patterns perfectly suited for quarry that prefer large meals.

So why would someone want to use a tube fly anyway?  Well from a practical perspective tube flies offer a number of advantages.  One of the challenges of tying big flies is the leverage issues large hooks cause.  Tube fly size is not affected by hook size.  Tube flies use small, tough to shake loose, straight eye short shank hooks that greatly increase your landing ratio.  The short shank hooks reduce both fly and fish mortality.  Fish are not in danger of mortally wounding themselves on large hooks and as the tube fly slides away from the fish its lifespan increases, safe from the perils of ravaging teeth.  Should a hook become damaged or corroded it can easily be changed without having to replace the pattern. 

Tubes are available in a number of densities.  Depending upon your preference and presentation requirements you have the choice of plastic, aluminum, brass, copper or tungsten tubes.  Depending upon the supplier, each tube type is available in varying length, diameters and profiles to suit your needs. 

Plastic tubes are the lightest tube type available today.  You can purchase tubes of varying lengths from a number of suppliers.  Some tyers use plastic refill tubes for pens or Q-Tips as tube foundations.  I recommend tying specific tubes, plastic or metal, as their quality is always consistent.  Plastic tubes must be rigid or semi-rigid as soft tubes tend to collapse under thread pressure.  Beware of curved plastic tubes.  Plastic tubes must be straight for the finished fly to ‘swim’ properly.  A slightly curved tube can be straightened through the strategic addition of heat.  Rubbing the tube through your hands often suffices.  Once warmed, stretch and hold the tube so it cools straight.  Many manufactures offer cut to length tubes allowing the creation of flies of varying lengths or to finalize the finished fly length once the tying process is complete.  Matt King prefers this method, cutting the tube at the head of the fly to length once the tying is finished.  A razor blade, utility knife blade or sharp scissors work best for cutting plastic tubes.   Once cut, hold the tube end near an exposed flame to flare the end.  Be careful not to singe the finished fly.  Pre set lengths of plastic tubes are also available and many come with flared ends to help materials from slipping of the end of the tube or keeping metal beads or cones in check.

Junction tubes are also made of plastic but they are not used to tie on.  The junction tube serves as a link between the tube fly and the hook and a shock absorber of sorts.  Junction tubes also stop the fly from sliding up the leader and tippet during the cast.  The leader is threaded through the tube fly and junction tube and then knotted onto the hook.  Once connected, the hook eye is then pushed into the junction tube.  Hooks can be positioned to ride hook point up or down depending upon preference or presentation.  When tying tube flies space must be left at the rear of the tube so the junction tube can slid onto the rear of the fly.  Depending upon your preference the tube can be secured in place using thread, glue or a combination of the two prior to tying.  Different junction tube diameters are available to compliment tube size.  Coloured tubes are also popular, augmenting the color scheme of the parent tube fly.  Most tubes come complete with a length of appropriately sized junction tube.  Junction tubing is cut to length, ½ to 3/8 of an inch is fine.

Metal tubes provide weight, an important ingredient for faster flows or when probing deeper regions.  As with plastic, metal tubes are available in varying lengths and diameters.  HMH for example offers metal tubes in 2 diameters and four different lengths from, ½-inch to 2 ½-inches per tube type.  In addition to standard metal tubes bottle tubes are becoming popular.  Bottle tubes are compact, heavy, bottle shaped tubes.  They work well for short bodied flies with long flowing tails and wings. 

No matter the metal tube type make sure to purchase pre lined or plastic tube liners for your metal tubes.  Leader and tippet passing through a non-lined tube rub and chafe causing break offs and fly fisher frustration.  Plastic tube liners are cut about 1/16th of an inch longer than the metal tube.  The liner is then inserted inside the metal tube and the ends are carefully flared using a lighter to hold them in place.

As there is no hook to hold in the jaws tube flies require an equipment shift at the vise.  Before specific tube fly tying tools were available tyers used finishing nails or needles to tie their tube flies.  Now we have special adapters design to fit into the jaws of a traditional vise or specific tube fly vises at our disposal.  These adapters and vises make tying tube flies a breeze.  Some vise companies such as Renzetti offer with specific tube fly vise heads that thread onto the vise stem temporarily replacing the traditional jawed head.  No matter the attachment each offers varying diameter mandrels designed to hold the tube in place while tying.  Some mandrels are purposely tapered to hold the tube in place.  Others lock the tube in place between the vise jaws and the end of the mandrel.  Tapered mandrels enable you to force the tube against the mandrel pressure fitting the tube in place. Jaw type adapters can also be used without the mandrel.  Simply place the rear of the tube in mandrel clamp to hold it in place. Be careful not to crush plastic tubes.

Tube flies offer a wide assortment of uses besides salmon and steelhead patterns.  More and more tyers are discovering the tube fly advantage for large patterns, stillwater patterns and when chasing quarry with large nasty teeth that shred traditional patterns in seconds.  If you have not yet tried or tied a tube fly I suggest you do.  Tube flies will add a new level of versatility to your fly box.

Tying Instructions

1) Push a short, approximately 3/8ths, length of junction tubing onto the end of a 1 ½ to 2-inch length of clear plastic tube.  Place a drop of super glue onto the seam between the two tubes.  Slide a hot orange bead over the plastic body tube wide end first.  Push the bead over the junction tube seam.  Depending on the bead size you may have to ream the narrow end of the bead using an old pair of scissors.  Test fitting the bead prior to applying glue is recommended.  Slide the finished assembly onto the tube fly mandrel.

2) Attach the tying thread about one to two inches up from the bead depending on what sized Hot Butt Prawn you want.  Tie in a black saddle hackle by the tip in front of the bead wet fly style with the shiny side of the feather facing forward Tie in a length of Crystal Chenille by its thread core directly in front of the bead.  Wind the Crystal Chenille forward in close touch turns to form the body.  Tie off the body material and trim the excess.  The finished body should be about 1 inch long.

3) Using open turns, palmer the saddle hackle over the body.   Tie off and trim the excess hackle.

4) Take a single fine stemmed plume of black marabou and tie it in by the butt in front of the body.  Wind the marabou plume around the tube 3-4 times in front of the body.  Fold and sweep the fibres back after each wrap.  Tie off and trim the excess.  Pinch and flow the marabou down the tube.

5) Spin the bobbin counter clockwise to remove the any twist and flatten the tying thread.  Split the tying thread and insert 10-12 strands of ostrich herl.  The weight of the bobbin will pinch and hold the ostrich herl in place.  Wind the thread front of the body evenly distributing the ostrich herl around the tube.  The tips of the ostrich herl should extend at least twice the body distance past the rear of the junction tube.

6) Tie in and distribute 6-8 strands of natural Lady Amherst tail fibres around the tube in front of the marabou and ostrich herl collar.  Double a single strand of the SuperFlash around the tying thread and secure along the far side of the tube.  Repeat this process for the near side of the tube.  The SuperFlash should extend back to the tips of the ostrich herl. 

7) Tie in a 2 dyed golden pheasant flank feathers on top of the tube so the tips extend back to the rear of the hot orange bead.  Fold the stems back over themselves and lock them in place with tying thread.  Build a neat tapered head whip finish and apply an initial coat of head cement.  Trim the balance of the body tube to within 1/16th of an inch of the head.  Carefully flare the end of the body tube using a lighter.  Do not set your fly on fire or seal the tube opening.  Apply a second coat of head cement to the head area of the finished fly forming a glossy head.

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