A look at conventionally hook-tied flies and some of their disadvantages versus tube tied flies
By Skip Clement
• Tying a fly on a long shank hook (streamers) creates recognized advantages for a hooked fish. A long shank hook can be better leveraged than a short shank hook. When pressed against an object – a bonefish on a coral outcropping, bass on a log, trout that retreat to rock cover, or as a lever on head shakes by using the hook’s weight.
• Short strikes can be frequent on hook-tied streamer flies. Many fish “nip” at a fly. Think anadromous spawners and ocean fish in particular. The former reacts out of memory or annoyance as they are never feeding while spawning.
• That nipping is alleviated with an added stinger hook, but in most cases that creates a new problem – launching a brick.
• A fly tied on any hook tends to be more visible than a tube tied fly.
• A dinged point on a chemically sharpened hook is permanently compromised, and the fly is rendered useless. An offshore billfish fly could cost $25 — a #20 Adams $4, or personally tied would be the sum of material cost.
• A fly tied on a large hook does not penetrate as easily as a smaller, thin tapered inline “circle” hook. Think Gamakatsu Octopus or Owner Mosquito –others, of course.
• Hook tied flies need to be transported in a fly box, taking up storage space on your person or elsewhere.
If you can avoid tying a fly on big, heavy hooks, you will be moving towards eliminating short strikes, casting heavy flies, and catching less. Now, think tube flies
1. The number one advantage of tube flies is reason enough to adopt them: they are much, much easier to cast.
2. Tube flies can be rigged with smaller hooks than a counterpart hook-tied fly. In many situations much, much smaller, which will not only aid in casting but increase hookups.
3. Tube flies outlast conventional flies many times over.
4. The tube hook can be quickly and manually repositioned to fish up or down.
5. Tube flies are much easier to store – keep at the ready. There’s no hook to catch on anything. Hooks can be kept in their packets with sizes and styles available for use on a specific outing. Conventional wisdom on that score is that the hooks should have the tippet section already attached – ready to connect to a loop or a tippet ring. Changeouts are much, much quicker with tubes with no loss of the fly itself.
6. A smaller circle hook can be used on larger tube flies intended for bigger game fish, which will increase hookups. Instead of an 8/0 on a conventionally tied fly, a 4/0 might do the same job on a tube fly.
7. Now, smaller tube flies can also utilize circle hooks as they are available down to size #6.
8. With a tube fly, a bent hook or a damaged point doesn’t mean you lose a fly; just the hook – put on a new one.
9. A tube fly is inherently designed to break away or ride up the leader when a fish is on. The advantage there is the fly doesn’t get mauled – lives for another day. And the fish can’t use the weight of the fly as leverage on a head shake.
10. You can stick a dozen or more tube flies in one pocket and a half dozen hooks with attached tippets in another pocket in individual sandwich-size Zip-Lok bags, and you’re good to go.
NOTE: Inline circle hooks are size, feature, and shape limited. Currently only available as small as #6, straight eye and barbed.
Tube tyer notes
You don’t need a special vise to hold the tube in place. Just buy an adapter. There are two types. One is a pin; the other has a flat flared piece attached to a pin. Both anchor on conventional vises. A vise that rotates and made for tube pins has advantages but is not at all necessary. The one thing that happens when you begin tying is that the tube rotates because it’s not anchored. The tube has to be jammed into the pin where it flares to a greater unround thickness.
You can use all kinds of hooks when tying tube flies: long shank, short shank, up eye, down eye, nymph, bait, circle – any profile and change when desired with no penalty to the fly itself
Modern-day tube flies were green-lighted in Europe a long time ago. The Brits launched the parade in the 1940s, but the Scandinavians are leading the way using them for any species, any water. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s been the British Columbians taking up the tube banner. At first, using them exclusively for steelhead, then salmon and now the smaller Oncorhynchus mykiss. Beyond use outside of steelhead and salmon, only small pockets of believers exist in the American Northwest as to the merits of tubes. Eastward to the Great Lakes Region tubes meet isolated and geographic limits.
Where tube flies would outshine any hook tied fly, they are ignored; almost completely
Where would that be? Think saltwater: stripers, blues, albies, tarpon, snook, redfish, cobia, sharks, macks, kings, jacks, and anything that lives in the brine.
Paradoxically, offshore bill fishers that prefer fly fishing only use tubes because of their advantages as mentioned earlier. However, their sport is participant limited due to the entry fee, and its spokes-publications are likewise limited to a few – principally Marlin Magazine. And story mentions of fly fishing for billfish using tubes are only occasionally found in “other” saltwater fly fishing magazines.
- What about largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, musky, carp, catfish, walleye, and panfish? Tube flies are go-to for those that prefer catching to fishing. There isn’t a “fish species wall” on tube flies, and none in the question qualifies as such.
- Is getting into tube flies expensive? No, on a scratch basis, it would be about the same as getting into hook tied files, but most say it’s cheaper. Adding an adaptor to an existing vise is less than $15, and few tubes are all it takes to be in the tube fly business.
- Is it more challenging to tie a tube fly than a hook tied fly? I can’t think of a fly that would be more difficult to tie on a tube. All tube patterns utilize the same techniques as required on a conventionally tied hook.
- Are there savings like buying Q-tips for tubes? Yes, but they have shortcomings like cracking, collapsing, and splitting apart when cold and bounced off a rock or hard surface. I’ve long ago gone to the belief that you get what you pay for. Stick with the industry suppliers, and don’t ever bite on cheap hooks – colossal mistake.
- HMH provides a complete tube fly tying starter kit. Everything you’ll need for tube tying is available in packaged kits. There are adaptor tools and “pins” for your standard jawed vise. You do not need anything else – just start tying. Tying is “exactly” the same as you’re familiar with.
- Are circle hooks an advantage? Yes, in every way possible, better hold post hook up, less mortality on released fish, and easy hook removal because 99% of the time it will be in the corner of the fish’s mouth. On the catch side, they are about the same as conventional hooks (hook sizes being equal) but using smaller hooks on larger tube flies does catch more fish, a lot more.
- Is casting a tube fly more complicated than is casting a similar hook tied pattern? No. Casting a tube fly is much, much easier than casting its heftier hook tied twin. Why? Because it will be significantly lighter, especially with articulated patterns, big streamers, and bass – tarpon like patterns. Think weight of the hook.
- Are there a lot of videos on tying tube flies? Sorry, there isn’t a library of tube fly Vimeo’s or YouTube videos available. Even the best video tying producers, Inthriffle, Tim Flager and Jay Nichols are all but silent on the matter of tube flies. Almost all the tube fly vids are limited to steelhead flies or salmon flies. Nichols’ Caddis Fly Shop does a much better job.
Here are the top suppliers of tube tying essentials:
Try your local fly shop first. If they do not have what you’re looking for, they’ll get it for you.
NOTE: The following two articles appeared in Fly Fisherman in 2014. They both delve deeply into the minutiae of tubes.
April Vokey’s Stacker Tube Evolution
Tom Rosenbauer on Saltwater Tubes
The “Canadian” video introduces the basics of tube fly tying. The Eumer video shows just how easy it is to tie a Clouser Minnow pattern to a tube and rig a hook.