Tube Flies ~ Part One


Steelhead to the beach for a photo shoot….

AS A STEELHEAD GUIDE, I am always asked about the best fly patterns to use for steelhead on the Bulkley River, but little is asked about the type of flies to use. A fly is a fly – right? Let me give you a ‘heads up’ about a type of fly we use a lot for our Bulkley River steelhead… tube flies.

Tube flies have been gaining in popularity with steelhead anglers in North America and when you know more, I am sure you will be a convert. Many of my anglers and myself included are using tubes. They have been in use for over fifty years and we have seen their use increase a lot in recent years on the Bulkley.

So what is a ‘tube fly’? A tube fly is a fly tied on metal or plastic tubes rather than the shank of a hook – there is no hook in sight! You are basically tying the fly on a shank only.

Anatomy of a Tube Fly

tube joining

Photo from Canadian Tube Fly Company, a great source for flies and materials.

There are three or four basic parts to a tube fly:

  1. The tying is done on the main tube which is comparable to the shaft of a hook.
  2. The junction tube joins the tube to your hook. The junction tube is a small piece of flexible tubing that connects your main tube to the hook. If you fish without the junction tube, your tube would slide up and down your leader as you cast the fly and defeat the effectiveness of the cast. The tube slides into one end of the soft junction tube and the hook slides into the other end. The hook usually dislodges from the junction tube when a fish is caught.
  3. Many tiers create a contoured lip on the front of the main tube and consider it important to keep all the tying materials on your hook. Plastic tubes make it easy to do this as you can create the lip by twisting the tube end near (not in) an open flame.
  4. Many tiers also put a lip on the rear of the main fly as they feel it gives the junction tube a better hold on the tube.

Tube Fly Advantages

A variety of bare tubes, joining tubing and hooks.  Photo from Canadian Tube Fly Company.

A variety of bare tubes, junction tubing and hooks. Photo from Canadian Tube Fly Company.

  1. Flies last longer. When a fish is hooked, the tube slides up the leader away from the hook and keeps the tube away from the mouth of the fish. Even if the hook is bent or damaged or dulled, it can be replaced and the fly (tube) is still fishable.
  2. Hook more fish. Adjust where the hook rides in the pattern and eliminate short strikes.
  3. Land More Fish. Tube flies use short shank hooks that hold better during the fight and increase your success in landing fish.
  4. Most Versatile. Mix and match your tubes and hooks to vary colors, action, size and profile.
  5. Easier casting. Big flies tied on long shank hooks are heavy, hard to cast, reduce the movement of the fly in the water and make it easier for steelhead to ‘throw’ the hook.

Without the weight of a large heavy hook, the effectiveness of your casting increases. You can still cast larger, heavily-dressed flies without the weight. More steelhead anglers are realizing that tube flies provide a good solution to improve the performance of their flies in the water and improve their casting of these flies.

Please bear in mind I am not an expert fly tier. I am an ‘occasional’ fly tier. However I love flies – and all the beautiful colors – and know a lot about them and what works on the Bulkley… need I say more? Stay tuned for Part Two!

Maxwell Steelhead Guides

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