Tube flies

A tube fly often escapes the jaws of the fish it hooks, flying up the line in a flash of colour. That doesn’t mean that its tying can afford to be any the less robust or businesslike.

Although the tube fly is not a modern innovation, its worldwide popularity is only recent. And although it will probably never oust the standard and low-water flies tied on normal single and double hooks, there is no doubt that it is here to stay. The tube fly, as its name suggests, consists of a length of polythene or metal tubing, round which are whipped hair fibres from the tails of many different animals. Orthodox salmon fly bodies are generally added to the tubes, and long-fibred hackles may be used in conjunction with the hair fibres, or even in place of them.

The history of the tube fly is vague, and in fact there was at one time a great deal of discussion as to who was its originator. The history of the salmon fly itself was dealt with in section 14 of New Fisherman’s body feathers are good examples of the feathers which are now used for tying tube flies, as they have long, flowing fibres which work well in the water when the fly is fished. Some tubes are made of brass in which a polythene tube has been inserted, thus giving weight for deep winter fishing without creating too much wear and tear on the leader.

Tube flies are used in conjunction with a treble hook which is tied to the end of the leader. The tube is then slid down the leader tail-end first, until it is stopped by the eye of the treble hook. From this you will see that the tube runs free on the leader, which has a double advantage. When the fly is being fished, the pressure of water holds it tight to the treble hook, whereas when the hook is taken by a fish the reverse applies, and the drag caused by the fish’s run drives the tube up the leader. This prevents damage to tube and dressing.


For colour variations or for increased size, two made-up tubes may be used together.

Conventional fly tying equipment can be used to make tube flies, plus one or two sizes of tapered, eyeless salmon hooks on which the tubes can be slid to facilitate tying. Hook sizes 4, 2, 20 and 40 should cope with most tube diameters. There is also a device, designed by Anne Douglas, which fits into a normal vice clamp and which has several sizes of spike set on to an axle at the top. The size needed is turned to the right of the stem intended to take the tube while the other sizes are turned left out of the way.

To prevent the treble from hanging at an angle to the tube during casting, a small piece of cycle valve rubber, or another short piece of polythene tubing, can be fixed over the hook end of each tube when it is completed. The eye of the treble can then be drawn into it before you start to fish. Unless you take this precaution, the hook can snag itself on the leader in front of the tube, resulting in many useless casts.

The Hairy Mary tube fly, chosen here for step-by-step demonstration of tying, is a very well-known tube adaptation, being a hair-winged salmon fly in its original form, which in its turn was an adaptation of the Blue Charm—one of the best known and most popular flies in the salmon angler’s fly box. It varied only in that the original feather wing of the Blue Charm was replaced by brown bucktail (deer) fibres. The original tail tag, body and hackle ingredients were left intact.

Tying a Hairy Mary

To tie a Hairy Mary, first press the tube onto the tapered hook shank, firmly enough to hold it well but taking care not to split or damage the end of it. The bend of the hook is then held in the vice and tying silk run down the tube. Body silk and tinsel rib are tied in where the tail end of the fly would usually be. Wind the tying silk back the other way and follow it with the body silk and tinsel rib, in that order. Now put a layer of the ty- ing silk on the remaining piece of tubing to form a bed for the ends of the hair fibres which are to be added. This stops the fibres slipping. If you embed them in Superglue, as illustrated, it is not necessary.

The wing of the Hairy Mary is made from brown bucktail or, in the smaller patterns, squirrel tail. The best fibres for small tube flies, whichever kind of tail is used, will be found at the base, and for larger flies the fibres should be taken from whatever part of the tail suits them best, so that for very large flies the fibres would be from the tip. This makes best possible use of any variegated colour in the tail.

The hairs are cut off by twisting a small bunch of them together, and trimming them close to the root. Any fluffy fur—found at the base of most hair fibres—should be pricked out with the point of a dubbing needle: this fur has no use in the wing and only makes the finished head thicker than it need be. The size of the head should be kept to a minimum to prevent a bow-wave and speed entry into the water.

Do not try to put on too many hairs at a time: a good measure of quantity is their thickness when they are twisted together. The max-imum, even for large flies, is a thickness of about in. The bunch of fibres is now tied in on top of the tube, making the loop of tying silk over the fingers as you might for tying-in normal wings.

The waste ends should be cut off now and after each bunch of fibres is tied in. This makes for precision in each ensuing stage of the tying-in, whereas a large bunch of splayed-out waste fibes would obscure the head of the tube. (But you may prefer the alternative method illustrated: it’s a matter of taste.)

The tube is now rolled round the hook shank, bringing to the top the next portion which is to be covered by hairs. Another bunch of fibres is now tied in, the turns of silk being to the immediate right of those turns securing the first bunch. Continue in this way until the whole tube has been covered.

Keep the head small

Placing the silk turns to the right as each bunch is tied in will keep down the size of the head. If all the turns were in one place it would be quite bulky. Try to fix the ‘steps’ of tying silk so that the last bunch of fibres is completed just as the end of the tube is reached. A single layer of silk is wound round all the fibres where they are tied in. This forms a neat head and gives a uniform slope to the fibres. All the waste ends of the fibres were cut off as the body progressed, so that all that is now needed is a whip finish and one or two coats of thin clear varnish—to the head. The silk whippings should be soaked well in the varnish for strength, and when dry, a final coat of black or red, as desired, completes the fly—apart from the hook.

If the tube fly requires a hackle in front, this is wound at the point where the first bunch of fibres was tied in. Using the fingers of your left hand, all the hackle fibres are drawn to the rear. Wind a few turns of silk over their base so that they contain the hair as closely as possible. Body hackles can be added in the same way as with a normal fly.

Should Heron hackles be used in the place of hair, one hackle is wound at the front and all its fibres pulled to the rear. On a larger pattern, the hackle can be wound ‘Palmer’-style.