The Tube Fly Primer, Part 1: Why Tubes?

Tying Has Gone Down the Tubes

A few years back, based primarily on the need to find a way to huck big bass poppers with my fly rod
Tube fly, popper style
without having to worry about gigantic hooks, I made the dive into tube flies. Once I started messing around with tubes, it really opened a whole new world of tying for me and has helped me produce some effective patterns over the years. And given some of the factors we'll go into here, it's definitely a tying method you should not be ignoring.

Besides an excuse to buy more fancy tools and materials, there are some definite advantages to tube flies -- regardless of the specific patterns you'll be whipping up.

First off, and this is the biggest advantage from my vantage point, you can tie a fly with a much bigger and longer profile without adding the weight and worry of a large hook. For me, it was the need to cast some bigger salt-water poppers. When I got into the size hooks that would match the big poppers, I was looking at something that turn my popper into something akin to a hand-grenade (not to mention the cost of the bigger hooks). With tube flies, on the other hand, you can really mix and match the sizes and hook types since you're not constrained to have to build the fly onto the hook itself. You can create enormous profile flies and pair them up with smaller hooks that will still pierce flesh and land even the biggest fish.

Baby brown trout tube fly

The second advantage you might see is the "leverage factor". (And I know this is a somewhat arguable point, but let's roll with it anyway). Let's say you're fishing a big streamer or even a big steelhead pattern with a very long shank hook. A basic rule of physics shows us that the longer the shank, the more leverage there will be for the fish to fight as you bring it in. Tube flies, on the other hand, are most often short-shanked thicker wire hooks that reduce the amount of leverage any fish might gain on you with bigger patterns.

Purple Midnight Fire Streamer

Not only will the shorter hook shank reduce leverage, the hook will often separate from the tube when fighting a fish, which keeps it out of some gnarly mouthfuls of teeth. Even if the tube doesn't separate from the hook, you can easily slide it out of the way and remove the hook without fear of damaging a nicely tied steelhead or salmon fly in the process.

Weedless hook on a Deflectinator
Another advantage I've found is the ability to use different style hooks -- especially weedless style bass hooks -- that allow me to mix and match hook styles to a given condition while my pattern remains the same. With this handy trick, I can tie on a wacky weedless drop shot hook and voila, my fly is instantly weedless. This applies to streamers, poppers, big nymphs or anything else you might want to use as a weedless pattern. You can also use this hook-swapping method to "weight" your patterns differently by using a heavier or lighter hook as needed.

And last but not least, because I can keep my tube flies stored without hooks, I can literally stick a pack of hooks and a bunch of tube patterns in my pocket and not worry about having to throw them into a box. In fact, my tube fly "box" is officially a ziplock bag that I can store almost anywhere without taking any space. Cheech makes fun of my "box".

Baby bluegill tube fly

Now that you're familiar with some of the concepts, part II will take a look at the tying aspect (which is all we really care about anyway, right??). Stay tuned...