Monday, January 25, 2016

Undertaker Tube Fly

Simple, quick, and effective

There's not much to say about this one. The Undertaker is one of North America's most popular and effective Atlantic salmon flies. I wanted to tie a large Undertaker, so I decided to tie one on a tube. Instead of a wing, I wanted the hair to wrap around the tube 360º. 

A few hours after tying the first one, this fly proved itself effective. There's nothing fancy about it. Anyone can tie it. Try fishing it on a sink tip or sinking line. 

Undertaker Tube Fly

Tube: 1.8 mm plastic (1")
Junction Tube: PVC, tied directly onto the rear end of the plastic tube
Butt #1: Chartreuse Uni-Yarn
Butt #2: Chinese Red Uni-Yarn
Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Body/Dubbing Ball: Peacock Ice Dub (see notes below)
Wing/Collar: Black arctic fox, tied 360º around the tube (fairly sparse)
Cheeks: Jungle cock (optional)
Head: Black

Tying Notes:

  • I tie the junction tubing directly to the plastic tubing when tying this fly. The overlapping segment of junction tubing is just long enough to be covered by both butts. If junction tubing was placed over the butts, the "hotspots" would be obscured. Since the butts are an integral part of this simple fly, I thought it best to wrap them on top of the junction tube. 
  • Since the junction tube is a permanent part of this fly, make sure you use the most durable junction tubing you can find. Use a fairly long piece of junction tubing in case you want the hook to sit back near the end of the wing/collar. 
  • To see how the junction tubing is tied in, refer to the post linked here. 
  • Wind the dubbed body then wrap the tinsel rib. After tying off and trimming the butt end of the tinsel, form a dubbing ball in front of the body. This will help keep the wing/collar propped up when swimming through the current. 
  • The wing/collar in the fly pictured above is tied 360º around the hook. It's also possible to put the arctic fox in a dubbing loop and wind it around the tube. 
  • Another option is to substitute a couple turns of black marabou instead of the fox fur wing/collar.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tube Fly Rigging Basics

Fig. I: The standard tube fly rig
1. Fly tied on a rigid tube (plastic or metal)
2. Flexible junction/hook holder tubing
3. Short shanked hook (single, double, or treble)

Over the past few years, I have given away many tube flies. Most recipients of these "gifts" had never seen a tube fly before. After a reasonable amount of time, I would inquire about the fly's performance. "I never tried it. I don't know how to use a tube fly," was a common answer. Rigging seemed pretty self explanatory to me, but I realized the problem was my own. Tube flies are quite different from conventional flies and I should have offered a little bit of instruction to go along with each of these flies. Hopefully, this post provide some insight on the basics. 

Regardless of how we choose to rig our tube flies, there is one thing each option has in common with one another. The hook is never permanently affixed to the fly. That is perhaps the single biggest advantage to using tube flies (for reasons listed here, amongst other places).  Since the hook is not a part of the fly, we don't need one hook per tube fly. A small assortment of hooks will suffice. 

The most common way to rig a tube fly is by using a flexible junction tubing (aka "hook holder" tubing) that slides over the back end of the tube fly. Junction tubing is most often made from silicone or PVC.  Silicone's best asset is its flexibility. It is my choice when I need to slip junction tubing over a tube fly with a thick body and/or when I use larger hooks. PVC is more rigid and durable. I use it for flies with bare tube bodies, with smaller hooks, and when a longer piece of junction tube is desired. I prefer to add junction tubing after tying the fly so I do not have to fumble with it while on the river. 

To see how this rig works, look at Fig. I. Thread the tube fly (without hook) onto the leader. Let the tube fly fall down the leader. Choose a straight-eyed, short shanked single, double, or treble hook. Tie the hook on with the knot of your choice. I use a clinch knot. After trimming the tag end of the knot, pull the tube fly back towards the hook. Then, pull the hook into the junction tubing. The hook should fit snugly inside the junction tube and the fly is ready to fish. 

Fig II: Hook inserted directly into plastic tube

Some flies are tied on tubes with a large enough inner diameter to hold a hook without the need for junction tubing. This is the case in Fig. II. Thread the fly onto the tippet, tie your hook on, then pull the hook into the body of the tube fly. Note: this will only work with plastic tube flies. The thin plastic tube that lines metal tube flies is too narrow to accommodate a hook. This method is preferable when using hitched tube flies, as shown above. For more information on fishing hitched tubes (and to learn why the tippet is threaded through the side of the fly above), check out this website.

Fig III: Loop knot and free swinging hook

At times, it can be beneficial to fish with hook situated far behind the fly. When the water is very cold, fish can be sluggish, resulting in "nips" or "short strikes." Look at Fig. III. If the hook was placed inside the junction tubing, a fish might not grab hold of it well enough to be hooked solidly. When short strikes become a problem, this type of rig can help. First, slide the tube fly up the leader. Next, tie a loop knot in your tippet. Don't make the loop too big or the hook will end up too far away from the fly. Finally, thread the eye of a short shanked, up-eye hook through the loop. A short length of small-diameter junction tubing is handy to "grip" the knot. If your tippet material is too thick, you won't be able to get it through the eye of the hook. If your tippet material is too fine, the knot might slip through the opening in the back end of the tube, allowing the hook to wind up near (or inside of) the junction tube. If a fine tippet is needed, look at Fig. IV below.

Fig. IV: Loop knot w/plastic bead

Using a small bead can prevent your knot from sliding into the back end of your tube fly. To do this, thread your fly onto the tippet like normal. Then, thread a bead onto your tippet directly after the tube fly. Tie your loop knot, then add your hook, just like the previous example. The bead will butt up against the back end of the tube fly. As long as the hole in the bead is smaller than your knot, the bead will keep the hook in place and the knot out of the tube fly body. 

Fig. V: Standard rig w/extended junction tube

An alternative to using a loop knot is to add a piece of junction tubing that is longer than normal (see Fig. V). For this purpose, I prefer PVC junction tubing to silicone. PVC is stiffer and doesn't flex as much as silicone does. As long as my PVC tubing fits over my tube fly, that's what I use. If silicone must be used, don't fret. Check your fly after sloppy casts to make sure the silicone junction tube hasn't flexed enough to foul the hook on either the fly or the leader.

I find the rig in Fig. V preferable to the loop knot method shown in Figs. III and IV. Both silicone and PVC junction tubing hold a hook more securely than a loop knot. Unless your tippet is thick, a loop knot may cause your hook to droop in slower currents. A longer piece of junction tubing can be used to support the loop but, if you're going to use longer junction tubing anyway, you might as well opt for the method shown in Fig. V. Another reason I like the long junction tube rig is the ability to make changes in hook placement quickly and easily. 

Whichever method is used, it is important to consider the aggressiveness of the fish before rigging up. When the water is warm and the fish are taking aggressively, I want my hook to sit closer to the front of the fly (see Fig. VI). If an aggressive taker grabs a fly with a hook mounted too far rearward, ithe fish might take the hook too deeply. When designing and tying your tube flies, take this into account. A fly with body as long as the materials might not be as useful when the fish are eager to inhale a fly. To make my flies as versatile as possible, I prefer to tie them so they can be used effectively with many types of rigs. 

Fig. VI: The Picasse tube fly with standard hook placement


I hope some readers find this post helpful. I encourage you to look at other sources for more ideas. For those of you who might be interested in a more in-depth look at tube flies, their uses for multiple species, and their construction, I offer a presentation called "An Introduction to Tube Flies: Fishing and Tying." I would love to present it at your angling club, fly shop, or event. It has proven very helpful to those who were previously unfamiliar with the benefits of fishing tube flies. Click here for more information. As always, feel free to ask any questions you might have. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Gear in Review 2015

Fishpond's Nomad mid-length net in action

As mentioned in previous gear reviews, I'm not exactly on the cutting edge. It doesn't really matter. Most of this stuff hasn't been written about in many places, so this review might still be helpful to some people. Tackle-wise, I didn't change much. In terms of soft goods, I liquidated and started fresh. Anyhow, here are my thoughts on some of these products.

It felt like it took me forever to finally use this reel, but it was worth the wait.


I bought too many reels this year. Most were impulse purchases, like the Abel Super 8 I bought and sold without ever using. Others, like a pair of Islander reels, were products I already owned, but wanted in different sizes. I got a great price on a used Islander LX 3.8 and moved it to my Sage Z-Axis 6wt. switch rod. I also bought a used LX 4.0. I haven't even cleaned the old line off of it yet and I don't have a definite use in mind at the moment. I know I like Islander reels, so I bought it when I found the right price. Impulse control...I'd like to say I'm working on it, but I'm not. 

Abel Classic Series Reel (Switch model) 

Unlike the Islanders, the Abel Classic Switch Reel was new to me. I had so much fun with my Islander IR4 in the spring, I decided to go the click and pawl route for my Ross Reach 11'9" 7wt. Unfortunately, it took forever to get enough water in the river to use this combo. One of my clients actually landed a salmon on this reel before I had the chance to fish it myself! Once the water came up, I was in business. It is a very sturdy reel and it has a full cage frame, so thin running lines will not slip between the frame and spool. This reel has a very meaty "growl." I'm not crazy about the sound when I peel line off, but my opinion changes when a fish pulls line off for me. I'm not ready to convert to click and pawl only, but I will probably hang on to this reel. It is a lot of fun, well built, and easy to maintain. 

Sage One 7126

I tested this rod out a couple of years ago at the New England Spey Clave. Instantly, I knew I wanted it. The only problem was the price, which is just too much for me. Two summers ago, I got a good deal on a Sage TCX 7126, aka the "Death Star." It was a fussy rod, but I managed to get the feel for it after a few practice sessions. Anyhow, the opportunity came up to make a square Death Star for the Sage One 7126 in similar condition (virtually mint), so I jumped on it. It felt as sweet as it did back when I first tried it out. It's very light and responsive. I paired it with a Danielsson L5W 8twelve and a 475 gr. Beulah Elixir. I haven't really put it through its paces yet, but I expect I will in the first half of 2016. I will report more on this rod later this year, though there are plenty of Sage One reviews out there already. 

I am a recent Fishpond convert.

Soft Goods & Accessories

Fishpond Products

I have been aware of Fishpond for a while, but never bought any of their products until late 2015. I bought an older model of their Westwater Guide Lumbar pack in Cabela's Bargain Cave (reviewed here by my friend Steve Zakur). The first thing that struck me about this pack was its attachment points. A lack of attachment points (non-Velcro) always bugged me about my Simms Headwaters sling packs. There are some items I'd rather have on the outside of my pack. I don't want to open and close zippers all the time. I used the Westwater lumbar pack during last season's shad run and I grew to like it, though it was a bit large and I didn't need to carry around a ton of fly boxes and supplies everywhere I went. 

I decided to make a switch to a more modular system. I bought the Fishpond Westwater backpack and chest pack, both of which seem to be discontinued now. The backpack holds all the gear to which I don't need immediate access (e.g. backup flies, extra tippet material, hat and gloves, etc.). I use the chest pack (as a small sling) to carry a couple fly boxes, a leader wallet, some snacks, etc. Despite being small, the chest pack has several attachment points. The chest pack can buckle into the front of the backpack to make it easier to carry on long hikes. I was very impressed with the materials and the construction of both. Neither are submersible, but doth do a great job of keeping rain out. Fishpond uses their proprietary Cyclepond fabric, which is made from recycled nylon fishing nets. It's great to find a company that makes great products in an environmentally responsible way. 

Onto my chest pack, I attached a Fishpond Piopod micro trash container for wrappers and old leader material. I never littered to begin with, but it was nice to have a place to put garbage instead of stuffing it into the pockets of my waders. I also attached a Fishpond Swivel Retractor with a pair of Barracuda aluminum clippers.  I like the way the retractor attached to the pack (with a single, but sturdy pin w/backing piece). The retractor can rotate 360º, so nothing virtually nothing is out of reach. I don't like how the coil dangles loosely, though. I prefer the Simms retractor, which holds the accessory closer and keeps it from rattling around. The Barracuda clippers worked really well. They are very light, sharp, and the blades are replaceable. My one gripe was that they don't work well when cutting off a fly tied with a steering knot (like the Turle knot). Conventional nippers have a beak-like shape which allow them to pull up on the underside of the knot. The Barracuda clipper have trouble with that due to the blade being slightly recessed. If I tied nothing but loop knots and clinch knots, I would buy several pairs of the Barracuda clippers. They will serve me better in the spring and will be ideal for saltwater fishing trips. 

Fishpond Sweetwater reel case (large)

I also tried the Fishpond Sweetwater reel case, in size large. This is a very well made case and offers good protection from falls (I only dropped it once). The small, zippered compartment was perfect for storing extra leaders. I even found the top of the case was good for sticking a flies in at the end of the day. It is supposed to hold four larger sized reels, but that is a bit of a stretch. When I brought a couple of switch rods and a couple of single handers, it worked fine. When I packed two switch rods, a spey rod, and one single handed rod, there was no way I could fit all four reels. I know the fit shouldn't be too loose, but it could be a little wider to accommodate four saltwater sized reels. I will probably pick up the extra large size and use the extra space to store a small camera and other small supplies.

My most significant Fishpond purchase was a Nomad mid-length net. These nets aren't cheap, but they are extremely light and durable. The mid-length net is somewhere between a hand net and boat/guide net. It is 37" in total length and offers a much greater reach than my old Brodin San Juan hand net. The bag is rubber and easy on the fish. It weight less than one pound and causes no fatigue throughout the day. The net floats like a cork. When possible, I found myself dropping it into the slack water when I released fish. It would be right where I left it when I got back. The rubberized handle is easy to grip, even with wet hands. As a bonus, it has a ruler built into the handle. The head is 13"W x 18"L. Virtually all of last season's salmon would fit comfortably in this net. The fish were bigger this season and I had more "tight squeezes" and "no ways" than I would have liked. I would say it the maximum fish length for this net is 24". It might hold a slightly longer fish, but there's not much room for a larger fish to turn. Furthermore, I had to hope a bigger fish will go into the net peacefully, which is not always the case. I will probably try the next size up next season (the El Jefe) just for a little peace of mind. The mid-length net will make a great net for all but the largest sea-run browns and American shad, so I will continue to use it even if I buy a larger net.

The current rig: Fishpond Westwater chest pack & Nomad mid-length net
Smith Creek Net Holster


I got pretty tired of my Nomad net sliding around underneath my wading belt, so I purchased a Smith Creek Net Holster. At $39.99, this is one of those items that seems outrageously expensive for what it is. However, it works so well, I would buy another if I lost mine. I anchored it on my wading belt with one side on each side of my rear belt loop. The key was using a wading belt wide enough to fill the space of the net holster's clip. A 2" wide Simms neoprene wading belt was the perfect fit. The net holster didn't move from right to left and the net stayed perfectly upright and stable. It was very easy to remove the net and replace it when necessary. Like I said, it is expensive for what it is, but it does its job well enough to justify the price. 

Tacky fly boxes are a great product. I hope they expand their lineup. 

Everyone has been talking about the Tacky Fly Box, so I bought a couple with an Orvis discount coupon. It was like buying one and getting the other free. I bought the standard box and the Big Bug box. I was skeptical of how good they would be for salmon flies. The standard box, which is definitely more of a trout fly box, worked well as long as the flies were size 6 or smaller, though 8s, 10s, and 12s were a better fit. The Big Bug box held pretty much everything, but its layout is definitely that of a modern streamer box. Tacky guys, if you read this, what we need is a "Steelhead/Salmon" and/or a "Bonefish/Permit" box. The dimensions of the Big Bug box would be fine, but with a layout more like the standard box, but with deeper slits in the silicone. It would be awesome if it could hold flies size 2-10, with anything larger moving to a Big Bug box. I have no complaints about the product though. It is really high quality. It just doesn't totally meet our needs as salmon anglers, which is not really surprising given how small our share of the market is. 


I have some fly tying tutorials planned, plus some other tips, so check back soon! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Naugatuck Report - January 8, 2016 - Back to the Classics

The old classics still work

Before leaving to fish this morning, I told myself this trip would be my last for a while. It's getting colder, the first reports of ice fishing have be surfacing, and I need to spend more time at the vise. It was a great fall and, so far, winter has been pretty good, as well. Fishing has been consistent from December into early January. Since I figure it's my last trip for a while, I decided to put the tube flies away and fish traditional flies. 

The air was 38º, the water about 36-38º, and the flow was 204 cfs, which is sort of low. It was sunny and the water was very clear. It wasn't the best conditions, but we must fish when we can. 

A variation on Ernest Crosfield's Black Silk

Action was pretty slow for me today. The only grab I had happened in my first pass through the first pool. I wanted to catch a salmon on a classic salmon fly, so I tied on a sz. 2 Black Silk. That did the trick and brought a small salmon to hand. I get a lot of pleasure out of catching fish on old fly patterns. I really should fish them more often. 

So that is that. I say I'm not fishing again until spring. We'll see if I stick to it or not. Fishing season ends, tying season begins...

Not much ice for this time of year, but I think that will change very soon. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Peer-to-Peer Interviews: Vokey, Maron, and A.T.

I meant to share a link to an interesting blog post a while back, but it slipped my mind. The post, which was about tube flies ("Step Up and Surf the Tube"), was on April Vokey's blog. She covered the nuts and bolts of fishing tube flies, but also provided some interesting perspectives on fishing tubes vs. shanks and how to stack tube flies to achieve interesting effects, amongst other topics. I really enjoyed this particular post, so I decided to read through some of the archives. I was struck by April's thoughtful posts, as well as the quality of her writing and images. 

Recently, I tore myself away from Marc Maron's WTF podcast and gave April's podcast a listen. I noticed a similarity almost immediately. Both Maron and Vokey listen to what their guests say and follow up in an intelligent and relevant way. It isn't just question, answer, question, answer, etc. Both hosts seem to know how to draw the most out of their guests. 

The best musician interviews are conducted by other musicians. Most musicians are comfortable talking with one of their own and the interviews dig deeper than many conducted by journalists. My favorite book of musician-to-musican interviews is Notes and Tones, written by the late jazz drummer Arthur Taylor (known affectionately as "A.T."). Notes and Tones is the ultimate book of jazz musician interviews. A.T. performed with most of his guests and, in many cases, an intimate relationship between the two is apparent. The Miles Davis interview is pretty bizarre. I think it went that direction precisely because Miles was so comfortable talking to one of his peers.

Marc Maron's comedian-to-comedian interviews are equally fascinating. Often times, the listener feels like a fly on the wall in a conversation that might have happened anywhere. I feel similarly about April Vokey's podcast. The eight or so episodes I've listened to so far sounded like two anglers hanging out and chatting. The lack of formality is refreshing and the answers are candid. It doesn't sound rehearsed.  So far, my favorite was her interview with Christer Sjöberg. 

I encourage you to check out April's blog and podcast. It is well worth your time. While you're at it, check out Marc Maron's podcast and Notes and Tones, as well. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Naugatuck Report - January 3, 2016 - First of the Year

Starting 2016 of right...small, but right nonetheless

Last year at this time, the only fishing to be had was through the ice. Come to think of it, that was the case in January of 2014 and 2013, if I remember correctly. The 2013 season was nice and long, but on the front end. There was salmon fishing that September. The 2015-2016 season has been nice and long on the back end due to the strong El Niño. Though the water has cooled off due to snowmelt (38º), it isn't frozen yet. With warmer weather on tap for most of this week, we might dodge that bullet for a little while longer.

I was able to sneak out for a few hours yesterday between teaching and a gig. The air was a seasonably comfortable 42º, though the wind made it feel colder. The river was flowing at a good level, 366 cfs. My first stop produced nothing. I had the same result with one quick pass through the next pool.

The third pool was the right choice. This pool has been a great producer for me in the past, but not the past two seasons. The water has to be at just the right level. 366 cfs is still a little high for the pool, but it's worth a shot up to 400 cfs or so. I hooked and landed my first salmon of 2016 on my first pass, right in the bucket of the pool. It was a little guy, probably 18"-20" tops. It took the Picasse tube fly. It was my eighth straight salmon on some sort of Picasse.

I pricked one on my second pass (on a Slime marabou tube), but failed to hook up. My third pass brought a second salmon to hand, this time on a gold bodied Willie Gunn, thus ending the Picasse streak. That fish was holding next to a large rock and in fast water. I passed over him twice with plastic tubes, but it took a copper tube to get down fast enough to get the fly in front of him. It can pay to try flies of different sizes and different weights for this very reason. After landing that salmon, it was time for me to leave.

So no big (or even average sized) salmon today, but that's ok. Just being able to fish in January is good enough. Hopefully I'll have more time on my next trip. This has to end at some point, but I'm going to enjoy it while I still can.