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. 

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