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Hot Orange Arctic ThumbIf you are at all interested in tying and trying tube flies don't let the idea that you need a new vise and costly materials stop you. You are undoubtedly already a tier so you have almost everything you need to put your favorite steelhead and salmon flies on tubes. I was finally convinced to make the plunge several years ago after seeing one of my favorite creative young tiers in Boise Idaho making tube flies at one of the shows. His name is Craig Tinder and for several years I watched him tie marvelous full dress Atlantic Salmon and Spey Flies. One year I walked up to his station ready for some more amazing traditional tying and historical discussion and I found that the colorful trappings of the height of the British Empire were missing. Instead the table just had the simple dressing materials for some modern Scandinavian style tube flies that tend to dominate as the Spey River fly of today. I sat down and we discussed all the reasons he made the switch for some practical fishing flies. One of the foremost reasons was the ease of changing a damaged hook while using the same fly. He had been up in BC banging flies in some rocky rivers after Salmon again. It is so easy to mix and match or replace components when you fish tubes. Tube flies are still fairly limited in the shops I frequent. If you tie your own you can make patterns that just aren't out there from commercial tiers. Another practical aspect is cost.

If you find you really like tube flies you can spend a lot buying special tubes and weights and buy a dedicated tube vise. Or if you are like me you can spend very little and put together an inexpensive workable collection of custom tube flies. Like with all new materials, flies, and styles of tying-I like to try it and see if I like it before I plunge in very deep.

Tubes don't need to be expensive as Craig pointed out to me. After I returned home, I went to my local dollar store and bought a pack of tube fly raw materials. Let me see now, for the price of one dollar, one hook, and a little work I could field almost 300 tube flies with my materials already at home. I bought one multi color pack of plastic cotton swabs. Plastic tubes usually are line friendly and don't need liners like metal tubes. They are light so you can tie short or long flies or even add many tube flies together to make a long fly with a small hook and little weight to cast. I usually don't tie heavy weighted flies but instead use custom T-14 tips or sinking lines to get down while fishing. I prefer flies that are light and move easily with subtle water currents or can be fished in low water conditions. Simply cut the plastic tube to the length you want and flare the head end (or both ends) with heat from a lighter or candle. If you want to connect the hook and fly a flexible junction tube can be made from cutting aquarium tubing from a hobby or pet store.

OK now how do we put a hookless tube in our existing vise? We need what is called a mandrel in tube tying. One can bend a short L shape in a suitable piece of stiff wire (paper clip?), insert it through the tube and clamp the rest in the vise. But we need to keep the tube from turning so some friction is in order. If you can't get a tight enough hold with just the wire add some folded over large rubber band or surgical tubing on either or both ends of the tube. As a mandrel people have also used large sewing needles (like the one you may have on hand for making extended bodies for trout flies) or a blind eye hook. To get a tighter fit on a needle or blind eye hook just insert a piece of tying wire through the tube before sliding it on whatever you have clamped in your vise. Having other vices besides the fly tying kind, my first mandrel solution was a piece of spinner wire with friction supplied by some beads and a ball point pen spring. The return wire of the spinner eye also provided grip inside the plastic tube.

Mandrels
A paperclip mandrel, the blind eye hook and my spinner wire mandrel all ready to clamp in my tying vise.

The photo below is an example of a simple fly tied on the 2/0 Partridge CS10/3 blind eye hook mandrel. Orange Angelina fiber tail, gold holographic tinsel body, Orange Saddle hackle and Arctic Fox wing.

Fly Tied on Blind Eye Hook Mandrel
A fly tied on a blind eye hook mandrel.

Now you are in business for less than the price of one hotdog at the ball park and if you like your results you can upgrade to some real tube fly equipment. I know my tube fly use will be limited so I just opted to buy an HMH Tube Fly Adapter that would fit into the jaws of one of my working vises. It came with different size mandrels and will satisfy all my limited tube tying needs. If I spent more time in Salmon or Saltwater country I would probably have a real tube vise in my collection.

Alec Jackson spade tied tube style on my adapter
An Alec Jackson spade tied tube style on my adapter.

One last idea, if you like big articulated flies like string leeches etc. think about how easy it is to string a number of tube flies on in front of a single hook- No long shanks or extended body tying.

Articulating Tubes
String tubes together create endless possibilities.

The Flies

Black FlashGreen Butt Skunk (tube variation)Hot Muddler Tube
Purple & ChartreuseHot Orange ArcticPink and White Tube

To see the flies in Bill's Spade,  Blonde, and Clouser, and Pink series and other William Lovelace flies, visit

The Flies Of William Lovelace

"What Can I Say About These Blondes"

"A Day on Puget Sound, Sea-Run Cutthroat, and Salt Water Flies"

"Favorite Flies for Pink Salmon"


Bill Lovelace at Albany Exposition

Bill Lovelace really needs no introduction to Salmonfly.Net readers. His prolific contributions to the site are now over 120 flies and articles and his eclectic  collection on these pages  make him a valuable resource to the fly-fishing community, in particular those that wish to see a variety of steelhead fly-tying styles.

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