Tube City
Tube dry flies are fun to tie and reduce hooking mortality. Use these patterns with a revolutionary new fishing technique.
by Al & Gretchen Beatty

We knew about tube flies, but we never gave them much thought. They were simply out of sight, out of mind. Then, in the early 1990s, while on a trip to Bergen, Norway, we were made very aware of the value of tube flies.

We were the featured speakers at a fly-fishing show, and there was a trip scheduled to visit a nearby river the week following the festivities. Tube flies were everywhere: at the show, in the stores, and on the river. They were impossible to ignore. Our hosts were enthusiastic about tube flies, and we caught the bug from them, so to speak. It’s especially hard to discount the benefits of these patterns when you have a glorious salmon dancing at the end of your line with a tube fly anchored in its jaw.

ImageLook for a tube-fly tying tool at your local fly shop or favorite fly-tying catalog. This affordable tool (there are a couple of different brands) fits in the jaws of your vise. The mandrels hold tubes having different inside diameters.

We returned to our Montana home energized, ready to test tube flies on the Madison and Yellowstone rivers. Did they catch fish the way we experienced in Norway? You bet they did! We also returned from the show with some Fisker Design System tubes, which are manufactured in Denmark. This product features everything from lightweight plastic tubes to metal tubes with lead heads. The latter heavy tubes sink like rocks and are perfect for tying crayfish imitations; the brown trout on the lower Madison really fell in love with our metal-tube crayfish.

It was only a matter of time before a lightbulb went off and we started thinking about tube dry flies. Would dry flies tied on lightweight tubes have any benefit over conventional patterns made on regular hooks? We got our answer one day during a spring salmonfly hatch.

One of Al’s clients caught a small trout on a large salmonfly imitation, and unfortunately the hook point damaged the fish; it wouldn’t survive to the end of the day. That evening, while discussing the experience with Gretchen, we suddenly realized that using a large tube fly with a small hook might decrease the chance of mortally injuring fish. The next day, when Al picked up his clients, he had several new tube salmonfly patterns in his fly box. Since that day, tube flies have been an important part of our fly-fishing arsenal, especially larger tube dry flies.

Tools & Materials
What do you need to tie tube dry flies? We use the tool illustrated in the accompanying photographs. It employs a small mechanism that mounts in the vise jaws and includes three mandrels to accommodate tubes having different inside diameters. We added gaskets made from a heavy rubber band to keep the tubes from slipping on the mandrels. There are other tools on the market, and they all work pretty much the same way. We even know several tiers who construct their flies holding the tubes in their fingers. If you are looking for a challenge, give that a try.

ImageYou can purchase a complete set of tubes specifically designed for tying flies, or improvise with the hollow plastic tubes from cotton swabs or small cocktail mixing straws.

You can use a variety of tubes. Fisker Design System tubes include clear plastic tubes, soft junction tubing, plastic heads, and plastic butts. (To learn more about Fisker Design System tubes, go to HMH, an American company, also offers a complete line of tubes and tubing-tying tools. (You’ll find HMH products at many fly shops, or check out their Web site at

In addition to purchasing fly-tying tubes, you can adapt other types of narrow-diameter plastic tubes for making dry flies. The hollow tubes from cotton swabs and narrow cocktail mixing straws both work for tying these patterns.
Rigging the Fly

The really neat thing about tube flies is the many ways you can rig them. For instance, slip the Bullet-Head Trude, which we tie in the accompanying photographs, onto your leader. Next, slip a small bead—the kind you use to tie a bead-head fly—onto the tippet with the large hole facing forward. Tie the bare hook to the tippet, and pull the bead and hook into the junction tubing at the back of the fly. The bead prevents the small hook from pulling too far
inside the tube.

ImageThe authors placed small gaskets cut from a rubber band on each mandrel to prevent the tubes from turning when tying flies. This is a very useful tip.

Speaking of hooks, most anglers use ring-eye hooks with tube flies. We, however, prefer using scud hooks tied to our tippets using Turle knots. A Turle knot keeps the tippet directly in line with the hook shank and seats well inside the junction tubing. We also use tube flies without junction tubes in a method of presentation that simulates small fish getting ready to eat our floating flies. The jealous trophy trout go crazy and slam our baitfish imitations!

Typically, however, a tube dry fly is no different from any other pattern designed to ride on the surface of the water. Present the tube fly using the same bag of tricks you use when fishing a standard floating fly. We particularly like using tube dry-fly grasshopper and stonefly imitations. The Bullet-Head Trude is the same length as a standard size 2 pattern, but we can fish it with a size 10 hook. With this small hook, there is much less chance of permanently damaging any juvenile fish that jump on our fly.

Tube dry flies are not the solution to all fly-fishing situations, but they can certainly add a new dimension to your angling. We hope you try these ideas, and possibly even build on them.


Al and Gretchen Beatty are two leading fly designers who now live in Idaho. They are the authors of
LaFontaine’s Legacy: The Last Flies from an American Master (The Lyons Press). This award-winning volume is part of the Fly Tyer library of books. Be sure to visit Al and Gretchen’s Web site at


Tube: 1-inch-long Fisker Design System tube.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Elk hair.
Body: Fluorescent orange floss.
Body hackle: Brown, trimmed on 
    the bottom.
Wing: Elk hair.
Thorax: Yellow dubbing.front hackle: Grizzly.
Head: Fisker Design System plastic head.
Junction tube: Orange Fisker Design System flexible tubing.
Note: You may substitute another brand of narrow-diameter plastic tubing for the Fisker material.

Royal Trude
Tube: Red cocktail stirring straw.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Golden pheasant tippet.
Butts: Peacock herl.
Wing: Calf tail hair.
Hackle: Brown.
Thorax: Yellow dubbing.
Junction tube: Orange Fisker Design System flexible tubing.
Note:  Where’s material for the body? On this pattern, the red cocktail straw, which we see between the butts of peacock herl, serves as the body of the fly.



Tube: Red cocktail stirring straw.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Two strips of yellow closed-cell foam.
Wing: Elk hair.
Head: Yellow closed-cell foam.
Legs: Yellow/black rubber legs.
Butt: Orange Fisker Design System flexible tubing.

Tag it:
Furl it!