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Metal Tubes: A Review

Tube flies have been around for many years, but not until recent have they become popular in North America. There are many advantages to tubes; a disengaging short shanked hook provides the best hook hold, hooks can easily be replaced if they become dull or damaged, it is very easy to change the amount of weight that is used for a certain fly pattern, tubes are more durable than hooks, and they are a lot of fun to tie on! These days I fish tubes for 90% of the time for salmonids and bigger salt or fresh water predator fish. With the increasing popularity of tubes the variety of tubes that are available to the fly tier has increased dramatically. In this article I will review the most common types of tubes, their specific applications, and advantages/disadvantages.


Let’s first try to organize the tubes into categories in order to get a better idea of what is available. Tubes are available in plastic or metal. In this article we will restrict ourselves to metal tubes. The most common metals used are: brass, copper and aluminum. Some less common metals are tungsten and stainless steel. Let’s focus on the common three. The next aspect of tubes that we can categorize is the shape of the tube. We can attribute three generalized shapes to tubes: 1. a straight cylindrical shape – called “US tubes”, 2. a bullet shape – called “bullet tubes”, and 3. a bottle shape – called “bottle tubes”.

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The reason for using a variety of different metals is to alter the mass. Aluminum is useful for flies that you want to swing roughly at the same depth as the fly line. Many anglers will use plastic tubes for “neutral buoyancy patterns”. However, plastic tubes tend to float, and will ride much shallower than an aluminum tube. For sink tip fishing with a pattern that tracks at the level of the sink tip, an aluminum tube will be your best choice.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”12843″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”custom” lightbox=”enable” caption=”Fig.2: Aluminum tubes are good for flies that need to track at the same level as the sink tip.” media_url=”https://skeenaflyzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Blog_Metal-Tubes-Review_image-2.jpg”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

Brass has more mass than aluminum, thus brass tubes will sink faster. For most sink tips they will sink a bit deeper than the sink tip. This can be useful for a number of reasons. The utilization of a floating line or light sink tip in slow water will increase the swing speed of the fly. By using a long leader and a brass tube the fly will sink relatively deep, while maintaining good speed. For runs with ample bottom structure it can be beneficial to have the fly close to the structure, but the sink tip a bit further off the bottom. This way the fly will “tap the bottom” without the sink tip “raking across the bottom”. Better to loose a fly than a sink tip….  Because brass tubes stay deeper and allow faster swings they are the type of tube that I most commonly use.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”12845″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”custom” lightbox=”enable” caption=”Fig. 3: A variety of brass tubes. Brass tubes are very useful when we want the fly to track deeper than the sink tip. In combination with floating lines or light sink tips and long leaders, this allows us to reach deep lies while maintaining good speed in slow water.” media_url=”https://skeenaflyzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Metal-Tubes-Review_image-3.jpg”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

Copper has the highest mass of the three metals most commonly used for tubes. Copper tubes are useful for more extreme applications such as high current speeds where we want to fish the fly close to the bottom. Since these conditions are generally not good steelhead lies, the use of copper tubes in steelhead fishing is not very common.

Before we discuss the different shapes of tubes it is important to know that almost all metal tubes will require a plastic liner tube. The bore of the metal tube is generally too sharp or rough to use directly on the leader. So, in order to prevent the leader from rubbing through we need to cover the inside bore of the tube by inserting a plastic liner tube. Generally, a flange is melted onto the plastic tube with a lighter. The liner tube is than inserted into the metal tube with the flange butting up against the tail end of the metal tube. The front end of the liner tube is than cut off with enough length left to finish the head of the fly and melt a flange on the front. Most metal tubes have a bore hole that is approximately 1.9 mm in diameter. Most plastic liner tubes have a 1.8mm outside diameter.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”12846″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”custom” lightbox=”enable” caption=”Fig. 4: A 1.8 mm. plastic tube with a flange melted on the end. The flange is seated against the end of the brass tube.” media_url=”https://skeenaflyzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Metal-tubes-review_image-4.jpg”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

Now let’s have a look at the shapes of tubes, and start with the plain cylindrical US tube. The basic cylindrical tube lends itself for patterns that have a straight profile. However, the distribution of the mass is equal along the length of the tube which causes it to track with the tail end of the tube down. This makes for an unnatural presentation in the water. This problem is less so with the aluminum variety, so aluminum US tubes are not a bad option for patterns that are straight rather than conical. The issue with the unnatural tracking is also not so bad when using shorter US tubes of say 10 mm. or less. US tubes are also used as a way to weigh a plastic tube. This is a very good use of the US tube. A short section of US tube is place onto a plastic tube close to the front tie in loin of the wing. This gives a very nice balanced fly that tracks well in the water. Another application for the US tube is very heavy copper tubes for very fast water in spring conditions. Not very common in Steelhead fishing but not uncommon in Atlantic salmon fishing. A good example of a poplar pattern is the Willy Gunn on a brass US tube.

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The next shape we’ll discuss is the bullet tube. As the name implies it is shaped like a bullet. The key attribute of bullet tubes is that they do not have a flange at the front end of the tube. This means that the fly is finished on the plastic liner tube, which has a flange melted on the end.

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Because of the shape of a bullet tube they lend themselves well for patterns that have a conical shape, such as shrimp, prawn and squid patterns. Good examples of such patterns are the Frances, Snaelda, Tippet Shrimp, Franc ‘n Snaelda, Pattegrisen, etc.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”12849″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”custom” lightbox=”enable” caption=”Fig. 7: A “Skeena FnS” tied on a 14 mm. brass shrimp tube without a flange. Shrimp tubes without a flange are a grooved variety of bullet tube. ” media_url=”https://skeenaflyzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Metal-Tubes-Review_image-7.jpg”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

The disadvantage of bullet tubes, and for that matter, bottle tubes, is that the weight distribution is towards the rear of the tube. This tends to make the tube want to ride at an upward angle. With tubes that are shorter, say 19mm or less, this is not very obvious so, though not ideal, we can create fairly good swimming patterns. We can negate the weight distribution issue by utilizing a relatively long wing or adding a cone head.

An improved version of the bullet tube is the “skittle” tube. This is a variation of bullet tube with a larger bump in the front of the tube, thus creating a weight distribution towards the front of the fly. This is the best possible design of a tube for a balanced swimming fly. Surprisingly, despite their superior design, skittle tubes are not commonly used.

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Due to the shape of a bullet tube the materials and thread have a tendency to slide down the conical surface of the tube. Some bullet tubes have slots machined into the surface in order to prevent slipping of materials. This makes tying quite a bit easier and is a good improvement to the smooth surface bullet tube. Our SRFS “Shrimp Tubes without flange” are an example of such tubes.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”12851″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”custom” lightbox=”enable” caption=”Fig. 9: SRFS Shrimp Tubes have grooves to prevent slipping of thread or materials. ” media_url=”https://skeenaflyzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Metal-Tubes-Review_image-9.jpg”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

Bottle tubes are shaped like a bottle….  They have a flange at the front end of the tube to act as a barrier for finishing the head of the fly. The “neck” of the bottle is meant for tying in the wing, collar and head of the fly. The “shoulder” of the bottle allows for angled support of wing materials, similar to the front angle of bullet tubes.

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Due to the flange there are no “skittle” versions of bottle tubes. Bottle tubes make very durable flies. The front flange protects the head of the fly as it hits rocks on the bottom. They have the same disadvantage of rear weight distribution as the bullet tubes have. The rear weight distribution can be partially compensated for by using a cone head to finish the fly, or the use of a long wing. For bullet tubes most types of cone heads will work. For bottle tubes we have produced specific “deep recessed” cone heads to accommodate the flange.

Loose odds and ends. Many bullet and bottle tubes will have a machined slot towards the rear of the tube. This slot can be either filled with paint or thread to create a trigger accent on the tube.

Both bullet tubes and bottle tubes come in two variations: either with a relief or without a relief at the rear of the tube. The relief is to accommodate Junction Tubing. The Junction Tubing allows you to connect the tube with your hook. Tubes without a relief are meant to be fished with a “free swinging hook”.  Both methods work and some patterns lend themselves a bit better for a free swinging hook than others. I prefer free swinging hooks on long hair wing style patterns in order to minimize tangling between the wing and the hook. For shrimp patterns I prefer connected hooks.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”12853″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”custom” lightbox=”enable” caption=”Fig. 11: A variety of brass tubes with and without a relief for Junction Tubing. Tubes without the connection relief are meant to be fished with a free swinging hook. Hooks with a connection relief are meant to be used with a Junction Tubing to connect the hook. ” media_url=”https://skeenaflyzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Metal-Tubes-Review_image-11.jpg”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

When fishing very small flies with bigger hooks for Steelhead or Atlantic Salmon there is a bit of a problem with a mis-match between the size of the tube and the size of the hook. Our SRFS team member Colin Nichols came up with the “Drilled Out Tube” concept (DOT tubes). A conical tube with the rear of the tube drilled out in order to accommodate the larger hook.

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In order to create a conical shaped tube that is well balanced, very durable, and quick to tie with, we have created the “Integrated Shrimp Tubes“. These tubes have and integrated cone head which brings the bulk of the weight to the front of the tube; this makes for a tube that tracks horizontally in the water. The added advantage is the elimination of steps to add an extra cone head, and the finished fly is extremely durable.

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There are more variations of tubes on the market but the ones covered in this article are the most commonly used ones. Metal tubes open up great possibilities for the fly tier, with many benefits over flies tied on hooks. Give them a try!

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