Tube flies – and introduction and tutorial

Most of you have probably at least heard of tube flies, but for many of my clients down here at least the concept is a vague one, and usually associated in their minds with Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon only.  Our fishery in my area of Argentina however is centered around rainbows, brookies, and browns, with the only difference between these fish and their northern-hemisphere counterparts being average size (they tend to err on the side of longer and heavier down here).  What goes along with that though is the need for us to use sometimes really big patterns to attract these beast’s attention, and in figuring out how far to push the envelope in that regard, a few years ago I started tying tube flies as a matter of convenience.  I haven’t turned back since, and now use tube flies not only for the trout down here in Patagonia but for Stripers in Cape Cod, bass in the farm ponds back in Georgia, and just about everything else streamer related in between.

For anyone who hasn’t ever seen or read about tube flies, the concept is essentially this:  Whatever pattern is being tied gets tied onto a hollow tube, generally of semi-flexible plastic or rigid metal, instead of a hook.  The tippet then gets passed through this tube, and the hook is tied directly to the tippet behind the fly.

What attracted me to the technique initially was the ability to stack any number of flies I wanted onto the tippet in front of my hook, and as such, the ability to effectively change the overall length of a streamer at any time without having to have separate flies tied at every length I might want to fish in a given situation.  This allowed me to set up over working fish and experiment with gradually increasing the length of my streamers in between catches until I had reached the “size limit” at which the fish stopped taking my flies.  As it turns out that limit was a whole lot bigger than even I had imagined, and the average weight of my catches increased in proportion to the length of my fly as I went up.  Nowadays, most of the time when I hand a client the first fly of a trip he looks at me like I must be joking, and often as not when I tell him I’m serious he asks me if he can borrow one of my nine weights to throw the thing.  That’s another advantage to the tube fly system though, the ability to add a lot of length and bulk to a fly without necessarily increasing its weight by too great a margin.  Many of the patterns I frequently fish that are significantly larger in length and profile than say, a Galloup’s Sex Dungeon, can comfortably be thrown on a six weight by most competent casters.

Another often quoted advantage of tube flies is that since the hook is not an attached part of the fly itself, in the event that it gets dinged on a rock, or rusts, or bends, you’re not in the position of having to accept the loss of the entire fly and its materials; you simply change out the hook and keep fishing.  Considering the cost in both money and time that goes into some of the patterns we fish in these larger streamers, that has come in handy already on a number of occasions.  Additionally you can experiment with hook size for a given pattern without tying several examples of it in order to do so.

Storage also becomes easier with tube flies.  Since they are hook-less until rigged for fishing they can be carried in just about anything, even a Ziplock bag in your vest pocket, which leaves the only necessity for a fly box being a very small one in which you can keep your selection of hooks.  I actually carry my tube patterns in a sort of envelope which was made for the storage of CD’s, allowing me to flip through the selection like a book.  And since there are no hooks in this container, re-storing wet flies there when the time comes to change patterns is never an issue.

One of the things that surprised me most though, when I first got started, was how much the spatial geometry of the tying process itself was changed by the removal of the hook bend and point from that equation.  It was like suddenly going from trying to row through a narrow canyon only two inches wider than my oar-span, to being in the middle of an ocean with a motor on the boat!  All 360 degrees of the space around the fly-center was available for the manipulation of thread and materials, with no sharp or obstructive objects in the way to impede my fingers or my imagination. It took me a little while to get rid of the ups and downs in my concepts of what a streamer should look like, but when I did, things came full circle, so to speak.   And the results that rendered on the water spoke volumes.

So – what does this all look like?  Basically the parts and the process are like this:

Tubes:  The tubes themselves come in a variety of materials, diameters, and configurations, and a decent selection of these can be found on websites like Canadian Tube FliesFly Fish USA, and, among others.  I prefer the semi-rigid plastic tubes which I can cut to any length I want and then prepare for tying by burning them slightly on one end to create a “lip” for the thread to sit up against like a stopper at the flies head, where you eventually whip-finish or cement when done tying.

Dowel or Vise Adapter:  There are a number of “setups” for converting fly tying vises into tube fly tying vises on the market, but after having purchased and discarded several now I offer the following simple, cheap solution.  I use allen-wrenches of various diameters (matched to the inside diameters of the tubes I am working with – see photos below for what this looks like), which I then wrap in a layer or two of tying thread.  This solution prevented me from having to purchase a special steel pin in every diameter I might tie tubes with, and also solved the problem of “freeze” that can occur when you’ve tied a tube fly with a bit too much thread tension and then find that you can no longer remove it from the dowel.  I’ve never had that happen with the thread-wrapped allen wrench solution, and find that the ease of use offered by the ability to just clamp a new allen wrench into my vise without the need for an adapter any time I change tubing diameters saves me a lot of time anyway at the bench.

Materials and Patterns:  Beyond the basic set-up, much of the materials used to tie tube lies are the same as for their corresponding patterns tied on hooks.  A variety of cone and bead heads are available that can be slipped onto the tube and seated up against the burned lip for forward-weight, or else a lead or non-toxic wrap can be run up the shank before the flies body is added, just like when tying on hooks.  Pretty much any existing pattern can be tied as a tube fly, but I am unsure of the advantages (if any exist) of trying to create smaller dries and nymphs this way, and as such tend to limit my tube-tying to streamers.  Patterns can be found online through a variety of websites with the obvious search criteria, but tend to focus mainly on salmon and steelhead patterns still.  With just a bit of creativity though, you’ll find that any of your favorite patterns can be tied as tubes, with the added advantage of stacking-scalability and better symmetry added into the mix.

What follows are some photos of a few of the patterns I’ve worked up over the last few days getting the CD cases ready for opening day on November 1st, and a single thread of step by step photos showing the process of what it looks like to create one of these buggers.  I hope you all enjoy!  Feel free to write if any of this happens to pique your interest and you have questions.

THE EPIC POST – A Cattle Round Up, Fall Fishing, Futaleufu Rafting, Petrified Wood, Wool Trimmage, Mushrooms, Floating the Limay Medio (big Brown Trout Included), and last but not least, a Joke

Hi everyone; sorry once again for the long-time-no-update. Things have been pretty busy down here since my last post, and I’m just now getting back into the office and settling down for the long-haul daily grind the rest of this winter will require. I headed back down to Rio Pico not too long after my last post, spending a few days out at Paulino’s Corcovado boca camp where I did very well fishing the early morning and late evening hours, and had fun watching Truco and hanging out with the crew in between.
I also did day trips from there on my own, exploring some exciting new out of the way streams and lakes, some of which proved to be excellent quality waters which we’ll incorporate into our programs for next season. The autumn colors continue to be spectacular, and the weather has been pretty nice most days.
While out on Lago Vilches in Estancia Tres Valles one day my good friend Tizo happened to mention that he had lost some cattle in the high country on another nearby campo, and would be looking for them the next morning to bring them down. I asked him if there was any interesting looking water in the area where the cows were, and he said that in fact there was, but he was not sure whether or not it held trout of any size, then offered to take me along on the ride. I accepted without hesitation, and we tacked up early the next morning and headed out with our lunches and a rod tube in my backpack, and the dogs (including Negra) running alongside.
It was a work first type of situation, and I knew that, but what I didn’t know much about was how to do the work. Luckily my horse however did, and we found the first of the cattle mid-morning in a tightly wooded draw at some elevation.  The running of cows through the placement of a horse, and direction of intention, is an interesting process. My horse, a gelding of around fifteen years’ age, was an expert at this type of work, and most of the day seemed more like a machine to me than a living creature. He could somehow sense what the cows would do next, also seemed to somehow know what it was in fact that Tizo wanted them to do, and would act accordingly in all cases – sometimes despite the idiotic and contrary actions of his rider (me). In fact, that was the only way in which my horse displayed anything even vaguely close to a characteristic of personality. Whenever I would do something stupid, or fail to understand what it was he himself was trying to do, he would stop and crane his neck around to make eye contact with me, as if to say, “Who are you? Are you an idiot?” It was a humbling experience, to say the least. But so much fun!  This country up high above the rocky ridges is so rough and un-traversed, it amazes me that the horses do as well up there as they do. They crash through the underbrush like bulldozers, recover from stumbling slides across loose rock like ballerinas, and jump pretty much whatever else gets in their way, including log jams, deep rock fissures, and fences. It is amazing, honestly, that I was able to stay on the animal at all.   Once the cattle were collected though, thirty-three of them in all, and deposited in a place that we could easily find them later on in order to drive them to the lower country and deposit them in their winter digs, we continued to climb until we reached my other objective, a high, hidden lake that has no name. I won’t go into to much detail, even though the access issue makes it almost inconceivable that this place might end up receiving any real pressure any time soon, but I will say that within three casts I was into a fish that made every hour of the ride to get there feel worthwhile, and that the next few hours I spent there followed that lead.  Eventually though, I had to tear myself away from the water and break the rod back down into its tube for the ride home, during which time I learned a little bit more about the driving of cattle than I had understood that morning, but not nearly enough to start thinking of myself as some kind of Yankee gaucho.

My next trip south sent me down through Estancia Tecka, which we are adding as a destination next season for our guests (Patagonia Unlimited website update will describe this soon. Tecka is one of the largest, if not the largest estancia in all of Patagonia, and home to most of the Argentine flow of the Rio Corcovado, all the spring-creek headwaters of the Rio Tecka, and a lot of other interesting water and land.
I went from there back down to the boca at Lago Vintter, then East to some of the newer waters I’d recently seen which begged for further exploration, and ended up one day collecting more than a hundred pounds of edible mushrooms on an estancia before helping the gauchos there wrestle sheep for several hours, trimming wool away from their eyes to prevent them from going blind over the winter as it grew longer and covered them completely.

When I got back to Esquel we peeled and sliced the mushrooms, then I built a rack above one of the heaters out of some extra bee-hive screens from the basement, and the whole harvest got reduced over a period of days to around a kilo or so of dried, preserved, and deliciously edible product.

Then it was off to the Limay Medio, the same stretch of river I floated last May that stays open until the end of the month and fills with very large migratory brown trout from the lake below, again, as last year, with my good friend Emiliano Luro.We had quite a bit better weather this year than last, and also managed to find better campsites, complete with plenty of firewood and level ground, and the fishing was quite good as well despite higher than normal water levels all three days.  I found my very first piece of petrified wood amongst the stones where we stopped to eat lunch one day, and photographed one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen in my entire life.

After the takeout we went up and camped one night on the Caleufu, which neither of us had ever before fished, and found both decent browns and tasty percas, as well as another first for me, a herd of Ciervo Colorado, aka European Red Stag. We also saw one wild boar. 

Last, but not least, after my return to Esquel, I did a float with the Club Andino down the Rio Grande (Futaleufu) from the dam outside Trevelin through Los Alerces National Park and almost to the Chilean border. My friend Ivan and his family live in the park ranger outpost just this side of the line, in a really neat old house right on the river which is surrounded by old, productive fruit trees planted many years ago by the property’s original owner.

We collected baskets and baskets of good apples (I could have filled the whole bed of the truck up if I hadn’t had the boat) which I am now drying on the same bee-hive screen rack where I did the mushrooms. I would have about a ton of the things put away by now if I could only stop eating them; they’re so good right off the dryer that it’s hard to accumulate any stock!

And on that note, to close, I would like to relate a joke that was told to me recently which I think is quite prescient to our times, not just here in Patagonia but in the world at large.  It goes like this:
In a small town somewhere in southern Argentina, where not much good had occurred in the local economy for quite some time, one day a foreigner walked into the only hotel on the square and requested a room, plopping a fifty peso note on the counter before receiving his key and retiring up the stairs. The hotel owner, too honest a man to let temptation get the best of him, ran immediately to the local laundromat where he’d been racking up an account on credit for quite some time with the cleaning of the hotel bed sheets, and handed over the entire fifty pesos.
The laundromat owner, in turn, ran directly next door to the meat market, where she had a debt that was far past due with the butcher, who received the fifty pesos with a grin. He then walked two blocks over to his home, where the village carpenter was in the process of packing up his tools to stop work on the butcher’s roof, since he had not been paid a dime in several weeks. 
Suddenly finding himself in possession of fifty pesos, the carpenter had no choice but to stay and finish the job, but decided that first he would go and use the money to pay off his own debt, one he had been carrying for far too long, with the village whore. But the whore had her own debts to pay, since she’d been using a room in the hotel on credit for her encounters since the first of the year, and so she walked proudly back in there plopping the same fifty peso note down in front of the hotel owner, who had only then just returned. At that very moment the foreign tourist came back down the stairs, proclaimed he didn’t like the look of the room, grabbed his fifty pesos up off the counter, and stormed out!