A WHAT?   A tube fly is a general tying style of artificial fly used by fly anglers. Tube flies differ from traditional artificial flies as they are tied on small diameter tubes, not hooks. Then your line is inserted through and secured to the size or style of hook you select.   Tube flies were originated in Aberdeen, Scotland around 1945. It has recently become popular again in the US and creates new ideas and opportunities because the same fly can be made on plastic or metal tubes. And allows instant hook changes.


Credit for the invention of the tube fly tying style belongs to fly dresser Minnie Morawski of the Charles Playfair and Company, Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1945 she began experimenting with hollowed out sections of turkey quills as a base for traditional salmon and trout flies rather than traditional hooks.

Initial patterns were tied on top of the turkey quill tubes but the tying style quickly evolved into tying patterns "in the round" and on plastic tubes. By the late 1950s, the advantages of the tube fly style were being hailed by Trout and Salmon magazine as the most important innovation in salmon fishing since the introduction of "greased line fishing" techniques in the 1930s.

The tube fly style was quickly adopted in the Pacific Northwest, Northeast U.S. and Florida for salmon, striped bass and tarpon respectively in saltwater environments. For the most part, the tube fly style was being adapted in the U.S. to fly patterns that were trolled rather than cast while fishing. Throughout the late 1940s through early 1970s a variety of small entrepreneurial fly tiers sold commercially tied tube flies along the Pacific, Atlantic and Florida coasts to anglers. 

As anglers in both Europe and the US gained exposure to the advantages of tube flies, more patterns emerged and more species of game fish were targeted with tube style flies. The use of tube flies for casting to salmon and steelhead in the Puget Sound region was first documented in Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon (Ferguson, Johnson, Trotter, 1985).

Sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, American anglers began introducing the tube fly style to surface poppers, sliders and other floating patterns for both saltwater and freshwater species. In 1987 Bob Popovic, a noted New Jersey based fly designer and angler introduced the use of high density foam material for saltwater poppers tied tube style.   Although traditional hook based flies remain the dominant style used by fly anglers, tube fly style patterns and materials have been adopted for globally for most species and waters targeted by fly anglers.

Project Tube Flies - THE BASES

  • These add-on holders are a dense marine construction board With HD 4 Inch Clamps, metal steel plates and fit all three of my desks and work bench…in my man cave… I have four all with differing layouts and purposes …  regular flies, tube flies, biggies, snelling hooks and leaders, rebuilding reels… I vary the plates on all four for specific rigs and setups  — fishing is not the only thing they are made for…

  •  I work on electronics, lots of soldering and all my test bed and toolbars are magnetic for hand tools.  My workroom in under a minute can be converted into a Photo Studio, Arduino Lab, Fly Tying, Reel Repair and a friend commented  “ The strong possibility of nuclear bomb making if T-RUMP is re-elected”.  He is not a fan of ecology, nature, preservation, wildlife, fishing and the outdoors. He undermines global warming.

  • By using the boards and magnets I have a lot of versatility in one room and at the same time when one of the kids come over I can move the boards out and he has a desk and computer for schoolwork or whatever.

  • Again,  the only thing I bought were the metal steel plates, cheap at Home Depot ( $1.00 ) and the clamps but in terms of usefulness invaluable.  Just luck, the boards were the right size, leftovers from a previous job, the  right thickness, and the clamps literally lock them to the desks or workbench with Zero movement.

  • Many of the add-ons were just simple parts that were originally forty-fifty years old, flash units, brackets, articulated arms and a lot of drilling,  just stuff  laying in bins, the magnets were new, based on size and needs of the tools. They range in price from 2-5 dollars.

  • Heads for the Tube Vises were made from drill chucks and pin vises with a little alteration by way of drills and files, thanking my grandfather who taught me at seven years old to use tools.

  • The “ Big Boy” whom I call “ Big Boy” uses tubes about 1/8 inch in diameter and I have mandrels that are that size.

  • They vary in length so when a tube is inserted it keeps it from twisting by a light jam since 95% are duplicates and I precut many of the tubes so I measured and precut everything.  Also as in the picture I have mandrels that are tapered that cover everything I make.

  • The smaller pin-vices I made were drilled out, inexpensive and because they have a pass-through I can build anything involving tubes… the pin vices were cheap on Amazon about 4-5 dollars for two.

TRICKS  — Tube Holders And Tubes

  • Yes, I have the other types of tube holders and a ton of tube material, everything from fish tanks to aneroid barometers scavenged for tubes.  

  • But,  I found when you add something to a vice like a tube holder it’s just another angle added to the rig and I like straight forward strong designs when doing volume.

  • Also tubes are not cheap…Prices range from almost reasonable to ridiculous, but not all plastics are the same. They buy bulk, cut and repackage them and that costs money, I do not fault them for making a profit, I wish them well and do buy lots of product from them.
  • Many ideas such as pen refills, ugh, only if empty and potentially messy, several of the retail stores Stoddard, Caddis, sell tube kits by HMH and others.  But I use a lot and needed a cheaper solution and found it by accident.  

  • Most plastics are not good for the cause because to keep the ballooned shaped ends you use a candle or cigarette lighter lightly to burr the ends. Some plastics will just ignite and you do not want that. Some plastics will be too soft.

  • I got a cup of coffee to go from one of our local coffee stops and it had a plastic straw….divine guidance again and A severe love of coffee. 

  • So I asked the owner where he got them, he showed me the box and he got them from my Gordon Food Service where I have an account who stocks them… off to GFS and making tubes in an hour.

  • Under 3.00 dollars for 500 straws so I bought two boxes and they burn right,  just test first, small fire, go gently, no bonfire, I use tiny candles ( Amazon) since they glow rather than a lighter pushing gas. They come out perfect if you practice and move slow there you see expansion not melting.

  • That beautiful red tube on the mandrel is made from a coffee straw, 1/8 size available in colors and these brands create nice tips…OK.  

•  Prime Source Coffee Stirrers  500 — 8 Inch Long RED
   MAKES 5 x 500 = 2500 Tubes   1.6 inch finished

•  Banyan Coffee Stirrers   500 — 5 inch Long in BLACK   
   MAKES 5 x 500 = 2500 Tubes   1.0 inch finished

•  Total 5000 Tubes cut to size for about six dollars….

TRICKS — Mandrels all over the place

Mandrels are nothing but pieces of wire, stiff and in varying widths and lengths, some tapered that support the tube into the grip.  I must have 150 mandrels. Never throw good wire away…

TYPE A  — When the right size is selected the tube should slide onto the mandrel and you can push the mandrel into the vise to lock the tube from spinning with a little compression effort. I have used all combos to prevent the tube from spinning and compression with a locknut works fine.   The nut is nothing but a nut with nylon insert that grips.

TYPE B —  Is a mandrel that is commercially sold,  tapered and almost one size fits all BUT there are about four sizes and they sell for seventeen dollars a piece times four is sixty-eight dollars and 68.00 and ten dollars freight for one ounce. The brand is Pro Sportfisher.  

The Cheaper way is…. below

TYPE C  — Bicycle Spokes cheap on Amazon all sizes and diameters, I cut them down, I use the little spoke head that screws on and sharpen them.    Very inexpensive and come in sizes you can use.  Cheap, just get the spokes, you don’t need the wheel.   A pair of dikes or wire cutters makes them to size in length and then the drill and carbide tapers them. A sander works great too.  However I did cheat, I used my buddies lathe and a file, then the carbide and polish with fine cloth.

UPGRADE —Now you can take the rod cut to size for the Big Boy, or any length for the smaller pass through part. Get out an electric drill and a couple pieces of carbide paper and use it to taper the bicycle spoke, then some metal polish and you have a tapered mandrill.  I’m making my own, can’t get any cheaper. Cheaper than seventeen dollars plus five for mail.  For eight dollars I made thirty and almost halfway through… 


TYPE D —  Felt Needles are used by sewers and felters and they have great needles which make great mandrels for the smaller stuff and you can get a slew of them cheapo on Amazon.