An essay on the significance of tube flies in modern fly tying and fly fishing for Atlantic and Pacific salmon, European sea trout and North American steelhead, including a brief history of the development of the tube fly, its advantages over standard traditionally dressed trout, steelhead and salmon fly hooks and some examples of the many and varied modern tube fly materials, styles and patterns available to today's fly tiers and fly fishers, with particular focus on needle tube flies.

Grays Salmon Tube Fly

Grays Salmon Tube Flies

Black and Silver Tube Fly

Tube flies by Grays of Kilsyth

The Development of the Tube Fly

From around the mid twentieth century, tube flies became an increasingly common weapon in the salmon fly fisher's armoury. Long and often heavy salmon tube flies gained favour, in the early days particularly, as an alternative to the very large single hooked salmon flies which had been in use for early spring and late autumn fly fishing on the salmon rivers of Scotland and elsewhere. The popularity of the tube fly derived partly from its  lower cost, simplicity and general ease of dressing compared to the traditional classic patterns, which often included rare and increasingly expensive exotic feathers in their dressing, and partly from their practicality in fishing.

Salmon Tube Fly -The Green Millert

Salmon Tube Fly - The Coy Shrimp

Thus the length, weight and bulk of the salmon fly could now be more accurately and precisely matched to particular conditions. A heavy copper tube fly of three inches, although not easily cast even on the long heavy rods of the time, could be fished deeply in the cold and often high water of early season, while a lighter and perhaps shorter tube fly, dressed on a plastic or aluminium tube, might be a better choice for less extreme conditions of water and weather. Importantly, if the hook, usually a treble hook fitted to the tail end of the tube fly via a flexible silicone rubber link, was damaged (a common occurrence when the tube fly was fished deeply on a rocky river bed), it could be easily and cheaply replaced, whereas the more traditional fly, often tied at great expense on the large single irons (hooks) of the time, had generally to be discarded when the hook was irreparably damaged.

The early tubes, supplied by such companies as Veniard, were simple affairs - copper, brass, aluminium and plastic tubes of 2.5 to 3mm in diameter in lengths from 1/4 inch to three inches or more, the metal tubes fitted with a plastic liner to prevent chafing of the fly leader. They did the job for Spring and Autumn salmon fishing and were popular on our salmon rivers for decades, indeed they still are, particularly in the shorter lengths, but the longer and heavier of the brass and copper tubes were not easily fished, cast continuously throughout a full day's fishing on the big salmon rivers in early spring.

The latter part of the twentieth century and into the new millennium saw many innovations in the design and development of tube flies and tubes manufactured specifically for fly tying. Tubes became available in a wider range of diameters and densities, in a variety of coloured plastics, stainless steel and tungsten, in addition to the now familiar aluminium, brass and copper. New designs of tubes, in varying densities of metal, are now finely machined in a variety of lengths and shapes to suit every conceivable situation, some painted or powder coated in an attractive range of colours. We have the now well established Slipstream tubes, the newer bottle tubes, Shumakov tubes and Eumer tubes in a wide variety of colours and shapes. Heavy tungsten tubes are now available for extra heavy, quick sinking tube flies. Fine, ultra slim stainless steel tubes with external diameters of only 1.5mm are available in the form of Grays Needle Tubes. In addition, there is a wide range of turbo discs, coneheads and other attachments, in various shapes, weights and colours, designed to be fitted to the front of a tube fly to provide attraction, weight and balance in the fly. Tube flies may be armed with a variety of hooks, some designed specifically for the purpose. They may be single, double or treble, in varying wire gauges and strengths, barbed or barb-less in a variety of coloured coatings, e.g bronze, black, silver, gold or nickel. All this, combined with the huge variety of materials, both natural and artificial, the wide range of more conventional fly hooks and the availability of purpose designed high quality fly tying vices, vice adaptors and tools, gives huge scope to today's creative fly tyer, who has very few limits placed upon him through lack of tools and materials.

The Advantages of Tube Flies

The tube fly, then, in certain fishing situations, offers several advantages over the conventionally dressed salmon, sea trout or steelhead fly:

  • A tube may be dressed in any length in a range of materials, diameters, weights and shapes to suit the prevailing fishing conditions.
  • The tube fly may be fitted with the fisherman's preferred type of hook - single, double, trebles, barbed or de-barbed.
  • The hook may be left to swing freely at the tail of the tube or attached via a flexible silicone hook link. In either case the hook is free to move when a fish is hooked and exerts little in the way of leverage to loosen the hook hold in play.
  • The hook may be quickly and simply replaced when damaged, thus extending the usable life of the tube fly.

Needle Tubes and Needle Tube Flies

Following on from the development, in the late nineteen nineties, of the Needle Fly , which has proved extremely effective for both salmon and sea trout, I continued, in collaboration with the late Dave Wallbridge, to experiment in the development of slim tube flies, initially with night sea trout fishing in mind. Our experiments first produced the micro tube fly and led ultimately, in early 2008, to the development of the ultra slim stainless steel Needle Tube , now made in Scotland by Grays of Kilsyth. The needle tube is the slimmest plastic lined metal tube currently available to the fly tier and allows the creation of extremely thin salmon, sea trout and steelhead tube flies, in diameters of either 1.5mm or 1.8mm and in lengths from 10mm to 40mm.

Needle tubes may be dressed very simply in a variety of lengths and weights to create a good range of sea-trout, steelhead and salmon tube flies to suit virtually all river conditions the fly fisher might meet. The ultra-slim stainless steel tubes (in 1.5mm and a slightly heavier 1.8mm diameter) sink more readily than plastic or aluminium tube flies but fish a little higher in the water, and are more easily cast, than the heavier brass and copper tubes. Very small and slim minitubes for low water conditions may be dressed on 10mm tubes of only 1.5mm diameter, while the variety in needle tube sizes allows the fly tier to create a range of lengths, weights and styles of tube flies not only for salmon, sea trout and steelhead but for other predatory species such as pike and bass and a variety of saltwater species. The longer needle tubes offer a viable alternative to the Waddington shank, allowing a long slim lure to be created which will fish at about the same depth as the Waddington lure, with a similar slim profile but with the simplicity and practicality of the tube fly. The longer needle tubes are ideally suited to the tying of extremely slim sea trout lures, a simple alternative to the sea trout snake lure, as illustrated in the accompanying photographs. Needle Tube Flies may be armed with single, double or treble hooks, , barbed or barbless, according to circumstance and preference. See, for example, the tying of The Tingler , a simple tube fly for sea trout night fishing, employing a single hook, which may be dressed for added attraction or to increase the length of the lure while adding minimal weight to the rear end of the tube fly.

Fly Fishing with Needle Tube Flies

In the succeeding years, flies dressed on needle tubes have accounted for some notable catches of sea trout, salmon and steelhead, as described in Needle Tube Fly Fishing . They continue to do well for both salmon and sea trout. I was delighted to hear news, in early June 2013, of a remarkable catch of sea trout, taken in one night session by Mr Julian Sharpe, Chairman of the Dart Angling Association, from the Totnes Weir pool of the River Dart in Devon on a needle tube fly of his own dressing. The catch consisted of four sea trout, fresh off the tide, weighing 4.5 lbs, 5.5 lbs, 8 lbs and 12 lbs. Truly a catch of a lifetime.

A seven pound sea trout on a tube fly

A seven pound Spey sea trout taken on a Needle Tube Fly

Examples of Tube Flies

Shown below are some examples of salmon, sea trout and steelhead tube flies, dressed on Gray's stainless steel Needle Tubes, which, since their introduction in 2008, have proven extremely effective both at home and abroad.

Salmon Tube Fly - Munro's Killer Variant

Salmon Tube Fly - Fiery Shrimp

Salmon Tube Flies

A whole range of salmon flies, in a variety of styles, weights and lengths, may be simply dressed on stainless steel needle tubes, e.g. long-tailed Scottish Shrimps (such as the variants of Ally's Shrimp and Cascade illustrated below) Irish Shrimps (see Ban Special and Curry's Red Shrimp variants below), Willie Gunns, mini tubes or long winged Scandinavian style flies, as shown in the salmon tube fly examples below.

Salmon Tube Fly - Thunder and Lightning

Wee Monkey Tube Fly


Magus Salmon Tube Fly

Tube Fly - Salmon


A Simple Tube Fly

Ally's Shrimp The Fly


Bann Special Shrimp Fly

Curry's Red Irish Shrimp Tube


Willie Gunn Salmon Tube Fly

Bucktail Salmon Tube Fly


Salmon Mini Tube Fly

Needle Tube Salmon Flies


Sea Trout Tube Flies

The longer and thinner needle tubes, in lengths up to 40mm, are ideal for creating slim lures for late night sea trout fishing. A few examples of sea trout flies are shown below. These are tube flies, very simply dressed on Gray's Needle Tubes, very effective for sea trout fishing during the hours of darkness, creating a long, slim silver bodied lure, a tempting tenuous impression of a bait fish or sandeel, a favourite prey of the sea trout while at sea.

Sea Trout Tube Fly

Sea Trout Tube Flies


Sea Trout Needle Tube Fly

Simple Sea Trout Tube Fly


Steelhead Tube Flies

A range of steelhead flies may be dressed successfully on needle tubes, for example as shrimp or baitfish patterns, as in the examples below, dressed by Bob Schoeller for the steelhead of Lake Erie and its tributary streams, where they have been remarkably effective.

Steelhead Tube Flies

Steelhead Tube Flies

I am indebted to Bob Schoeller for his steelhead flies and photographs

Gray's Needle Tubes are very slim stainless steel, plastic lined, fly tying tubes, supplied in two diameters of 1.5mm and 1.8 mm, and in lengths from 10mm to 40mm, for fly tying. They are available online from Grays of Kilsyth in Scotland, along with boxed selections of salmon and sea trout Needle Tube Flies, all with free worldwide shipping.

HMH Tube Fly Adaptor

The HMH Tube Fly Adaptor (or Starter Tube Tool, as HMH modestly call it) is an inexpensive, yet extremely practical and versatile tool, which may be quickly and simply fitted to any standard fly tying vice head, allowing the fly tier to hold a range of tubes securely for dressing a wide variety of tube flies.

The HMH tube adaptor is available online from Grays of Kilsyth ONLINE FLY SHOP together with range of fine stainless steel Needle Tubes for fly tying and boxed selections of Needle Tube Flies. Examples are shown below.

Grays Needle Tubes

Needle Tubes


Salmon Minitube Flies

Minitube Flies


Sea Trout Needle Tube Fly

Sea Trout Needle Tube Fly


Wee Monkey Salmon Tube Flies

Wee Monkeys


Spey Shrimp Tubes

Spey Shrimp Tube Flies


Scottish Shrimp Tubes

Scottish Shrimps


Trout & Salmon Flies

Salmon Flies

Scottish Salmon Flies

The Tube Fly Shop

Sea Trout Flies

Trout Flies


Fly Tying

Trout & Salmon Fishing

Sea Trout Fishing

Fly Fishing Knots


Tube Flies