Tube Flies for Sea-Run Species

By Mike Lunde

Round, cylindrical-shaped, a few inches in length and accompanied by a thin diameter—the generic plastic tube revolutionized and perhaps is the birthplace of the earliest tube flies.

At a point in time where most flies were constructed on standardized hook shanks, tube flies provided distinct advantages that the conventional hook could not. Many of these advantages applied towards using larger patterns with an appropriate size hook that minimized catch-and-release mortality because traditional theory revolved around the concept of tying flies on larger hooks. The trend shifted towards smaller hooks, as they could penetrate deeper into the mouth region and musculature of the fish.

Today, tube flies can be used for targeting both freshwater and saltwater gamefish. For anadromous fish, including salmon and steelhead, they have increased in popularity over the past 10 years. And here we will cover the effective tube flies used for Alaska's gamefish with emphasis presented on materials used in formulating the profile and why they are effective, as highlighted in three distinct patterns.

The Prom Dress

The original Prom Dress, as developed by anadromous steelhead and salmon guru Scott Howell, was used primarily for steelhead. Originally tied shank-style, consisting of a trailer or stinger hook attached to a sacrificial front hook, it allowed tiers to make longer dimensions in the 3- to 4-inch range.

Constructed out of 100 percent Flashabou, the fly exhibited similar undulation and articulation movements as banana-shaped plugs like Kwikfish. An added bonus with this fly was that it was lightweight, since supplemental material was not tied-in.

Like all classic fly patterns, certain modifications can be implemented to enhance its original design. During the 2011 season, I experimented with the Prom Dress, switching to a tube-fly profile consisting of a spinnerbait-like Flashabou skirt in the back of the tube and main marabou body. Specifically, for kings I experimented with a #2/0 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide-gap hook as the tube-fly hook of choice. To tie this fly, multiple bundles of Flashabou were center-tied and folded back over itself to form the spinnerbait-like skirt.  Then one or two sparse plumes of marabou were palmered forward to construct the main body.  This fly in general accounted for 50 kings during the 2014 season and a 45-pound Kenai giant in 2011. 

Tube fly-styled Prom Dresses tied in purple for chums, silvers, steelhead and kings.  Flies tied by author Mike Lunde.

Tube-styled Intruders

Original Intruders were tied shank-style by Ed Ward and Jerry French, but undoubtedly one of the most innovative fly patterns ever has gone through various stages of development within recent years. The original materials such as deer hair, ringed-ear pheasant coupled with a chenille body changed considerably with a trend towards lighter-weighted synthetics, rhea or ostrich, and thin grizzly hackle. Synthetics are tied in a dubbing loop followed by a mixture of rhea and lady Amherst fibers incorporated into a composite dubbing loop. The materials were palmered to create a full profile and flash, the final deadly ingredient. The plastic tube body is covered with chenille, body braid, dubbing or other material. Multiple color schemes can be used to target various salmonid species. Tube-fly hook selection should be either of the octopus or wide-gap variety with hook sizes ranging from #4 to #2/0. Experiment with #6/0 thread or lighter-weighted gel-spun thread for creating dubbing loops, as small diameter threads break under tight pressure. Overall, there may be some fundamental principles to use for creating Intruders, but this generic pattern and be modified in endless ways, hence the term "freestyle" tying.

NOTE: For lots more on the evolution of the Intruder, see the feature by Jerry French in the April issue of Fish Alaska magazine.

Intruder-based tube fly tied on the latest Pro-Tube System. Photo and fly by Charlie Robinton.

Tube-styled Sculpins

These types of tube-flies are forage patterns designed to seize upon the predator-prey instincts of rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. While these two species are described as forage generalists, they opportunistically feed on prey items such as insects, salmon smolt, mice, aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and sculpins. Here, we will focus specifically on sculpin since they are abundant everywhere in Alaska.

Variations in sculpin patterns have been developed, such as the Woolhead Sculpin, Sculpzilla and Conrad Sculpin. Sculpins are one of the most important prey items available to rainbow trout and Dolly Varden on a year-round basis. Colors range from black to olive as those are the dominant, natural colors.

A vast array of materials is variable to represent sculpin physiology. They are characterized by poor swimming performance, large pectoral fins and range from 3- to 6 inches in length dependent on the species. Rabbit strips in combination with marabou are popular material choices for formulating the rear and main body of the sculpin. A combination of wool, synthetics and dubbing are used to make various styles of head. To make their large, lobed-like pectoral fins, an individual hen saddle feather or an individual clump of deer hair can be tied in. Recent product development such as the Sculpin Helmet makes it easier to tie a fly if your tying style is more functionality-based instead of creative. Sculpzilla-shaped heads can also be inserted onto the tube for weight—add application of UV-enhanced adhesive to prevent it from slipping off tube.  Other weight options include adding lead to the tube or using weighted tubes such as brass or copper tubes.

Sculpin tube fly tied by one of the professional guides at Alaska West. This is designed to target rainbow trout and Dolly Varden specifically.



The author Mike Lunde is a fisheries technician for the Alaska Cooperative Fisheries and Wildlife Research Unit and professional guide out of Fairbanks.  He grew up just outside Milwaukee, WI and received his B.S. in Fisheries from University of Alaska Fairbanks.  He is currently pursuing a M.S. in both journalism and fisheries.  Mike contributes regularly for Fish Alaska and other sport-fishing magazine publications.