Flies for Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Part II – Tube Flies

Courtesy of Atlantic Salmon Flies: Classic and Modern– Ben Bilello

Flies for Broodstock Atlantic Salmon Part II – Tube Flies

In Part I of this series, I listed my five favorite conventional flies for broodstock Atlantic salmon fishing. Part II will round out my top ten with five of my favorite tube flies. Before I delve into the patterns and their uses, I’ll explain what a tube fly is and how it benefits the angler.

Simply put, a tube fly is a fly tied on a hollow tube instead of on a hook. The tube can be made out of either plastic or various types of metal (most often aluminum, brass or copper). A hook is not a permanent fixture on a tube fly and is usually added before fishing a particular fly. The hook is added after threading the tippet through the front end of the hollow tube fly. After tying the hook to the tippet, the hook is “attached” to the tube fly. If the inner diameter of a plastic tube is large enough, the hook can be inserted directly into the back end of the fly. If the opening is not large enough, or if we are using a fly tied on a metal tube, the hook is inserted into a small piece of flexible tubing that is applied over the back end of the fly. The flexible hook holder is known as “junction tubing.” When a fish is hooked, often times the hook detaches from the junction tubing, which allows the fly to slide up the leader (and away from the fish’s teeth). Durability is just one advantage of using tube flies.

Another advantage is the ability to use a large fly with a small, short shanked hook. The smaller hook is beneficial for a few reasons. A sort shanked hook is a better fish fighting tool than a long shanked hook, which can use leverage against the angler and work its way free. Also, small hooks are less likely to mortally injure fish which might otherwise be released. We no longer need the extra weight or size of a large hook to create a fly with a large profile. A fly can be as long as the tube, but still use a relatively small hook. Furthermore, should our hook break or dull, we can replace it without replacing the entire fly.

The same size tube fly can be tied in different weights depending in the tubing material used. Plastic is light and buoyant. It works well for flies to be fished on or near the surface. Aluminum is only slightly heavier than plastic and will sink a fly just under the surface. Brass, copper and tungsten are much denser than either plastic or aluminum and will sink a fly much deeper and faster. A good selection of tube flies (tied in various weights) will prepare the angler for nearly any situation.

There are many other reasons to use tube flies, but not enough space to list them all in this article. As the weather gets cooler and the river rises, I use tube flies more often than conventional flies.  Tube flies can be a good “change of pace” tactic when conventional flies and presentations aren’t working. Below are my five most effective tube flies for broodstock Atlantic salmon.

Ally's Shrimp Tube

Ally’s Shrimp Tube

Ally’s Shrimp – Originally tied on a hook, Ally’s Shrimp is one of the most effective Atlantic salmon flies ever created. I have altered the dressing a bit to convert it into a tube fly. The tube version has three stiff hackle stems tied into the top of the tail. When leaves are floating in the water, I invert my single hook to point upwards and the hackle stems act as a sort of “leaf guard.” It’s not 100% effective at blocking leaves, but it hooks a lot fewer of them than a fly tied on a conventional, downward pointing hook.

Sunray Shadows

Sunray Shadows

Sunray Shadow – The Sunray Shadow is a very simple fly, most commonly tied on plastic and metal tubes. I fish both. I fish the plastic Sunray with a riffling hitch to skate it over the surface. A medium sized (3” total length) hitched Sunray doesn’t hook many salmon for me, but it can locate salmon who are potential “players” (causing them to follow or rise for the fly). One of my favorite tactics to use on stubborn salmon is to strip a large, non-hitched Sunray Shadow as fast as possible. The takes are usually very violent. I have found this tactic most effective in normal-to-high water.

Sunray Shadow

HKA Sunray Shadow

HKA Sunray/Bismo – This Icelandic tube fly is a Sunray Shadow derivative, but the wing is not tied as long as the Sunray’s. With grizzly hackles on the side, a pearl braid body and prismatic eyes, the Bismo is a more dressed up version of its predecessor. I tie the Bismo on a 1”-1.25” aluminum tube and fish it similar to a Sunray tied on a metal tube.

German Snaelda

German Snaelda

Snaelda – This odd Icelandic fly most often tied on short, heavy tubes (copper or brass). I use a Snaelda with a total length of 3”-4” in cold water. I fish small Snaeldas, total length of 1.5”-2”, in low, warm water as a “last resort” fly. Small Snaeldas are deadly when the salmon are holding in fast water at the top of the pools. I cast upstream, let the fly sink, and swing it into the pockets. My favorite colors for the Snaelda are a combination of yellow, orange and black and all black.

Willie Gunns

Willie Gunns

Willie Gunn – The Willie Gunn is one of the most effective tube flies in the UK. Both the black bodied and gold bodied Willie Gunns have been excellent producers for me in high, cold water, fast moving water. I tie mine on 1.5”-2” copper tubes. When the water is cold, salmon will nip at the back end of a fly. To counter this, I use a slightly longer piece of junction tubing so the hook extends past the bucktail wing.

In the final part of this series, I will offer a more in-depth look at fishing strategies and how they relate to the flies we use.

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