Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Nov 03, 2014

Fishing streamer flies on streams that has hatches is often the angler's last resort, however there are many times throughout the year when streamers are not only the best option but they are also the most effective choice for the savvy angler.

Once, when presenting a lecture on the effectiveness of streamers one of the angler's told me that his "particular stream had plenty of hatches and therefore minnow imitations were of little use on his stream." I was interested in this comment and asked what stream he was referring to and if he spent much time using streamer imitations on this water? He replied that no he didn't use any streamers but he knew the due to the hatches they would be ineffective!

Thus much information is passed by word of mouth by anglers who to seem to be competent but are in fact misinformed and are often close minded to any methods or patterns but the ones they have found success with.

Streamers are like any other fly patterns in that there are certain times of each day that streamer patterns and methods will be effective on any given body of water.

Now if you are facing a body of water where you may have a reasonable knowledge of the trout and the food forms that they feed on, then it will be the up to the angler to design a plan where the use of streamers if tired during various times of the day. A Plan of this type requires the angler to show discipline and be willing to try those streamers and streamer methods throughout the day regardless of what else may be happening. This is very difficult for most anglers to do as most anglers are fishing to maximize the number of trout that they can catch on any given outing.

Therefore it is very difficult for angler to stop fishing during hatch when the patterns being used are effective and switch out and try streamer patterns and methods.
But it is through is willingness to learn and experiment that anglers expand their knowledge base and take that next step in becoming knowledgeable anglers who are always one or two steps ahead of other anglers. However in your case, now that you are going to retire and should have more time to fish you will be able to experiment more, worrying less about the number of trout you actually catch on each outing!

Now many anglers rely on fishing reports and printed hatch charts to learn what the trout feed on in River X. This information can be useable however the best way to learn what minnows are found in any given river is to go out and actively collect the minnows. Then check and see if the State Fish & Game has any specific information on the minnow life of River X and talk to the local fisheries Biologist to see what other information you can gather.

In today's world of digital photography it is easy to capture minnows and drop them into a clear container and take several photos of each species that are collected. Taking notes on the general shape and color of the captured minnows, both the notes and photos will allow the fly tyer to create better patterns and by observing the minnows in the container and in their natural habitat will give the information you will need to properly present the streamer patterns.

Excellent pattern designs will be relatively ineffective if presented in improper manner. The ability to grow as an effective angler is based on the willingness to keep an open mind, observation, and the willingness to experiment will different patterns and methods.

Much has been written about how effective streamers can be during the spawning time period; another time that streamers are recommend is late in the day. However consider this, much has been written about the effectiveness of streamers during spawning periods and most anglers interrupt this to mean during the trout's spawning cycles and they completely ignore the spawning cycles of the fish species including the minnows that live in any given body of water.

So when and where do these minnow species spawn and at what time of the year do they spawn, furthermore are there other fish species in River X such as suckers or carp or whatever and when, where and at what time do they spawn.

During all of spawning action that goes on in any given body of water is well noted by the trout that inhabit the water and they feed on these spawning minnows and they also will feed on the newly hatches fry and throughout the season they are always on the lookout for an easy minnow meal.

Also consider this, during a hatch are you sure that all of the larger trout are feeding on the emerging insects or may some of them be laying in ambush to feed on smaller trout and other minnows that also move to feed on the emerging insects.

Now after contemplating all of the possibilities when do you think that minnow imitations might be effective?

Only the inquiring and disciplined angler can answer this question on any given body of water.

Now remember that you still have deal with the variations in the water temperatures that varies throughout the seasons and as the seasons change the flows will change and thus the holding water of the trout can be affected by the conditions that you encounter on a daily basis throughout the year.

Also remember that there are other organisms which may be imitated by streamer style patterns and they are damsel nymphs which can be imitated with small woolly buggers, also crayfish, frogs and tadpoles can also be imitated by general streamer types without using individual specific imitations.

As with any pattern style streamers have several different styles which include traditional bucktails, traditional feather streamers, traditional marabou streamers, Clouser style minnows, muddler style minnows, and then the various styles of woolly buggers, flash-a-buggers and some with cone head, bead head and fish skulls, some will have various types of rubber legs and flash.

Then there are the matuka styles, zonkers, also various styles of articulated streamers have become popular and there are also various sculpin patterns, craft fur streamers, and various modern fibers designed for construction of minnows. All of these patterns can be tied on various hooks which can vary in shape and size from 4/0 to 16 and look lengths that can vary from 1X long to 8X long.

I have used all of these styles and have found them all to be effective at various times, and I fully realize that the sheer scope of the streamer patterns that are available to the angler is very overwhelming.

However, I am always looking for patterns that are easy to construct, durable, effective and easy to cast, this search has lead me to experiment with Tube Style Streamers. Therefore at this point I am going insert a previously written selection on Tube Flies which will cover the history and explain the development of this style of pattern.


Tube flies were developed in 1945 by Mrs. Winnie Morawski, a fly tyer for the firm of Charles Playfair & Company of Aberdeen. Mrs. Morawski tied her first tube flies on sections of hollow turkey quill. The fact is, those tube flies may have been tied as a lark. Dr. William Mitchell saw these early tube flies and suggested that they be tied on surgical tubing.

In their volume entitled "A Guide to Salmon Flies", published in 1990, John Buckland and Arthur Oglesby write that "Ronald Coleby remembered an illustration of very rum salmon flies in a copy of Wanless' "The Angler and the Thread Line" of 1932. The two plates show an indisputable tube fly. Wanless, besides being a fly angler, also used a spinning rod to fish salmon flies. Was Mrs. Morawski aware of this? Probably not!

Soon tube flies gained popularity with Atlantic salmon anglers. Those early tubes tended to spin on the leader. Thus came flies that were tied in the "round". Richard Waddington championed this style in his 1948 volume entitled "Salmon Fishing, A New Philosophy". This idea soon gained popularity with tube flies.

In September 1959, an article in Trout & Salmon stated "tube flies were perhaps the most important advance which has occurred in Atlantic salmon fly fishing since Woods introduced the greased line method."

The first instructional literature and lists of dressing were published by John Veniard in the Fishing Gazette in 1959. As Terry Hellekson stated in Volume II of "Fish Flies", published in 1995 "Because the original flies that were tied on tubes only suggested Atlantic salmon flies with treble hooks attached to them, they were not too favorably received in North America. On the East coast and throughout Canada, treble hooks are illegal on Atlantic Salmon Rivers. However, not all North American anglers turned their noses up at tube flies. Many saltwater and west coast anglers began to experiment with tube flies. The British are a very precise and ordered people

They soon developed a system of tubes of exact lengths and weights. Still, they stayed with treble hooks.

Joseph D. Bates, Jr. published "Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing" in 1970. He talks about treble hooks used in Atlantic salmon tube flies and how they are unsuited for North American Atlantic salmon imitations. However, he has a section called "Fly Pattern of the Future" and states that they may be used in saltwater, dries and other imitations. Many of the readers of this fine work must have missed or ignored this section.

Remember, tube flies were developed in 1945. In 1951, William F. Blades published his book entitled "Fishing Flies and Fly Tying". Besides being a talented tyer who was light years ahead of his time, he also taught Ernest Schwiebert and Poul Jorgenson how to tie flies. In his book, Bill already had developed tube fly patterns for hoppers, nymphs, mayfly duns, stonefly nymphs, crawfish, hellgrammite and minnows. He also had a jointed stone fly and hex nymph as well as a popper for bass.

Mr. Blades also stated that "This method is not new; it has been used on feather jigs for many years."  He further stated, "Possibilities are great. Various nymphs and crustaceans can be imitated and flies can be developed for different species of fish." 

He ends with "The flies included in this brief chapter are standard with me." However, the plates in his book still only showed the use of the treble hook. Therefore, many anglers discounted his work.

Several authors have written about the effectiveness and versatility of tube flies—but unfortunately, North Americans can be stubborn. Look at bead-heads. They were used and accepted for many years by others before North Americans adopted them. Look again at CDC—when it was first introduced to us, it was rejected. Twenty some years later, we were thrilled and in awe of CDC patterns created by Rene Harrop.

In 1995 Mark Mandell and Les Johnson published "Tube Flies – A Tying, Fishing & Historical Guide". I found this to be mostly a pattern book. Although it contains excellent streamer, saltwater, popper and slider patterns, I still found this volume to be lacking patterns for bass and trout, both wets and dries.

Let's take a look at some of the advantages of tube flies. Tube flies allow the fly fisher to fish very large flies without using huge hooks, which are hard to cast. Smaller hooks are easier to set firmly and are less likely to work loose.

Another reason to use tube flies is that when you hook a fish and a long run is made, or the fish gets below you where you are unable to follow, you land more fish. You do not suffer so many break-offs or having the hook pull out. The smaller hook used in tube flies aids in casting, limits hooking injury, and adds to the durability of the imitations.

Today there are special tools that are made to hold the tube for the fly tyer. Several companies even have special tube fly vises. The tubes themselves may be purchased from several suppliers. These tubes may be copper, aluminum or plastic. These tubes will be of a precise length and weight. Or you may obtain tube material from hobby shops. These tubes can be cut to the length you desire. Another source of tubes is plastic Q-tips. The colors will vary—white, yellow, orange, blue, purple or red.

I have found sixteen books from 1951 to present, showing the versatility and effectiveness of tube flies. Also, from 1978 to present, I have found thirteen magazine articles where tube flies have been written about, explained and discussed.

However, the information and explanations have been fragmented and less than clear. Therefore, I intend on setting the record straight and speaking some very plain language.

I feel the biggest reason tube flies have not been accepted is the treble hook associated with them. Well, phooey! Tube flies can be very effective when single or double hooks are used. Another reason for the lack of interest in tube flies is the presumption that they spin on the leader and thus flies are tied in the round. Nothing could be further from the truth!!

As was stated in the 1996 tome "Fishing Atlantic Salmon" by Joseph D. Bates, Jr. and Pamela Bates Richards, "There are two ways of rigging tube flies, with the hook loose, and with the hook secured in the rear of the tube with a plastic sleeve." Again in his 1979 volume entitled "Streamers & Bucktail – The Big Fish Flies", Mr. Bates has this to say: "Tube flies should be excellent for bass and various pond fish, and they could be adapted to saltwater fly fishing. It may be the different action of the tube body or because the fly reacts better to the varying flows of river current. I have become convinced that tube flies with single hooks are very effective for trout when made for fishing in the surface film or as nymphs. They should do well for steelhead, Midwest and pacific salmon and in fly rodding for bass and pond fishes. They should be effective in saltwater."

Now let's look at treble hooks. Fly anglers seem to have a great dislike for these hooks. Why?  Do they kill more fish than single hooks? No! In studies of hooking mortality between bait, flies and lures, it has been proven that treble hooks kill the least number of fish, even less than flies. Yes, treble hooks, when secured to the back of the tube with a plastic sleeve, allow the tube to hunt in the proper position and not spin.

Single and double hooks can also be used when the imitation is constructed properly. As Bob Johns stated in his article "The Fly on a Stick" published in Rod & Reel in Nov/Dec 1989, "double hooks, though, usually will stabilize a fly, and if you add the parachute effect of a true wing, you get a streamer that will hunt consistently in one plane. A thin strip of lead to the bottom of the tube will provide a stable plane for wets."

In January 1978 Lee Wulff published "The Flexible Fly" in Sports Afield. In this article, Lee explained how he tied several variations of nymphs and streamers on soft, flexible, surgical tubing.

In the 1984 "Salmon Fishing" by Hugh Falks, Mr. Falks says, "The biggest mistake any angler can make is to be too successful." How true! Sometimes it clouds the mind and keeps us from trying other methods and imitations with an open mind! In his 1999 volume entitled "Pretty & Practical Salmon Flies" Dick Talleur discusses the restriction placed on the use of various lines and weighted imitations and talks about the closed minded, petty, sanctimonious individuals who support these rules!! Dick also states a very compelling reason for the use of tube flies "Fifth, they give us one more weapon with which to tease and entice these factious creatures". Although Mr. Talleur is speaking of Atlantic salmon, the statement can be applied to all species of fish.

Tube flies are something that I have been actively working on for the past several years. Trout flies on tubes were a natural progression. I have tied successful tube flies for saltwater, steelhead, and warm water. I also tied tubes for trout; but I was never happy with the rigid tubes. However I have started using soft plastic tubes and I feel that the soft tubes are the way to go for trout as you need no snubber tube.

When tying small tubes for trout I use craft lace or ultra-lace. However, when tying soft Tube Flies for steelhead, Atlantic salmon or the various species of pacific salmon and saltwater, I suggest using aquarium airline tubing or small surgical tubing. For this type of tubing you would not need to use a snubber tube. Just fit the hook into the end of the soft plastic tube.

I often been asked why bother with tubes for trout and especially small tubes. What are the advantages? This is by the way a fair question. Today there are thousands of different patterns tied in a conventional manner on various hook styles. However the uses of tubes allows the angler/tyer to show the trout something it is use to eating yet it will something different from the normal patterns being presented. On hard fished water I feel that this is a definite advantage.

The normal advantages of using Tubes still apply. Tubes will allow the angler/tyer to construct imitations that are lighter and easier to cast than though construct on standard hooks. By being able to use smaller hooks you will find that your hooking percentages will increase. Seldom will the fish have the leverage to throw the hook which can happen when use standard hooks. This is especially true when employing long shanked hooks. Also the imitation tied on tubes last longer as once the fish is hooked the tube will slide up the leader thus avoiding the teeth.

During the past ten years or so a few anglers have experimented with various Streamer Tube Styles however they are still not widely accepted by the general fly fishing public which I believe is a plus for the anglers willing to employ this style.

Therefore I will list the recipes and tying notes for several Tube Style Streamer patterns which you can use to begin to build a collection of Tube Streamer for the waters you fish. You may want to add specific imitations for a species that you have in your river however the patterns that I listing have worked in various sizes across North America for Trout, Warm water Species and some are even used in the Saltwater.

Editor's Note
This article is a result of a package of flies that were tied as a birthday/retirement present for one of Tom's clients.
The patterns will be published in the next issue of FAOL

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