Can you have 'tube-fly' flashbacks? In my hand I have a bunch of slender, gleaming tubes; utterly functional and very tempting! These are as simple as fly tying tubes can get: take a metal tube, cut to length, line with plastic tube to protect the leader – tie a fly. However these are extraordinary in a couple of ways – slimmer than any straight tubes I have seen for sale – stainless steel which is both hard to find and hard to cut.
Tubes now come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and in a fair selection of materials. Conventional tubes were simple lengths of brass, copper, aluminium or plastic tube, lined with polythene tubing. Tougher, more rigid brass and copper tubes were (and are) available up to two-and-a-half inches long, aluminium and plastic usually in shorter lengths. Mostly the longer/heavier tubes were used during high/cold water – fished on sinking lines, the weight of a long brass tube is no joke, they sink well but casting is like having a small brick on the end of the line. Smaller/lighter aluminium and plastic tubes tended to be fished on lighter tackle and less dense lines when the water had warmed and cleared a little, and those lighter tubes cast more easily.
So the flies and fly lines were used to control fishing depth. The tube-material and the way we tended to tie tube-flies meant that long flies needed long, therefore heavy, tubes. (Over one-and-a-half inches a simple aluminium tube can be folded easily in the vice, plastic tube tends to curve as the length increases, and, frankly, tying on a long section of flexible plastic tube is unpleasant – damned thing bends far too easily.)
Tying a more modern tube-fly pattern means I might tie a fly three or four inches long on a tube one inch long. OK that inch may not be a simple tube, brass turned to a tear-drop or bottle shape might be heavier than one inch of plain tube, but nowhere near the weight of a long, meaty copper tube, or I might tie on a plastic tube and fit a tungsten cone at the head. Tubes and fly-design means modern tube-flies are designed to sink easily, they are often balanced with more weight at the head, and, critically, the tube length no longer determines the length of the wing or fly. The tube has become more about how a fly swims than a means of making it sink, fly lines are now more critical to the depth at which a fly fishes. The weight of the tube in the fly still plays a part in sinking the fly, but a minor part in controlling fishing depth.
So, these Grays of Kilsyth tubes are described as Needle Tubes. The stainless steel tubing is literally made for needles – hypodermic needles. At 1.5 and 1.8mm my gut reaction is to hope it's not my dermis those needles get stuck into. (Before the medics react, needles this large are used to collect blood so red blood cells can pass through undamaged, so I probably have been stuck with a needle this size.)
Stainless steel is harder than brass or copper, far harder and more rigid than aluminium or plastic, so despite being slender these are very rigid tubes. I can just flex the longest tube in my fingers, I can't bend the short tubes by hand at all and cannot bend them with thread pressure when tying.
That narrow outside diameter likely means small inside diameter. The inside diameter is certainly tighter than most of the tubes I tie on, these will not fit on the tapered end of the old hook I use for mounting tubes, I can get a sewing needle in there but that’s not ideal. Checking on tippet/leader monofilament, I have a couple mounted on 0.38mm (0.015 inch) mono and the tube is free to slide – that’s a strong, thick tippet (e.g. Orvis Mirage 20lb BS).
Needle Tube Fly Vice
Assuming I would find it hard to fix these slim tubes with my existing tying gear, Grays sensibly sent me their Needle Tube Fly Vice. The assumption (and it's a good assumption) is that I already have a vice, so this came without a clamp or pedestal. The shaft is 8mm diameter so should fit the clamp already supplied with most vices and does fit mine. The head is simply a pin-vice fitted to a block which rides on the shaft. One screw fixes the block on the shaft and sets the tying height, the other locks the pin-vice in position – release that and you can turn the vice or remove it from the block.
The pin-vice head is like a small drill chuck: four sprung jaws inside a threaded collar, tighten the collar and the jaws are forced closed, unscrew and they open.
Take a step back and the design of this vice is not particularly pretty, however, this is an utterly practical solution to the problem of holding a slim tube in position while I tie on it.
Obviously, this vice head can hold other tubes if they are slim enough and a larger 'optional' vice head accepts tubes up to 3mm diameter. This method of holding tubes really only suits metal tubes and even then I would be wary of tightening on an aluminium tube. However, I can fix a darning or sewing needle into the standard jaws and that can hold softer tubes, eg plastic and aluminium, so this is more than a one-trick tool.
Tying is conventional. I like that long stem; allows me to set the tube at a decent height. I like the distance between the stem and the jaws; not much chance of the bobbin-holder bumping the stem. I like that the tube is held at the tail; nothing clutters the head so I can work as neatly as I like. Because the tube is held in the metal jaws I can't fit a plastic ‘extension’ (that length of rubbery tube used to hold the hook in position) until I remove the fly from the vice – which is fine.
Stainless steel tubes don't tarnish much, obviously I can tie a body but frankly – why? So tying on these tubes becomes about dressing the wing and head of the tube. Attach the thread, check a bunch of hair for length, let thread-tension spread the bunch evenly around the tube, fix with a couple of turns of thread, trim the butts and finish the head.
Which, brings me full circle – simple flies, easily tied – in terms of tying that seem to me to flash me back straight to the original ideas behind tube flies. However, there are differences, flies tied on these tubes are not like heavy bulky conventional tubes, these are light and sleek, cast easily and can be controlled by a sink-tip or poly-leader. Want to fish deeper – use a faster sinking line. In other words these are modern tubes for modern fishing techniques which emphasise easier casting and employ sophisticated modern fly-lines to determine fishing depth.
As a fly tyer the proportion, neatness and finish of these tubes and the neat finish I can achieve on them appeals directly to the satisfaction I get from fly tying. And stainless steel tubes are about as tough as fly tying tubes get – so my carefully tied flies should fish a little longer. Then as an angler, the slimness of these tubes makes me think of clear water and sea trout. The shorter tubes seem ideal for those wee speck-like flies for low flows, longer tubes for faster water or fishing into the dark ...
From: Grays of Kilsyth. Tel. 01479 873619 (www.graysofkilsyth.com)
Tubes: £4.99 per 10 of any length, 1.5mm or 1.8mm. (Bulk packs available.)
Needle Tube Vice with standard head: £18.00
Optional 3mm Vice Head: £5.95
Grays stock a range of PVC and silicon tubing to suit their tubes