Monday, October 5, 2015

Tube Fly Bunny Bugger

Ahhh…  A nice late-season Eastern brown trout, and the bunny bugger tube fly that it ate.   A fish like this makes any trip well worthwhile.

Many anglers who routinely fish for trout, smallmouth, and other freshwater fish, still think that tube flies are for steelhead and salmon.  But, as Ted Leeson just said in the Autumn 2015 issue of Fly Rod and Reel, "I now recognize their worth for a wide range of species…". Look back at our earlier blog post Trout Flies on Tubes or Tube Flies for Trout for more discussion on when and why to use tube flies.

This particular pattern, an all-black cone head bunny bugger has indeed done quite well for itself with steelhead.  And since we were on an eastern river known for its large brown trout, we figured we'd use a big fly with the intent of hooking a big fish.  Ta-da!  We hooked several very nice fish and and eventually lost all our flies to stupidity (dropping them in the current in our excitement), or by breaking them off on even larger trout.

So its time to tie more because we don't have any more, and because BIG landlocked salmon also love buggers on a crisp fall day.  So, we're going to show you our particular style for tying a bunny bugger in this tutorial, but a tan version (it photographs better and its just as deadly).  The pattern is the same for tan, black, and white (our top colors), or any other color or color combination you might care to tie.  

Ted Leeson also points out in his recent review that 'the only hardware you need to get going (for tube flies) is the HMH Starter Tube Tool".  In this tutorial, however, we're going to use the Spinner vise, arguably the simplest, most effective dedicated tube fly vise available.  See it at


1.  Secure HMH Small Poly tube in vise and lay a thread base.  Note that we slid the pin inside the tube AFTER we clamped the tube in the vise - the pin acts only as a stiffener, which makes tying the semi-flex tube just a little easier.

2.  Tie in rabbit zonker strip -- you can tie it long in the back because you can always trim it to desired length when you're done.  But make sure you leave enough of the zonker strip at the front end to reach the head of your fly.

3.  Lift the front portion of the honker (a couple turns of thread help hold it up and out of the way) and tie in saddle hackle or schlappen, tip first, and then tie in body material.  We prefer schlappen because we're after a fairly lengthy and hairy underbody for maximum action in the water.  

4.  Wind the chenille forward.  By using micro-chenile for the body, we can choose to wrap one, two, or three layers and thus have much more control over final body dimension and profile.  In this case, we wrapped three layers.

4.  Trim chenille, and palmer hackle forward and tie off.  But don't trim hackle yet - we'll use it later to finish off the head before installing the cone.

5.  Now we add a bit of flash. You can do so, or not, depending on your whim.  And of course, you can choose what ever type of flash you like to use.

6.  Pull the fore piece of honker strip forward and secure it at the front of the body material, and trim.  Don't cut your thread like we do all the time.

7.  Now, wrap the remaining hackle tight to the rabbit strip.  Tie it off, trim it close, and then make a whip finished head and trim thread.  

8.  Time for the cone.  HMH Medium cones are pre-drilled precisely to fit HMH small poly tubes.  We're using brass, but you can opt for black or nickel finishes.  Slide the cone onto the tube and snug it up tightly to the front of the fly.  Remove the pin.

9.  Now trim the tube leaving about 1/16" - 1/8" extending in front of the cone.  Slide the pin back all the way into the tube and apply heat to melt the tube back and 'rivet' the cone onto the tube.  NOTE: don't touch the tube with the flame - just bring the flame close to the tube - and preferably slowly spin the tube while doing so, so you get a nice even button.  All this is very simple using the Spinner vise.

10.  And there you have it.

11.  Remove the fly from the vise.  Trim the back of the tube - how long you leave the tube depends on how far back you want the hook to ride in the pattern.  In this case, we left about 3/8" of tube extending behind the end of the body materials.  For this shot, we added a piece of hot orange hook holder.

A deadly fly.  Stripped very fast, this fly will trigger some tremendous strikes.  Hang on.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The LINETENDER -- Stripping Basket AND Shooting Basket.

Many of you likely don't use a stripping/shooting basket when you fish with a fly, but there are times when you should.  A good stripping basket can add a new dimension to your angling, and solve a number of bothersome situations that can detract from your flyfishing experience and even cost you some good fish.

Why a stripping basket? 

Just a few reasons to consider here:  avoid stepping on your fly line and stopping your cast short (this ALWAYS happens when you've finally targeted the best fish of the day and you get one shot…);  never again worry about clutter and other mess in boats to snag your line when you least want that to happen;  keep your line organized and ready to shoot, not drifting downstream away from you.  Use the LineTender in boats on ponds or rivers, on the beach, wading in ponds; wading small streams or big rivers.

But what is a 'good' stripping basket? 

A good basket will have these features, at least:

1.  As a 'Stripping Basket', a) it should give you a big enough target to strip line into without the line falling out over the side of the basket;  b) you should be able to place the basket on your body high or low, or position it centered on your body or to either side of your body-- why? so you can strip line the way your style of fishing demands without having to contort yourself to get the line into the basket.  For safety, the basket should allow you to see where you are walking - the mesh bottom on the LineTender does just that.

The LineTender, by HMH, is plenty ample, but easy to wear and use.  Adjustable web belt
makes it easy to place basket high or low, or moved to either side of the body.
(Handy mesh pocket on belly band is for leaders, tips, fly box, bug dope, etc…)

2.  As a 'Shooting Basket',  a)  it should have a flat floor/platform  so line coils can spread out and lay flat and be ready to shoot out without tangling; 

The LineTender is big enough to be an easy target, but not so big to be in the way.
In this image, the basket is being worn low on the body and angled off the left hip for long, easy strips.

b) it should be shallow enough so coils can shoot with minimal contact with the sides of the basket, which increases drag on the fly line and reduces casting distance;  

The LineTender is about 7" deep, so line stays put, but still shallow enough 
to allow line to shoot out of basket with minimal drag.  The basket is collapsible, 
so you can decrease the basket depth during fishing if you want.

c) 'fingers' (we call ours "LineShooters") protruding vertically from the floor of the basket can help reduce or eliminate birds nests from happening at the first stripping guide -- ideally, these fingers would be removable and portable so you can place them in the basket when and where you want them depending on how you're going to fish today.  And, the fingers should be height-adjustable to adapt to your line and casting technique on any given outing.

"LineShooters" for the LineTender come in a set of two, for total of 6 fingers.  They are
easily height adjustable to optimize line shoots and minimize tangles.  Each plate can
be installed anywhere in the mesh bottom of the basket.

As a convenient angling accessory, you should be able to use the basket when you need it, and move it out of the way when you don't need it.  And portability is important.  The Linetender easily swings behind you when you don't need it.  And when you're done, it coils up small and fits in its (supplied) carry sack, which has belt loops so you can keep it on your wader belt and have it whenever and wherever you need it.

The LineTender coils easily to a small size (top photo) and fits
in a  9 X 13  stuff sack for easy storage and transport.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Trout Flies on Tubes or Tube Flies for Trout

However one says it, the point here is that tube flies are great for trout.  Many anglers out there still think that tubes are only for bigger fish - like steelies, salmon, and stripers and other saltwater gamefish.

But some anglers (a growing number) are fishing tubes for trout and smallies, for example.  Virtually any of the streamer patterns work great on these fish.  And many other specialty fly patterns (like crayfish, for example) are being created and fished effectively.

Many medium and small patterns that we fish for trout may, in fact, be better when tied on a tube.

So the real issue here is the answer to this question:  when would you NOT want to put a fly pattern on a tube (the implied opposite point of view being that ALL fly patterns can be tied on a tube…)

Well, here is a Stimulator i tied up to illustrate my thesis. (The recipe and step-by-step are further below in this post).

The hook in my finger in the image above is a #10 Daiichi Model 1260, a hook that is replicated by a number of top hook manufacturers.  It's billed as being a '2X long' hook.  The actual length, from front of eye to tip of barb, is just a hair over 3/4" (about 17 mm).  The Stimulator pattern as shown would sit on that hook nicely enough.  

Now, the hook IN the tube is a #14 Tiemco 2488, a short-shank straight-eye hook.  Actual length of this hook is just a hair over 1/4", from front of eye to tip of barb. So the #10 hook is three times as long as the #14 mounted in the tube fly.

This is important because the single most important advantage you gain by fishing a tube fly is lever advantage.  The experience of anglers all over is that long hooks will more easily 'lever out' of a fish's mouth during a fight.  Picture in your mind's eye the last time you watched a fish 'throwing' your streamer hook back in your face. 

Now picture all those images of large leaping rainbows now safe and secure in a net with that tiny little dry/wet/nymph hook stuck tight in the corner of their jaw.  THIS is why so many steelhead and salmon anglers have switched over completely to tubes - they lose fewer fish during the fight.  (dig up the FFM article by Lanny Waller that was published maybe 5-6 years ago and hear it straight from him.)  There are other reasons why tubes are effective (and fun) but this is the biggie.

So my answer to the question 'when would I NOT put a hook fly on a tube' is this:  when I cannot take the lever advantage away from the fish and give it to me by fishing the same size fly with a shorter hook.  That is, if i can't use a shorter hook in the fly by tying the pattern on a tube, then that pattern on a hook is already short enough and it doesn't make sense to put it on a tube.

I will post up some other patterns to illustrate this point in Trout on Tubes, Part 2, later.  In the meantime, here's how I put this Trout Stimulator on the tube:

1.  Tube is an HMH Original Micro Tube, Thick Wall.  Wrap a thread base.  Note that the tube is being held directly by the Spinner Vise or HMH Converter Tool, if you have that.  The pin is inserted in the tube after the fact to serve merely as a stiffener.

2.  Tie in tuft of deer hair for tail.

3.  Trim extra deer hair; tie in body hackle.

4.  one thing about tying smaller patterns on a tube is that tubes have a larger diameter than hook wire, so bodies can get bulky pretty quickly.  My solution for this pattern is to dub the body rather than use chenille.  The image here is to focus attention on wax - not just dubbing wax, but also tying wax.  It's an interesting topic that we'll address soon.  The wax here is a moderately sticky tying wax that also works well for dubbing that I conjured up on the kitchen stove.

5.  I neglected to shoot a couple of images - dubbing up a tight dubbing rope and wrapping it forward, then palmering the body hackle up. Here I've done all that and tied off the body hackle.

6.  Tie in thorax hackle.  Note that I've trimmed the hackle off the top of the body so the deer hair wing will sit down better.

7.  Tie in deer hair wing, then dub thorax...

8.  …and palmer thorax hackle up and tie off.  Wrap a few turns to form a head, then whip finish.

9.   Remove the pin and trim the tube to within about 1/16" from the front of the head.

10.  I then re-insert the pin well back into the tube, and then with my left hand I hold materials back away from the flame that I'm applying with my right hand to melt the tube back to make a nice little button head.  You'll want to rotate the fly a bit to help apply the heat evenly around the tube.

11.   I remove the fly from the vise and trim the back of the tube leaving about 1/16" of tube extending beyond the body.  Finally, I use pliers or hemostats to crush the back end of the tube so its flattened (dorso-ventrally).  This makes the tube wider and enables me to push the little hook eye right up into the tube without using hook holder.

Can't wait to work the boulders and rocks with this one…

Monday, September 22, 2014

Best Storage for Fly Tying Cones and Beads

Or, how to clean up your fly tying bench and make it fun to decide to tie a bunch of bead-head nymphs.

The problem for me was all the tiny bags of tiny beads and not so tiny, but myriad cones in different sizes, materials, and colors.  Seriously, it was an impediment to tying.  There must be other systems out there, but i was thrilled when i tracked this one down.

The outer flat, crystal clear box, with lid, is neat and space-efficient.  Inside this outer box are individual round boxes, equally clear, with screw top lids.  Pour in your teeny tiny beads and they are safe and sound forever.  Whenever you need one, they are easy to get.

HMH sells two sizes.  The Small Box has 12 inside round containers (that's a lot of beads).  The Small Box dimensions are 6 3/8" long x 4 7/8" wide x 1" tall.  The Large Box has 24 individual round containers and is 9 1/2" long x 6 1/2" wide x 1" tall.   The inside round containers are 1 3/8" diameter and 1" tall.  Retail for the Small Box is $8.95.  Large Box is $12.50.

I've got a couple of these on my bench and now no longer lose sleep over where my 5/64 tungsten chartreuse no-lead recessed dumbbell eyes are. 

You should have a couple, too.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


We have a good friend who comes into the shop now and then to talk about fishing, flies, and life (what else is there to talk about?).  He is well placed in the world of FFF fly casting; is one of the most proficient casters and instructors out there; and one of the most calm focussed and centered persons I've ever known.  

Years ago, before they moved across the road in Last Chance, ID, I was in Trouthunter's fly shop, and who should walk in, out of the blue, but our good friend.  Never mind pleasantries -- the first words out of his mouth were 'John, do you have any more of those tubes with you?'  He was float-tubing down Box Canyon hooking 'very large rainbows' on marabou streamers tied on tubes.  And he knows we're into tubes here and I guess he just assumed I always travel with boxes of all kinds of tubes.

The point here is that as excited as any of us get about big rainbows (wherever we can get them), our good friend goes completely off center when you bring up smallmouths.  

(photo courtesy of Matt Erny, who fishes Michigan 
(which, ecologically speaking, in many ways is similar to Maine). 
And, in the interest of full disclosure, this fish wasn't
 caught on a jig fly, but it could've been.)

We have excellent smallmouth fishing here in Maine, including right outside the shop in the Andro, if we could ever find time to get out there.  Well, our good friend does, and recently he walked into the shop and, to make a long story short -- well, shorter -- he showed me a  fly tied on a heavy bead head jig hook…

...and said how amazingly effective they were at catching big smallies "and anything else in the vicinity".

That got me to thinking, and I asked in a rhetorical way, hmmm, i wonder if I could put a jig fly on a tube?  Then he said hmmmmm, and that he'd be real curious to see what i came up with.

And here's what I came up with.

Why jigs on a tube?   1)  Why not?  2)  Because we can do it.  3) and because we then gain the primary advantage of using tube flies, which is to use a short-shank hook on relatively long flies. 

The technique is pretty straightforward.  Follows is a brief tutorial.

1.  I use the HMH Poly tubes.  They are easy to work and i don't need to use hook holder when i'm done.  First, make a hole in the side of the tube near the front end -- doesn't really matter how close to the end because you can always trim it to size.  Our Micro tubing is 1/16" diameter, so to make things simple, I heat a 1/16" drill bit because its really easy to melt through one wall of tube by slowly spinning the bit in your fingers.  Ream out the hole pretty well, and maybe oversize it a bit if you can.

2.  Next, trim a piece of HMH micro tubing (regular or thick wall) to an angle like a hypodermic needle.  This makes it easier to feed the micro tube around the 90 degree corner when you poke it down into and through the poly tube. 

3.  When you feed the micro tubing into the Poly tube, you want the angle of the cut to be flat against the opposite wall of the tube.  Obviously, the more gradual the angle of the cut, the easier it will be to get the micro tubing around the corner.  And, like just about every other aspect of fly fishing and fly tying, a little spit will help here to lube up the micro tubing.

4.  Push the micro tubing all the way out the back end of the poly tube, trim the micro tubing flat, and then burn the tiniest little button on the end.  This little button will help lock the tubing inside the poly tube.

5.  Pull the micro tubing back inside the poly tube and keep pulling it up towards the front of the tube, but leave, say, at least 3/8" or more of the micro tube inside the poly tube (you can see this in the image here).  Then trim off the micro tube, being sure to leave enough tubing to accommodate whatever cone or bead you're going to use for the jig head.  

6.  Drop the bead or cone down over the micro tubing, trim the tubing leaving a 1/16" - 1/8" of micro tubing extending beyond the bead/cone, and then burn it back to rivet the bead/cone onto the poly tube.  I cut a short piece of starter pin to keep my hole size consistent.  You'll want to hold the bead/cone tight to the poly tube during this process to make sure the cone stays tight to the poly tube when you're all done.  Yes, your fingers might get a little warm, but what price are we willing to pay for the joy of being clever and creative and of catching monster fish?

Then I burn a button on the front end of the tube ahead of the bead or cone just to finish things off nicely and to serve as a thread stop for the head if you choose to tie it all off in front of the bead or cone.

And, Voila, the jig tube is ready to tie.  Note here how I've pulled the micro tubing well up towards the bead.  I did this so if i tie a short body to the fly, I'll still have room for the hook eye (this is an HMH Poly Tube, so i don't need to use hook holder, which means nice things for the proportions of these jigs).   If you are tying a longer fly pattern, then you can leave the micro tubing further back.

Regardless, when you lay down your thread base with some nice tight turns, you will collapse the Poly tube down onto the micro tubing, thus locking everything together so it won't pull out while tussling with your leviathan from the deep.

I intend to give these a shot for spring steelies (I hope); early heavy pocket water for recalcitrant landlock salmon, and of course, when we reach the magic 50 degree mark, Smallies.

I'll report back.

Get a grip, and try something new.

Sunday, March 30, 2014



(This series of posts highlights the various HMH vises models since their entry into the marketplace in 1975.  The intent here is to enable those with older HMH vises to be able to name the model and otherwise get an idea as to its relative age.  This is especially useful in the event that you, as a vise owner, needs some repair, refurbishing, or you are interested in upgrades, new jaws, etc.)

In 1981, API (Angling Products Inc.) drew up the plans for a new version of the HMH.  It was a scaled down model of the HMH Standard in every way, meaning that they scaled down each individual part of the Standard to create a vise that was essentially a 2/3 replica of the Standard.  This vise they named the Spartan, or the "Mini Vise". 

Other than the obvious size difference, a key difference between that Spartan model, which was built from ca. 1981/1982 thru about the year 2000, and the early Standard vise models was the one-piece jaw on the Spartan vise.  The Standard vise models have always had the interchangeable jaw system (except for the HMH II, right?).

In addition to the one-piece jaw, the features of this vise that also are diagnostic include a 5/16" diameter standrod, and a down-sized cast iron base.  The Spartan cast iron base, however had a flat surface the length of the base.  The Standard cast iron base had a flat surface supporting the spindle, but the top surface then sloped all the way to the front of the base.

Two jaw styles were available for the Spartan Mini vise, the Universal, and the Restricted Use jaw.  The universal jaw, was bull-nosed and did an excellent job holding even the largest hooks.

The Restricted Use jaw (not pictured) is easy to recognize because it looks a lot like the modern Micro Jaw with a long, needle-nose profile.

So, before you call us up with questions about your "Spartan", first ask yourself:  is the Standrod of my Spartan a 5/16" diameter rod?  Is the jaw a one-piece jaw that I can only remove by removing the cam pin and the cam lever, then pulling the jaw from the collet?  Does the collet (the main 'tube' of the vise) have two bands of knurling at the front end?  If the answer to all these questions is yes, then you have the API Spartan Mini vise model.  We'll need to know that to be able to help you out with your questions about your vise.

Now, what are the key differences between the API Spartan Mini vise the the modern (since 2000) HMH Spartan vise?  Read on.

In 2000, we re-designed the Spartan vise back 'up' to a more standard size.  The primary objectives for doing so were to bring the standrod up to the industry standard of 3/8" diameter so accessories would fit on the spartan;  to enable the Spartan vise to benefit from the interchangeable jaw system;, and to enable the Spartan vise to benefit from the better, re-designed chassis.  What this meant, though, was that virtually none of the parts from the API model Spartan could be used on the new HMH model Spartan.  

C'est la vie.

API Spartan on the left.                    …and…..        HMH Spartan on the right.

API Spartan has smaller diameter standrod;  cast iron base;  double knurl bands on collet; and one piece jaw (see below).  Modern Spartan has 3/8" diameter standrod; heavier and larger-foot-print plate steel base;  no knurling on collet;  interchangeable jaw system.

The image above shows the guts of the cam lever / jaw assembly on the API Spartan vise (top) and the HMH Spartan (bottom).  HMH assembly is longer overall.  And HMH jaw and drawbar are 5/16" diameter whereas the API Spartan jaw shank is 1/4" diameter.

So, that's about it.  But having said all this, I will note here that it is not impossible to build a Spartan Mini Vise (although any of these built today would be C-Clamp versions only).  Many of the original Spartan Mini vises are still in operation today.  I mentioned in an earlier post that Sylvester Nemes, in particular, tied on one of the little Spartan Mini vises.  It is a sweet little tool that ties the little stuff and the big stuff with ease.  

Let's see how well you pay attention -- for those of you who are interested, give me a call and we can talk about whether the Spartan Mini is right for your vest pocket…

Get a Grip.