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…