We fish a lot of tube flies at Alaska West, especially when targeting fish on the swing. While there a lot of different tube materials out there marketed by various fly tying companies, when you tie as many flies as we do over the course of the season, sometimes the cheapest option is best.
Next time you are at the grocery store, take a stroll down the toiletries aisle and pick up a box of plastic cotton swabs. They are dirt cheap, available at most grocery or box stores, and typically come in a variety of colors. Use a razor blade (not your tying scissors!) to cut off the cotton portion off each end and you are left with a great tube for a tube fly.
Cotton swab tubes are a great option for those new to tying and fishing tube flies, or just those who don’t want to break the bank on tying materials! While they are not typically as durable as most commercial tube materials out there, for most simple patterns (such as a marabou King tube) the tube ends up outlasting the other tying materials of your fly.
Tying on Cotton Swab Tubes
When tying on cotton swab tubes, because there is no “junction tubing” at the back of the fly to nest the hook or knot into, it is important to melt the head of the fly in order to close the opening of the tube enough to stop your knot from sliding through (more on this below).
Try this – once your fly is complete, leave approximately 1/16 – 1/8 of an inch of tubing off the front of the fly. Take your tube mandrel, and insert it from the back of the tube so that it sticks out the front of the fly. Take a lighter and carefully melt the tube back to your thread wraps. While the tube is still soft, use the side of the lighter to squish the plastic up against the mandrel sticking out the front of the tube. If done correctly, this will close the front of the tube while leaving only a hole the size of the mandrel. This way, when rigging your tube fly, you can jam your knot up to the head of the fly without it sliding through.
Rigging Cotton Swab Tube Flies
We find the non-slip loop knot to be the most effective for rigging cotton swab tubes.
Since there is no junction tubing, by changing the size of the loop our trailer hook is tied to, we are able to adjust the length of our trailer hook in relation to the fly. Slide your tube fly onto the leader and tie your favorite trailer hook on using a non-slip loop knot. Slide the tube fly down until the non-slip loop knot reaches the melted head of the fly. If done correctly, the trailer hook is now at a fixed length in relation to the fly.