Mid-winter is my time to tie flies, lots of flies. This week my vise is getting a workout with king salmon tube flies for Alaska.
When traveling to destination lodges like Alaska West, I try to bring a fly selection that is versatile. Water conditions are different almost every year not to mention the river can change from one day to the next. It pays to come prepared with the right flies. Over the seasons, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, time spent with the guides at Alaska West and fishing with a few friends that have an infinite amount of king salmon knowledge. Everyone has a favorite fly or a trick way to rig their bugs, this just happens to be mine.
The fly system I’ve settled on is pretty simple. I tie a big box full of un-weighted single stage Reverse Marabous in a variety of king colors. This allows me to fish a single tube for low water conditions. Low flows means spooky, especially if the sun comes out. In these situations the fish move deep. A small lightly dressed fly, 2.5” to 3” in length, sinks faster than a large profile fly. Coupled with a bullet weight this is the perfect offering to the king gods in low water.
When the water is high and off color, the game changes radically. A small heavy fly may actually fish below the fish. Plus, a small silhouette may go unnoticed in turbulent water. This is the time to break out the 4” to 6” inch critters. I used to carry a whole different set of large flies for these conditions. Now, I just stack a second Reverse Marabou Tube on my leader and viola!, I can change my fly to the conditions in a matter of seconds. If need be, I can add a third tube for a mega large fly. This system also gives you the ability to create endless color combinations. Add a selection of bullet weights to the equation and you’re ready to fish in any condition.
Adding the Bullet Weight
In order to adjust the weight of your tube fly, you’re going to need to carry a small box of bullet weights. These can be the lead, “worm weight” style used typically for conventional bass rigs. Lead works great but I’ve come to prefer a fly tying cones with a plastic tube insert to prevent chaffing on your leader. You can purchase cones in a variety of colors and weights giving you total flexibility of depth and color. Unfortunately, you need to add the tube insert yourself. Simply melt the end of the appropriate size tube and slide the cone on so the mushroomed end is inside the cone. Next, cut the tube leaving a couple of millimeters. Finish by melting the tube on the exterior side of the cone.
Alaska West guide Trevor Covich showed me a slick trick for keeping the cone from sliding up your leader in slow water. Simply take a separate 8” piece of mono and tie a triple overhand knot around your leader. Once you clip the tag ends, slide the knot against the cone. It's simple but effective.
Best Fly Colors For King Salmon
It’s easy to crank out a bunch of Reverse Marabous. I recommend bringing at least a dozen of each color for a week of salmon fishing. The good new is, these are the only flies you’ll need. Crack a beer, crank some tunes and get tying…
1. Black & Blue -Without a doubt, the most consistant king color.
2. Chartreuse & White -Another solid choice, especially near the ocean.
3. Chartreuse & Blue -Good in dirty water conditions.
4. Chartreuse & Black -Perfect for low light or dark cloudy days
5. Pink & Orange -It has it's moments.
6. Cerise Pink -The sleeper. Trevor Covich showed me the power of pink.
7. Purple -Stack it with chartreuse, pink, black & blue.
Rigging Tube Flies with a Stinger Hook
Stacking tube flies requires some essembly. This might seam like a lot of work at first. Trust me, it’s way easier than tying all the king flies you’ll need in multiple sizes and colors for a week of fishing. Here's how to rig a tube fly with a bullet weight...
1. Slide the bullet weight onto your 15lb Maxima leader.
2. Slide the tube fly on to the leader.
3. Tie a 1.5” stinger loop with a Salt Water Loop Knot. Video Directions
4. Loop a size #1 Owner SSW to the stinger loop. Video Directions
5. Tie a stopper knot with a second piece of tippet to prevent weight slide.
6. Go pick a fight with Mr. King
Don’t know how to tie a Reverse Marabou? Check out Skagit Master 3. At the moment you can’t buy Reverse Marabou Tubes. However, I do have a weighted shank version tied by Solitude Flies that available through fly shops. They work great but don’t give you the flexibility of un-weighted tube flies.
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