Tubes vs. String Leeches

When I fish for steelhead, I primarily use marabou spiders. I have found that oftentimes the steelhead will short-strike these flies. I want to experiment w/ different flies to mitigate the short strikes. Question: Do either tube flies or string leeches perform better when it comes to short striking fish?

Steve Rohrbach

Puget Sound Fly Fisher
Tuna, I am a big believer in tube flies and use them regularly in the salt. Your question about a tube leech reminds me to the MOAL (Mother Of All Leeches) that was in a recent issue of Northwest Fly Fishing magazine. It is a string leech that I used to catch two steelhead one morning on the Methow. I believe that the string leech allows for more movement than the tube and would be the preferable way to tie that fly. I just don't think the tube will allow as much action that in my mind is what often triggers the strike. You could always try it both ways and do an on-river test of which fly fishes better. Please let us know what you learn. Good luck, Steve
I agree that string leeches may trigger more strikes, having used them to hook two fish in as many trips last winter on the Skagit. But since I lost both of those fish I suspect that tube flies, where the hook is not actually connected to the fly at all, are more difficult for the fish to throw. With the sting leech they may be able to whip the fly around allowing the weight of the fly to assist in hook removal. With a tube fly, there is a hook in their mouth and that is it - no leverage.

This is quite possibly complete nonsense - just my thoughts on the subject as something of a steelhead rookie.
I was reading an article about Lani Waller's tube flies and it talked about attaching a rabbit strip tail that hangs and swings freely which gives the animation that you were talking about. I can't quite figure out how and where he attaches the tail, but it might be a good way to get string leech movement w/ tube fly hookability. If anyone out there knows Lani's method, I'd love to hear about it.


Steve Rohrbach

Puget Sound Fly Fisher
Tuna, FlyFisherman magazine did an article about Lani Waller Tube Flies during the Winter of 2004. It was Oct, Nov or Dec but I recall that he had numerous patterns and some good information on hook placement, types of tubes and some interesting patterns. I still have the magazine and will try to check it out tonight. Good luck, Steve


Active Member
Big Tuna,

Very curious as to how you know the fish are 'short striking'? Has this been a regularly observed behavior? Or just a hunch when you get a grab and no hook-up?

I have had mixed results when using tube flies. In regards to pinning the fish up that half heartedly grab. And to keeping them pinned up to the magical 80+% landing ratio that these flies are 'known for'. I have found that using the Tiemco 105 in size 4 has been the best hook up to landing ratio for me. My friends do better with other hooks.

It is HIGHLY unlikely that a fly style change is going to magically make the fish grab, or grab with more authority. Ed Ward claims his overgrown Intruders tend to create more aggressive grabs on wild winter fish. It may be the case but still very anecdotal.

When are you getting the 'short strikes': At what point in the swing? What is the water depth/clarity/speed/temp? Are you fishing just under the surface or using a tip? If using a tip, what is the weight, length, and density? Are you fishing for west side steelhead? Or east side steelhead? Winter or summer runs? What size of fly? Hook size? Wire diameter? Do you keep your hooks needle sharp?

The reason for 20 questions is that they have far more to do with what is happening than fly style.

I won't attempt to answer the 20 questions, but will address a couple. I assume the fish are short striking when they grab, but there's no hook-up. Maybe it's a false assumption, but w/ a marabou spider it seems logical that if a fish grabs but doesn't hook up, it's grabbing the tail. Consequently, I figured that putting a hook back farther via a tube or string leech would improve those hook-ups. Also, I have read about shorter shank hooks having improved hookability and providing the fish w/ less leverage for disgorging the hook. I've never fished w/ either tubes or string leeches so I was hoping to glean some info from those who have. This fall I will be doing a little "action research" that will hopefully help me form my own conclusions. Thanks for responding to my post and giving me some other considerations to chew on.


Active Member

I can't say for sure either way if they just mouthing the fly or not. It sounds like you are fishing for East side summer runs of the CR Basin. What size of hooks are you using? Are you fishing them on a floater or a tip?

I had a similar issue fishing bunny leaches for smallmouth, where they would grab hard at the tail but no hook ups. The lake I fish in is gin clear, so I could easily see that they were short striking.

In order to mitigate this, I bought a couple string articulated leaches to try them out. I also read about, and started tying, tube flies. I had a chance to try them side by side this June.

In short, I did not like the articulated flies. I found that they got wrapped around themselves and I spent too much time screwing with the flies between casts and not enough time fishing.

I had great success with the tube flies and I have since transitioned about all my streamer fishing to tubes. I even tie clousers on tubes. I concur with the above statements that the best thing about tubes is how the get out of the way when you are fighting fish, and also how you can change hooks if one gets dull and you can change the size of the hooks without going to a smaller fly. Plus tube flies are a lot easier to tie than articulated leaches....

Originally, I would tie the tube leach on a short (3/4") tube, and then add beads between the tube and the hook to adjust where the point would ride. I wanted the point to be about 1/2" short of the end of the tail of the leach. This worked great for short striking, but the short shank hook would snag around the line and get all wrapped up.

After a lot of trial and error, the solution I settled on was to use an approximately 2" tube. Tie in the rabbit strip into the head 3/4" of the tube as before. To keep the hook from wrapping around the line I krazy glued about a 1/4" piece of pvc tubing on the tube as a hook holder. The nice thing about this is that you can have the hook ride up, down, or sideways.

Here is a photo of this concept (sorry for the crappy photo, my camera is dying). This is a mid-stage prototype that I had lying around. It is tied on a copper sheath tube. Now I prefer to use a small diameter cut-to length clear plastic tubes so I can trim it if needed to make sure that the hook point is within 1/2" of the end of the tail. The small clear tube has less impact on the profile of the fly and is somewhat flexable and the fly is not as stiff in the water. I also use a cone head instead of the copper tubes if I want to add weight..much cheaper. I use a Tiemco 105 hook or equivelent (Cabela's sells private lable hooks that are the same specs for about 1/2 the price and that work just as well). These style hooks have nice big heads to hold the hook in the pvc tube.

I can't attest to how this will work swinging for steel in rivers, but it worked great in lakes for smallies.
Thanks Benn. That actually looks somewhat like the Waller flies. With that set up do you have any problems w/ the rabbit strip wrapping around the tube or junction tubing?
Big Tuna said:
With that set up do you have any problems w/ the rabbit strip wrapping around the tube or junction tubing?
Not any more than with the articulated leaches or the tube w/beads. I tie a couple wraps of thread under the fur to make it stand up a bit, so the result is that the tube hangs down below the main body of the fly on the retrieve. Also, as I said I went to using smaller diameter clear plastic tubes that have more flex. I never fished the copper tube version in the photo, that's just what I had on hand, because of the anticiped wrapping problems. I've also only fished this fly stillwater for bass, usually with nice slow strips, so the rabbit does not really whip around that much.

I plan to tie some white ones for use next week to try on silvers in moving water so I'll let you know how it works out.

Jeremy Husby

Is there a Vahalla for fishermen?

Both have there pros and cons which are debated every year about this time. String leechs are much less a pain in the arse then tubes are. I posted a cross between tube and string some time ago which I still'em using to this day, I also have some out dated pattern and info on my page.