The Gladiator

The Gladiator started as a joke but one with a lot of thought behind it's origins.

By Bob Kenly

The Gladiator
I got the basic idea while fishing for Chinook salmon on Michigan's Muskegon River several years ago. Like everyone else I thrashed the water into foam with all sorts of nymphs and eggs, catching a few fish but never with any consistency until I watched several big salmon duck into some deep holes behind mating pairs on the nests, and making suicidal dashes from their lair to drive off other fish intent on snatching a few eggs. I went to a style fly I originated especially for Alaska's Silver (coho) salmon and added some new ideas I'd been thinking about to inhance the concept, the most striking; using silver sequins as a body material, a dominant set of eyes and large egg in either red or green. The next year I proved my theory; the Muskegon Chinook is very aggressive toward raiders and will pass up few opportunities to send them packing with a few well-placed bites.

Not only Scandinavian
Tube flies have been around since the end of WWII and are considered one of those strange things Scandinavians do. But this is not really the case. I have been told by two of the major sellers of tubes and related materials, that one hundred and twenty thousand tubes were sold in North America alone.
But until Mandell and Johnson's book Tube Flies came out, the whole concept was a big dark secret. The only reference I found earlier was a section in Poul Jorgensen's Salmon Flies written in 1978. He only included one section on the subject but it was enough to start me thinking about a better way to fish and tie flies. As with all my flies I spend considerable time trying new techniques and materials not only to produce a good workable fly but one with a very high degree of survivability. An essential ingredient in my tying is epoxy and to date I've never had a tube fly come undone, I only lose them to trees and the underwater gods. Material for tube flies is very common with such things as bucktail and a variety of synthetic or natural materials. I also tie spey flies on tubes with feathers and they rival any of those tied on hooks.

A selection of Bob Kenly's tube flies. From top and clockwise: Davy Wotton's SLF Prawn, Purple Peterson, Egg Farting Leech and Squid.

Why tube flies?
So why tube flies over flies on hooks? I think my big reason for turning to them is portability. When I fish for salmon I take a big bunch of flies and the boxes were a bit on the overwhelming side and since no one volunteered to be a porter I had to either leave some boxes behind or think of something different. My only form of high tech fly system is a few baggies filled with flies and a small box for my hooks. I don't ever think I'll solve the eternal "stuff" problem but tube flies are a step in the right direction.
Another plus to tube flies you can change the hook if it's so beat up you can't sharpen it anymore or you find a need to change hook sizes. Just to test the survivability issue I sucessfully fished one fly all day in Alaska until it was taken away from me by a Silver Salmon. That raises another point in favor for tube flies, I'm a cheapskate and if I can get away with fewer flies then I'm all for it. A well tied tube fly will outlast a conventional fly by many times over and those made with epoxy are almost indestructible.

The hallmark of the Gladiator: the sequins
The use of sequins on flies is not my idea but I've never seen anyone use them in the same manner as I do on tube flies so I guess you could say I had the idea first. Getting the sequins to stay on the tubes proved difficult at first but once solved it's an easy process if you follow the steps I'll outline for you.

The egg was another problem as plastic eggs dulled very quickly, losing their sheen due to the chemicals and minerals in the water. Trying epoxy on round beads proved to be unsatisfactory as the epoxy slid all over the bead during the turning process so I settled on faceted beads and once the epoxy hardened I was left with a round clear bead resisted minerals and water pollution.

I've tried several epoxies and have settled on Devcon 5 minute epoxy to glue up components on a fly and Devcon 30 minute epoxy to add strength and covering to the fly. The 5 minute epoxy is OK for gluing up but lacks strength and yellows over time if not covered with the 30 minute stuff.

Hooks used to be a problem as we are restricted to single barb hooks but in the past few years several manufactures have come up with hooks which are suitable for tube flies. A single hook needs to have a wide gape; short shank and straight eye and be very strong. At this time I've chosen hooks by Ashima to include with my flies but Tiemco, also make fine hooks.

Not traditional
I've been very lucky to be friends with the Gordon Griffiths Company located in England as they send me many samples of their materials to experiment with. As you can see, I'm not what you would consider a traditional tier and they one of the few places where we're on the same wavelength and can cater to my eccentric ways. I wrote this article for Martin's URL at his request as an introduction to tube flies and to share a pattern with all those who may be interested. Feel free to use this fly or the techniques without permission But if you use it as a commercial item I do ask you to give me the credits and keep the name the same. Should you have any questions about tube flies, where to get materials or need help with a fly, feel free to e-mail me at

Tube TU-KFW clear plastic (available from Kennebec River Products) Contacts
Author Robert E. Kenly's company
Nordic Way Tube flies
HCR 5, Box 374 E, Reeds Spring, MO 65737
Phone: (417) 739-3152
Tube flies only, limited sales for Alaska and Great Lakes salmon & steelhead plus special work for individuals who request special items.
All flies tied to order which limits the output and concentrates on a very high quality fly with only the highest quality materials. All flies covered with epoxy whenever possible to enhance longevity.

Associate shop
The Fish Connection
152 Eden Way, Branson, MO 65616
Phone: (417)335-4655

Gordon Griffiths
1190 Genella Waterford, MI 48328
Phone/fax: (810) 673-7701
Tubes, goat, and a whole batch of neat goodies which are manufactured just for tube flies. A lot of their products are available in the U.S. now at many shops.

Kennebec River Tackle Co.
39 Milliken Rd. North Yarmouth, ME 04097
Phone: (800)-335-9057 or (207) 829-9057
Fax: (207)829-6002
Tubes in metal or plastic, tubes exclusively for trout flies and saltwater flies. Kennebec also produce an excellent universal tool for holding tubes in the vise, probably the most popular with tube tiers around the world.

Thread 14/0 black (A Gordon Griffiths Product)
Epoxy Devcon 5-minute and Devcon 30-minute
Body 6mm silver sequins (those found wound on spools are the best)
Wings Kid Goat or Saltwater Goat. Color as desired (another of those Griffith's products)
Eyes 7mm Dolls Eyes
Egg 8mm Faceted Plastic Bead (red or green)




Tying instructions:

  1. Cut tube to 21/2 inch length and with a lighter melt a knob on one end only, (since epoxy will be used on the head no need to melt that end, The length is longer than needed and will be trimmed after completion.)
  2. Install hook keeper on tube and tie with colored thread, cement (I epoxy) and let dry NOTE For large size hooks I use 1/8 inch ID surgical tubing as a keeper for smaller hooks a keeper supplied by Griffiths for their fine brass tubes is a good bet.
  3. Attach the back wings on the aft portion of the tube with 14/0 thread but do not appl y any cement to the thread as the epoxy will suffice.
  4. Attach the sequins on each side of the tube in an overlapping pattern from the aft of the tube forward. Lay a thin layer of 5-minute epoxy on the tube and carefully press the sequins into the glue, repeat on other side, let dry (about ½ hour).
  5. If you feel you may need more weight in the finished product glue some lead between the rows of sequins on both sides (5-minute epoxy works best)
  6. Mix a batch of 30-minute epoxy and carefully fill the space between the sequin rows and apply a thin coating over the face of the sequins. Place in a turner and rotate slowly for at least 1 hour then set aside to cure at least 8 hours. This step will assure a hard, clear finish and the aft wings will be perminantly set in epoxy.
  7. Tie in the forward wings at an angle to match the aft wings. Do not cement threads at this time.
  8. Glue on the eyes with 5-minute epoxy and let dry, After the eyes are set fill the space between the eyes with 5-minute epoxy until the space is almost full, let dry about an hour. Next using a plastic model airplane paint in a color to match the wing color paint the space between the eyes and let dry.
  9. Slide the egg bead on the tube and cement with 5-minute epoxy.
  10. Mix a batch of 30-minute epoxy and coat the egg and eye, covering the painted area so as to fill the remaining space between the eyes and the lens itself. Turn to dry for 1hour and let cure overnight. This will fix the eyes to the fly and if done correctly this fly will never fall apart no matter how hard the use.
  11. Trim off the remaining portion of the tube.
  12. The tail on the hook is optional but it adds to the overall impression of being a fish.

Good Luck.

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