Published Oct 20. 2010 - 13 years ago
Updated or edited Oct 28. 2021

Coloring Raw Tubes

"See what you can do with these" said Stuart Anderson, who owns the Canadian Tube Fly Company to Bob Kenly who often goes berserk with tubes and epoxy. And that's exactly what Bob did. He started painting the raw tubes.

Done - The finished fly.
Stuart's tubes - From The Canadian Tube Fly Company
Bob's Fly and Stuart's tubes
Bob Kenly

I open my mailbox to find the usual "junk mail", bills, advertising, mostly a waste of my time. It did however include a package from my Canadian friend, Stuart Anderson, who owns the Canadian Tube Fly Company.
Tubes, lots and lots of tubes, many sizes and shapes of tubes along with a note, "See what you can do with these". He said he manufactures these tubes because of the many complaints he had from North American Steelheaders who's chief objections included too heavy a weight of certain European tubes along with the fact the pre-colored tubes chip badly with heavy usage. All of the tubes were in raw (uncolored) condition except for anodizing in silver, gold and black.

In the group were some very interesting tapered tubes which Stuart named "Shrimp Tubes", shrimp flies being my specialty those really peaked my interest. I wrote my friend, Arthur, in Northern Ireland, and asked if he would like to try a few of my flies, he being brave enough to fish anything I can dream up. His only requirement were the colors, a very dark claret and picric (sort of a washed out greenish yellow), colors not usually seen here in North America. The tying part I could easily handle but applying color to metal tubes, another matter which made for some interesting experiments, some successful, some much less so.

Always First, Sand Your Tubes

No matter what method you use always sand your tubes. Artists call this "toothing" a smooth surface, a technique my artist wife showed me when she paints on smooth surfaces such as masonite. Artists use a medium such as Gesso to create a rough surface so the paint will apply evenly and sanding the tube has the exact same effect. I use emery paper from about #600 grit for small tubes up to #400 grit for larger tubes. After I finish sanding my tubes I clean them with a little denatured alcohol to remove any sanding residue.

The Colored Powder Painting Method

In his web site Stuart Anderson fully explains the method of coloring tubes with what he calls powder paint.
The process is fairly easy, basically heating the tube and sticking the hot tube into the powder, then reheating to flow the coloring evenly around the tube. He also has glow in the dark paint, which is a big thing for those who fish at night. The colors are very bright and tend toward what you might expect for Pacific salmon or Steelhead. Steelheaders are hard on tubes and chipping of the paint has been recorded so Stuart advises that a thin coat of epoxy will cure that problem if your tubes are abused on rocky stream bottoms.

Spray Painting

I've must have spray painted hundreds of tubes and most times they turned out OK, if you use certain types of paint. I've settled on paints used for outdoor metal furniture, two of which have the trade name Krylon or Rustoleum as both have a primer mixed in the paint. The downside is there aren't a lot of color choices available but if you find what you want and if you have lots of tubes to color then spray painting is the way to go. I nail a bunch of small finishing nails in a board and place my tubes on them (that is before I insert the tube liner) and spray them all at once. Another downside, spray paint stinks something awful and something that smelly can't be good for you. So that limits me to spray painting outdoors which can be a total bummer since I live in a fairly active weather part of America. Lots of old clothes, which have taken on a multi-colored appearance, is the order of the day. Also a filtered mask to filter out the spray which always seems destined to swirl about my face, is a must have to prevent choking fits. If however you do spray your tubes then I've found a thin coat of epoxy is always wise to protect your applied finish.

Hand Painting Method (My Favorite)
The biggest problem I have with the above methods is the lack of color choices I have especially when considering the many subtle hues that seem to apply in nature. Monochromatic coloring is OK in many circumstances especially when painting lots of tubes but sooner or later you'll want to step outside the box and stand alone with your flies, that's were hand painting tubes comes in.
For paint I chose artist's acrylics for many reasons, the first being the very wide choice of colors available, almost enough choices to boggle the mind. The second reason, it's benign, in most cases non toxic (except for a few cases where heavy metals are incorporated into the paint, such as titanium white. Glow in the dark paints will also fall into the toxic category). Third reason, no smell. Fourth reason, its fairly inexpensive, available almost everywhere. Fifth reason, easy to mix further expanding your range of colors. Sixth, easy to clean up with water.

Thinning acrylics:
Sometimes after buying some acrylics you may find that for one reason or another they seem very thick or "lumpy" (probably been sitting on the shelf for a long time). Normally acrylics are thinned with water as they are water soluble but when painting on metal the finish seemed to be just a watered down color. A better method is to take a few drops of denatured alcohol adding and mixing until you reach the desired consistency, alcohol also seems to aid in the color's brightness.

First coat




Mixing colors:
Since I'm color challenged I thought it wise to elicit some help on the subject, of course the internet my first stop. After struggling through many mind numbing articles on color I needed something much easier. I posed the question in my search engine, "what colors do I mix to make claret?", answer: red as the base, umber, black and blue. Taking a folded piece of aluminum foil I put a blob of the base color in the center (red in this case) and a blob of the umber, black and deep blue around the edge of the foil (my artist wife says its always easier to add the dark colors to the light colors instead of the other way around). Pick a small amount of the dark color and start mixing a bit of one then the other till you get the desired shade. To mix the colors many artists use a pallet knife but a regular kitchen knife works just as well in a pinch, or even better yet one of those plastic knives you get in fast food restaurants. One thing you might notice that after all that mixing your color may become what is described as "muddy", sort of an indistinguishable brown, to cure this add a bit of the base color to brighten up the mix. To get the picric color I mixed neon green to neon yellow, which seemed very close to Arthur's samples.

After you've finished painting your tube you may want to liven up the color somehow especially if the color choice seems dull after drying. The very best thing I found is glitter and the best glitter I found is something used to make designs on T-shirts. The stuff comes in a whole lot of different colors, so many colors you won't ever run out of choices. T-shirt glitter comes in small squeeze bottles and the glitter is mixed with a glue that becomes clear when dry. To apply the glitter to a painted surface squeeze a blob on a piece of aluminum foil and take a pointed small brush, pick up some glitter and sort of dap it on the surface. You can't do too much at one time so if you want real heavy glitter application you'll have to wait a bit till dry and add more. I have tried to use only glitter on a tube for color but that doesn't work very well unless you under coat with a with some acrylics close to the sparkle colors (ex. silver paint for silver glitter, etc.). Again, after painting etc. a coat of epoxy is needed to protect the paint.

Show and Tell, a Shrimp Fly

My friend from Belfast, Northern Ireland wants something in blue and silver and he's brave enough (or maybe crazy enough) to let me do as I please. That is with the caveat of no flashing lights, seems the customs authorities frown upon anything with flashing lights.
Stuff I have: A Stewart Anderson 1/2 inch shrimp tube (gold anodized).
Several small pointed paint brushes (nothing expensive, cheap ones).
Dark blue acrylic paint.
White acrylic paint, I think I'll need to lighten the blue.
Silver acrylic paint. to under paint the section that will be all silver glitter.
Thread, hair, etc.

Step #1
Sand the tube, you may get away from sanding the tube if you are using the colored powder method or spray painting, however with hand painting you'll be faced with a "Gloppy" (adj. author's term for lumpy) finish, been there done that until I learned my lesson.

Step #2
What I envision is a shrimp pattern, somewhat Irish (in reality very loosely Irish). The body, aft part blue and front part silver. Since the tube is small (12mm, 1/2 inch) and tapered painting is my only option. The blue I have is very dark and won't match my other materials so I'll lighten it by adding the blue to white acrylics until I get the desired shade.

Step #3
After the body paint is dry with the blue paint I then add the glitter (in this case blue) directly on the paint (not too much as I don't want to over do it). Note: I used the glitter that is mixed with the glue however there are glitter kits which have the glue separate. In that case you can mix the glitter directly with the epoxy, just another option.

Step #4
After the glitter is dry then I add the ribbing, in this case in the grooves cut into the tube, I used metallic silver thread for this process. After several unsuccessful attempts to add ribbing I hit upon the idea of double wrapping the thread in the groove and finishing with a single overhand knot to hold it in place. I applied head cement to the knot, let dry and trimmed the excess thread. If satisfied I then epoxied the complete body and let dry.

The feelers and eyes are added directly on the hook keeper, the thread (white in this case) is painted with silver acrylic. After drying I apply the silver glitter, let dry and cover with epoxy.

Now is the time to add the forward hackle, again painting the thread and applying the silver glitter, after dry the silver area is covered with epoxy and let dry.

The fly is finished with applying the aft hackle and the excess tubing snipped off.

Front - The front of the fly is completed with the feelers, eyes and forward hackle.
Done - The finished fly.
The fly
Bob Kenly


My good Russian friend, Yuri Shumakov (1956-2006) once told me that not sharing one's flies and tying ideas was close to being a criminal act. True, a very strong statement but one that has guided my tying efforts for many years. Many times he would admonish me for not thinking outside of the norm even though he would reject an idea I had as being totally crazy. The two of us from very different backgrounds and experiences melded one idea into another, finding great joy and new directions in our craft. I hope someone finds my ideas about coloring tubes interesting and that gives him or her some kernel of inspiration to head off in a different direction thus starting a new trend that they will share with their fellow tiers.


One idea also is to ...

One idea also is to use paint for glass or ceramic from 'Lefranc & Bourgeois' like JP Dessaigne uses to make those terrible grayling flies. First Opaque white, furnace to stabilize and then you have choice
See it on JP Dessaigne's site.
All transparent and shiny colors, red, green, blue, looks very attractive... good job to you

Bob, Another good po...

Bob, Another good post, these look great. will be adding a few to my boxes for sure.


Bob, they look brill...

Bob, they look brilliant - I'm going to tie some up to try on our salt water bass here in Wales !


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