NEEDLE TUBES and FLIES ONLINE Sea Trout Fishing Sea Trout Fishing


sea trout








fly tying


The Needle Fly

The Needle Fly

Picture the scene ..... a night in late July. It's one a.m. and you are alone by a favourite fishing pool. The river has gone quiet. You would be inclined to doubt that there were any sea trout in the river if it weren't for the brace of two pounders in the bass at your side. You tip them out on to the grass for another look. They shine silver in the moonlight, fresh from the tide. They were taken well before midnight on a size 8 Butcher, fished on a floating line. Since then, nothing. Time for a change, for something bigger, to be fished deeper, perhaps on a slow sinking line. Something long and slim and not too heavy.

A look in your fly boxes reveals a variety of fishing lures, tied over the years for just this purpose. A box of tube flies in all shapes, sizes and materials; a selection of Waddingtons; rows of beautiful tandem lures, sparsely dressed in the Falkus style; a few Marchogs with their long trailing trebles. Each, in its own way, ingenious. Each undoubtedly effective as a sea trout fishing lure. Yet none of them quite perfect.

The conventional tube fly, though simple in design, is not the easiest thing to fit in a standard fly tying vice. It also has a relatively bulky body, particularly the commercially available plastic versions, while thinner plastic tubing has a tendency to bend if used in longer lengths. Metal tubes, e.g. aluminium, though thinner than the plastic, can cut into the nylon leader if the internal plastic core is damaged. In addition, I have always felt that the attachment of the treble hook by means of a length of fairly thick plastic tubing is too bulky to be entirely satisfactory. The Waddington lure can be tied on various gauges and lengths of wire but the attachment of the treble hook can be problematical. The fly may have to be discarded, or, at the very least, partially retied if the treble is damaged. Sunk lures have the advantage of being very slim and well balanced. However, whether tied using singles, doubles, trebles or a combination, all involve considerable time and care in their construction and, when damaged, will likely have to be discarded.

[Note: the above paragraph was written before the development of the Needle Tube]

I sought, therefore, to devise a sea trout fishing lure which would overcome the shortcomings of these earlier designs while retaining some of their best features. Such a lure would ideally have the following characteristics:

  • It should be simple to construct, in a variety of sizes and weights, using inexpensive and readily available materials.
  • It should be easy to attach to the line or to change at night.
  • The hook should be easily replaced if damaged, without the loss of the lure itself.
  • It should be generally light in weight, even in large sizes, so that it can be easily cast and fished effectively on both floating and sunk fly lines.
  • It should have a slim profile to give the impression of a small fish.
  • The lure should always swim in line with the leader.

The result, after much experimentation, was the Needle Fly.

As the name suggests, the Needle Fly is simply a fly or, more accurately, a lure, tied on a standard needle, in the same way as a tube fly is tied on a tube. The second, and equally important, component is a treble hook whose shank is covered by a tightly fitting rubber or plastic sleeve which secures the point of the needle during fishing. As with a tube fly, the leader is tied directly to the treble hook and not to the "eye" of the fly, which, in the case of the Needle Fly, is formed by a small loop of strong nylon (e.g. 30 to 35 lbs monofilament).

Components and Construction

The Hook

For use with needles between one and two inches in length, treble hooks ranging from size 16 to 10 are most suitable, although doubles can also be used. To adapt the treble hook, a sleeve of plastic or rubber is fitted over the shank of the hook. This sleeve will secure the point of the needle while fishing. It is important, therefore, that the sleeve is chosen carefully to match the diameter of the hook shank. This sleeve must be strong and tight fitting, with enough elasticity to grip the needle firmly. If the sleeve fits loosely or is too soft, the needle may slip out of the sleeve while casting.

Since my first experiments with the needle fly in 1998, I have tried all the kinds of tubing I could lay my hands on. Early versions made use of the plastic sleeving from electric cable. I then experimented with heat shrink sleeves, neoprene sleeves, carp rig tubing, silicone rubber and even combinations of the above. None were entirely satisfactory. The electric cable sleeving, like most examples of the carp rig tubing, was a bit hard and inflexible. The heat shrink was also a bit hard and not very durable, even when used in double layers. Silicone rubber, as used on floats, was too soft and, although it is possible to buy silicone tubing with a thicker wall, it does not grip the needle well. Neoprene tubing was a bit bulky and available in limited sizes.

The most suitable type of tubing I have been able to find to date is clear PVC tubing, as used for laboratory and medical applications.

The most useful sizes I have tried are as follows:

PVC tubing, bore 1.0 mm/Wall 0.5mm (suitable for fine wire treble hooks up to size 12)

PVC tubing, bore 1.5mm/wall 0.5mm ( suitable for size 10 and 8 treble hooks)

It is always worth experimenting with other types.


The Needle

The second component is a needle, adapted by the addition of :

a) a loop of strong nylon (about 30 - 35 lbs b.s.) which forms the "eye" of the needle fly. (Note that, as with a tube fly, the line is not tied to this loop but to the treble hook itself).

b) a small stop of tying thread (varnished) applied 1cm from the point of the needle. This stop prevents the needle from slipping through the sleeve while casting.


Needle with thread stop

Tying the Needle Fly - Step 1


Needle with stop and nylon loop

Tying the Needle Fly - Step 2


A simply dressed Needle

Tying the Needle Fly - Step 3


Assembled Needle Fly

Needle Fly ready to fish


For a detailed Step by Step Tying Sequence see Tying the Needle Fly

Note that a needle is more easily inserted in the sleeve than a straight piece of wire. A further benefit is that a silver needle needs no body dressing. Needles are available in a great variety of lengths and weights. I have found the most useful are those described as "Betweens", "Sharps" and "Long Darners". The gauge, or thickness, of the needle is described by a number and for any given number, the Betweens are the shortest, followed by the Sharps, while the Long Darners are the longest. We can think of Betweens as "short Shank needles", Sharps as "standard shank needles" and Long Darners as "long shank needles". The table below shows the relative gauges and lengths of the three types:









0.027 inches

0.69 mms

1¼ inches



0.027 inches

0.69 mms

1½ inches



0.024 inches

0.61 mms

2 inches



0.027 inches

0.69 mms

2¼ inches


Using the Needle Fly

To attach the Needle Fly to the fly leader, simply thread a Needle Fly on to the leader (as you would a tube), tie on a suitable size treble hook (complete with rubber/plastic sleeve) then insert the needle firmly into the sleeve until the thread stop on the needle touches the sleeve. Fix the needle on the top of the treble hook with the leader lying along the underside of the needle.

STEP 1 - Needle Fly connection STEP 2 - Needle Fly connection



Fishing hooks and needles may cause injury.

The construction of the Needle Fly, as in all fly tying, involves the risk of minor injuries from hook and needle points etc. It is essential that you wear a safe and effective form of eye protection, such as safety glasses, when handling and using needles and fishing hooks, as needles and some hooks are brittle and may break when bent.

It is also important to wear effective head and eye protection when fly fishing.


I would say, in conclusion, that the most crucial component of the needle fly is the tubing used for the treble sleeve. It should be strong and durable but with enough flexibility/elasticity to grip the needle firmly. It is most important, in construction, to match the diameter and wall thickness of the tubing to an appropriate size and weight of treble hook, both of which must then be matched to an appropriate length and diameter of needle. For example, let's say you begin with a size 8 treble made from a heavy wire. A narrow tube with a diameter of 1mm will not fit over the eye of the hook. You will need tubing with a 1.5mm bore. If you begin with a fine wire size 14 treble, the 1.5 mm bore tubing will be much too large. But even when you have found a type and size of tubing to match the size and weight of the treble hook, you must also match this to a needle of appropriate diameter. A very thick needle will be difficult to insert in the sleeve and will possibly overstretch the sleeve. Too thin a needle might not be gripped firmly enough by the sleeve.

I have found that the needle fly is at its best, as a lure for sea trout, in lengths between 1.25 inches and 2 inches. Needles are available in different gauges. The finest are labelled Sharps, while the slightly heavier gauge are called Betweens. By using the two types, it is possible to vary the weight of the fly.

In tying your own needle flies, I would recommend you start with a Sharp needle of around 1.5 inches long and match it to a size 12 fine wire treble hook, with a smooth medium length shank, matched to a suitable sleeve with a bore of around 1mm. You can experiment from there. For those who find the components difficult to get hold of, a
needle fly kit is now available. I had at first hoped that I might get away with a simple needle, held in place on the treble by a tightly fitting sleeve. However, in order to prevent the needle slipping through the sleeve when casting (when it is subject to enormous force), I decided I needed a stop of some kind, fixed on to the needle. I have tried blobs of glue, short lengths of very fine heat shrink etc. but have now settled on a small but tight wrapping of tying thread coated with a drop of varnish. Do not tie the stop too near the end of the needle. To ensure a good grip, the point of the needle should, when assembled, be at the rear end of the sleeve or even protruding slightly. For this same reason, it is unwise to use a treble hook with too short a shank.

My fishing diary of 1999 records that, in eighteen hours of night fly fishing on the Crieff Angling Club stretch of the River Earn, between 25th June and 7th July, I had seven sea trout, the Needle Fly accounting for six of these, weighing between two pounds and four and a half pounds. Since its early successes on the River Earn, the Needle Fly, and the more recently developed needle tube fly, have become my favourite fishing lures for late night sea trout. It is also useful earlier in the night when the river is running a bit high or cold, particularly in early season and, in addition, it has accounted for a few salmon.

I have to thank the editor of Trout and Salmon magazine for his permission to use extracts from my article "Needles for Sewin", which appeared in the September 1999 issue of that esteemed publication.

Sea Trout Articles







sea trout fishing