Tying with Epoxy

Tying with Epoxy
The heads of these tarpon flies were finished with epoxy.
Over the years there has be a huge debate over what is considered to be a fly. There are quite a few traditionalist that will say- if it is not tied with natural materials (feather and fur) it is not a fly. Others are a little more cavalier in that they will utilize synthetic hairs and furs but then draw the line there. Then there are people like me that say- well, as long as it is crafted by hand and some part of the fly is secured to the hook utilizing thread, then it is still a fly. Of course then, there are those that live and die by the mantra- if it can be thrown on a fly rod... I have prefaced this column to make a point. Utilizing epoxy in fly tying offers a little something for everyone- especially in regards to tying saltwater patterns.

Looking back some 25 or so years ago to the beginning of my fly-fishing career, the first epoxy pattern I can remember seeing was the MOE (Mother of Epoxy). This pattern was created by, I believe Jimmy Nix, and was tied to entice permit and bonefish. I quickly learned that they worked well for catching our Texas redfish and quickly set out to learn to create the tasty-looking, crustacean-like morsel. It took a while but I eventually learned several methods for essentially building the same fly. After that, working with epoxy became second nature and I moved on to other popular patterns such as the Cave's Wobbler Spoon-Fly and the Popovic's Surf-Candy.

As epoxy became more and more a part of my regular tying sessions, I started to utilize it in someway or another in just about everything I tied. I even began to create my own pattern. The simple fact is, epoxy cannot only be used to create unique patterns, but also to make flies much more durable, or even to add some weight. It can also be used to create components such as eye-stalks for tying various crab and shrimp patterns.

Should you choose to incorporate the use of epoxy in your efforts to fool a fish, there are several items that you must add to your (if you are like me) overflowing box of tying crap. The most important of these items is a low RPM turning-wheel that is driven by a small electric motor. The purpose of this device is for holding your flies while epoxy is curing- to prevent the epoxy sagging or running during the curing process. I utilize a small turning-wheel made by Flex Coat that will run for 6 months on two AA batteries. Other things you will need are mixing cups, stir-sticks, alligator clips, roll of foil, toothpicks and a roll of paper towels. The cups, stir-sticks and alligator clips can be purchased from Flex Coat as well. In fact, just think of Flex Coat as a one-stop shopping spot for anything you want to do in regards to tying with epoxy. As for the other stuff, well you can just jack that from your wife's pantry.

Now for what epoxies to use... All epoxies that you will use at the tying bench are going to be two-part, hence the need for mixing cups and stir-sticks. In my opinion, there are only three to consider and each serves a different purpose. Well, sort of anyway. I utilize the Flex Coat Ultra V and High Build epoxy formulas and also the Devcon 2-Ton epoxy.

Here is what you need to know about them. The Ultra V is a slow-curing epoxy that stays crystal-clear and does not yellow when exposed to sunlight. This is probably my favorite because it gives you plenty of time to work with it and also because it is a relatively thin mixture, it can soak into materials to help strengthen the fly thus making it more durable. Unfortunately, its thin consistency is also its downfall. When trying to build-up flies where the main material in the fly is the epoxy itself, the Ultra V tends to soak or bleed into the materials thus requiring several coats to build up the fly. When this is the case, I choose to use the High Build formula. It cures slowly enough to do numerous flies and because it has thicker consistency, it allows for building-up of substantial heads and bodies when needed. It does resist yellowing but not like the Ultra V. Last but not least is the Devcon 2-Ton epoxy. This product can be purchased at just about any hardware store and is a relatively fast-curing epoxy that serves many purposes. The best attribute of the Devcon is that, unlike the Flex Coat epoxies, it cures very hard, very fast. Its shortcomings are that it sometimes cures too fast and, it yellows over time.

As for 5-minute epoxies, I suggest staying away from these. They allow for very little working time and yellow very quickly. If you are working in very small batches (1-2 flies at a time), I recommend the use of a product known as Clear Cure Goo. This material is hardened with a UV flashlight and is quite suited for knocking out a fly or two the night before a fishing trip.

In regards to the simplest, most basic use of epoxy, which is to finish off, or seal, the thread wraps of a completed fly. This is where I tend to prefer the Ultra V. All that is needed is tie up 2 or 3 dozen flies and then mix up a batch of epoxy in a cup and then pour it onto some foil (spreading onto the foil slows the chemical reaction that cures the epoxy giving you a longer work-time) and then apply the epoxy to the thread wraps of the fly utilizing toothpicks or a bodkin. On some types of flies, say like a deer-hair slider, I tend to put the fly in a clothes pin with the eye of the hook up to let the epoxy soak into or run down the hook-shank making the fly more durable. This can also add and evenly distribute a small amount of weight to the fly.

For building up heads, coating poppers and spoon-flies or creating epoxy bodies on flies like the MOE or glass minnow-type patterns, it is time to consider High Build or Devcon 2-Ton. For these type flies you will need to utilize the turning wheel. For smaller flies I suggest placing each in an alligator-clip prior to mixing your epoxy. It is a workflow thing that just allows you to get the most out of each mixing. Once each fly is coated or built-up, stab the clip into the foam wheel. For the larger flies, the hook can be jabbed into the wheel.

I guess the most important tip that I can give you about working with epoxy is to develop a workflow system that allows you to work fast. Once the stuff begins to cure it can become a pain in the butt. Again, it is important to mix the epoxy in a cup and then spread it thinly over some foil. Also, when mixing epoxy, make sure it is mixed thoroughly or you will have a sticky, half-cured fly that is good for nothing. The best way to know if you have mixed up the epoxy adequately is to make sure there is no marbling (swirly lines) in your mixture before pouring it onto the foil. Another tip or two is to consider adding a fine glitter to your epoxy for a little flash. And, if you really want to speed up the cure of your work, once everything is in the turning wheel, carry the wheel out to your truck on a hot summer day. Place it inside with all of the windows up and let the heat do its thing. This can decrease your complete cure time by a several hours.

Until next month... Be good and stuff like that.