Toothy fish demand tuff fleyes

This perennial Black Bay hotspot is producing big trout and reds.

Later this month, members of Louisiana and Mississippi fly fishing clubs will be descending upon Grand Isle for their annual surf-fishing extravaganza. Rest assured that many of them will be packing light wire or heavy fluorocarbon.

July is a time when pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish and jack crevalle make their appearance in the surf alongside the usual resident seatrout and sand trout. I’ve even witnessed wading anglers hooking into king mackerel.

All these species have something in common with a pair of scissors: They can cut through leaders.

Saltwater flies don’t come cheap. Buy a Clouser minnow at a fly shop, and it’ll cost you anywhere from $2.50 to $4. Tying them yourself may be a lot cheaper, but it’ll cost you time at the tying table.

Either way, it’s disheartening to lose a fly because it wasn’t protected.

The addition of a bite tippet on your leader helps retain the fly. For my use, it’s either the 15-pound nylon coated wire from American Fishing Wire or a double strand of 20-pound fluorocarbon. If the fish get wise to the former, I switch over to the latter.

A bite tippet just delays the inevitable. It only takes two or three bites from El Diablo (a.k.a. Spanish mackerel) to totally dismantle a Clouser minnow.

For that reason, many tiers — and even those who buy their flies — will coat the heads and portions of the body with a hard transparent epoxy.

The requirements are that the epoxy be clear, waterproof, chemically resistant and capable of being spot applied or brushed on. Devcon, Flex Coat and West Marine offer two-part epoxies that fit the bill.

Once you mix up the resin and hardener, that’s when the fun starts. The typical working time advertised on the bottles or syringes is 30 to 60 minutes, but you really have only 15 minutes before it starts to get lumpy. And once applied, you need to keep the fly on a turning apparatus for at least an hour, or the epoxy may sag.

Add another 12 to 24 hours for the fly to cure properly, and it’s ready to fish.

A lot of fellow tiers have wished they had an alternative that was more convenient to use, especially if only coating a few flies, and that could be done anywhere, anytime and cure almost instantly.

Thanks to Wet-A-Hook Technologies, saltwater tiers have their answer.

A few years back, the San Antonio-based company created a light-cured clear acrylic that required no mixing, did not yellow over time, and was waterproof and harder than epoxy. You have lots of working time, and no turning apparatus is required.

The special acrylic cures to a very narrow spectrum of visible blue light, and does so within 15-20 seconds. Since it can cure eventually at normal light, it’s packaged in lightproof syringes. The syringe has a curved tip that allows the tier to make the precise application and use only the very minimum amount required.

At the recent Federation of Fly Fishers Gulf Coast Expo, I got the chance to sit down with one of the legends of saltwater flyfishing and tying, Bob Popovics. His popular book, “Pop Fleyes,” was named after the series of flies he’s created.

Many of Popovics’ ‘fleyes,’ including the Epoxy Shrimp, the Spread Fleye, the Bob’s Banger and the Surf Candy, are fashioned with or utilize epoxy. They’re also dynamite patterns for seatrout, Spanish and bluefish.

Popovics told me he’s been indulged over the years with various offers from companies that offered a better alternative to epoxy. But they always proved deficient in some critical area.

When Wet-A-Hook called, he treated them with the usual skepticism. It didn’t take long after using the product that Popovics was convinced he’d found something very special.

An endorsement was made, and the new product became known as “Tuffleye.”

Popovics was kind enough to demonstrate to me three flies tied using Tuffleye. The first was a Surf Candy using their “Core” product. It’s thicker and recommended for flies that need a thicker coating. The second was a trout fly using their “Finish” product. It’s thinner and can be worked into small spots rather easy. The third was an Epoxy Shrimp using their new “Flex” product. The finished fly has the texture of a plastic bait — fish bite onto it and hold on longer.

A friend from San Antonio, Steve Flanagan, was at the expo, and showed me how he’s now making spoon flies using Tuffleye. He creates a mold using Play-Doh, places a hook with the point facing up in the mold, then pours the acrylic over the hook shank. On occasion, he mixes in a little sparkle or dye.

Once it has formed, Flanagan pulls out the special light and zaps it for 20 seconds until it hardens. Then he pops the fly out of the Play-Doh, and it’s ready for fishing.

I was obviously impressed by what I’d seen, so I dished out $79 for the kit, which included the special light and the Core and Finish products. That’s a bit of money, alright. But if you’re new to tying epoxy flies, then the alternative costs — which include either a commercial turning apparatus or a homemade turner consisting of a barbecue rotissiere motor and foam block — will factor in.

Then there’s the cost of the epoxy. A tube of Devcon 30-minute epoxy at $4 may be cheaper than the $8 tube of Tuffleye. But after tying about four dozen flies using the latter, the tube was barely half used. It would’ve taken three tubes of Devcon for the same job.

Tuffleye does have one oddity. The cured finish remains a bit tacky. The instructions that came with the kit mention its purpose is to build on other coats, if necessary. To get a slick finish, I had to rub the finish with a cotton swab of rubbing alcohol, or apply a thin coat of nail finish, such as Sally Hansen’s.

One thing that impressed me was how well-formed the flies came out. The thin applicator tip really allows you to paint the wet acrylic into the desired smoothness before you cure it with the blue light.

Frequent readers of this column know that I’m tough to impress. I’m of the mindset that the perfect fly rod, perfect kayak, or even perfect fly simply doesn’t exist. By no means am I ready to fully endorse Tuffleye.

But I must confess — I really do enjoy working with this product.

Whichever way you go — standard epoxy or Tuffleye — realize that the time and money spent protecting your saltwater flies will be a good

About Catch Cormier 275 Articles
Glen ‘Catch’ Cormier has pursued fish on the fly for 30 years. A certified casting instructor and renowned fly tier, he and his family live in Baton Rouge.

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