Glues, Solvents, and other chemicals for Fly Tying/Fishing

By Craig Smothers, President of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers.


There are a great number of things I use for my fly fishing hobby which have little to do with fly fishing. It can range from the leaf basket I use for catching my fly line on the front of the boat to the car wash soap I use to clean my rods at the end of the day. There are many fly designed products which work great. There are also a plethora of things which work as well or better and cost a bit less.

Let’s start with the glue you use for fly tying. I divide fly tying glues into two separate groups: ones which hold the fly together, and ones which give the thread a bright and shiny finish.

When properly constructing a fly, glue is applied during the entire process. My favorite is Dave’s Fleximent. It remains flexible, dries clear, and is easy to make yourself. Yea, you can make your own. Pick up some Goop and Toluene/Xylene at the hardware store. Xylene is a less toxic solvent. In a standard glue jar for fly tying, add a tooth brush worth of Goop and fill the jar half way with Xylene. It takes a bit of time to dissolve—I keep my extra jar preloaded with a thicker mix I add to my main jar. The main jar is very thin—keep it that way--it penetrates the fly tying materials all the way to the shank of the hook. The flies don’t come apart when the fish looks at them. This is my only “construction cement.” Xylene will dissolve even a completely dried out jar of glue.

Next comes the “head cement.” Head cement gives the thread the nice glossy finish. Here I use Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails fingernail polish. Easy. Cheap. I also like Diamond Shine by the same maker. Thin it with acetone if you need. Loon makes a clear water-based polyester call Hard Head which also comes in colors. Be sure and shake the wiz out of it to suspend the solids in it. Did yours get too thick? Thin it with denatured alcohol or some Vodka—not water. Again, water based polyesters can be bought by the gallon cheaply and substitute for epoxies.

Another one of the obvious head cements is the epoxies. I still love the finish I get with Flex Coat rod wrap epoxy. Being a two hour set epoxy, you will need a rotisserie. It remains clear forever. If that is too thin or has too long a set time, Flex Coat makes a 20 minute set construction adhesive. It also remains clear and is a bit thicker to work with. Add a drop of Vodka to thin it if needed.

If I might stand on my soapbox for a moment: Throw out any 5 minute epoxy you are using for fly tying! It’s crap. It turns piss-yellow in a month. It’s cloudy. Get rid of it. Invest instead in one of the UV cure epoxies. There are a bunch of different brands, any of which are a huge upgrade. It has a 30 second cure time. It remains clear forever. I use it on my tarpon flies so that the epoxy doesn’t wick back into my materials. It can be purchased by the 55 gallon drum if needed—look around. If you use it frequently, invest in a good UV light. I found a rechargeable UV dental tool which has a full 5 watt focused beam with a timer which cures these epoxies in 10-20 seconds. UV epoxies are available in three basic formulas: thick, thin, and flexible (similar to using silicone). Don’t stare at any UV light—it’s not good for your eyes.

Speaking of silicone, there are many options available here as well. The UV set silicones mentioned above. Goop. The caulk gun sized tubes at Home Depot. Loon makes a dip silicone called Softex. Great stuff. It is, however, a thick version of Dave’s Fleximent. Just make a tub of it yourself. One thing about using silicone out of the tube is that it sticks to everything. You can spread the stuff with a Popsicle stick or your fingers. Kodak has a product called Photo Flow. Wash your hands well then wet them with Photo Flow. Smooth out the silicone to a beautifully smooth finish with none of it stuck to you.

Cyanoacrylate glues are a must. Although there are a bunch of brands, it’s Crazy Glue to most of you. It comes in thin and thicker formulas. I prefer the brushable version because it’s easily controllable when applied and it dries less instantly. Brushable also doesn’t crystalize in the tube by the next time you use it. It will save you when the thread breaks while whip finishing a fly. It’s wonderful to lock down bar bell eyes to the hook.

Adhesive eyes never stick on their own. I’ve used Goop, Crazy Glue, and the fabric paint in the little squeeze bottles. My favorite is Fletch-Tite, an arrow fletching glue. There are several formulas which I see no differences between. The consistency of the glue and the long nozzle end makes this stuff a breeze to work with. It dries clear and will peel off your fingers if you get it on them. It dries in 20 minutes.

I make double bunny flies frequently. To glue the two leather sides of the rabbit hair together is easy with Tear Mender. It is very flexible and tacks the two leather strips together as soon as they touch. Just give it a squeeze. Go fishing in 20 minutes. Water soluble when wet. I believe it’s liquid latex.

Fly line manufactures’ have gotten better about putting loops on both end of fly lines. If there isn’t a loop, the knot joining the line to the leader or backing is a snag waiting to happen. Pliobond is a glue similar to rubber cement when wet. It dries more firmly than silicone. Building a smooth transition between the fly line and the leader/backing with Pliobond will prevent stripping the guides off your rod when the fish goes for a sudden run.

I paint all of my own lead eyes. It is cheaper and I have better control of the final colors. If you want to paint a bunch of eyes in a hurry there are ways. I bought a coarse comb which the eyes slide into. I can paint 50 or so at a time with spray paint. I recommend a white primer first for three reasons: better adhesion of the paint, filling in the imperfections on the eyes, and truer color of the final color. I still paint the pupil one-at-a-time with black lacquer using a small mandrel. Lacquer dries more quickly and can be applied over enamel or lacquer paint. Lacquer cannot be applied under enamel. Visit the hobby shops or hardware stores for your colors.

When working with these solvents, glues, and paints, work in a well-ventilated area. Many are flammable and can pickle your brain.




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