Using epoxy is a major part of many successful fly patterns and how they act in the water. It adds weight and durability as well as changes a flies profiles. However as I encountered, when beginning my fly tying, epoxy is no easy task that you can just jump into with much success. Like many things in the fly tying world there are many different tricks, tips, and strategies that make epoxy both easier to work with and more effective on your patterns.
A starting tool list for epoxy use can be anything and everything you think could spread the gooey substance well, I prefer toothpicks, plastic stirring straws/rods, cheap plastic bristled paint brushes, and popsicle sticks. These are my main stirring and spreading tools. A pair of old scissors, used to cut hairs with too much epoxy on them, is an important addition as well. I usually use strips of masking tape to mix the epoxy on but when I’m tying patterns that require more than the masking tape can handle I’ll use a lid from a butter or cottage cheese container. Another vise is handy to use with the sticky stuff so that you don’t gum up your main setup, but you can easily manage without, just be careful.
Choosing a quality epoxy is just as important as your tools. My personal favorite epoxy are the two separate bottles of G/Flex Epoxy. This particular brand comes in
two different containers one containing the resin the other the hardener. Because they are separate and easy to squeeze out you have better control of how much epoxy you use out and the separate nozzles and caps mean there is no risk of the caps becoming glued to the nozzles. I would suggest not skimping on your choice of epoxy either,Some cheap brands don’t completely dry all the way, making for a frustrating realization the morning after coating a batch of flies in it. Some epoxies dry yellowish and tacky that may fool the fish but probably won't be too pleasing to the eye.
Most patterns that call for epoxy are either using it to weight the fly or adjust the profile. Some flies call for a more spread out profile other's more slimmed down. Some call for it simply to glue something down to a pattern or to the hook shank at the beginning of tying. Spoon flies are completely covered in epoxy, some streamers require just the head to be coated, and many nymph flies need just a dab.
For flies where the epoxy is used to effect the profile it all depends on how the fly looks when the epoxy is applied. Patterns that are meant to be spread out in the water, representing a baitfish with maximum volume, need to look that way when the epoxy is applied. When tying streamers that need to be more streamlined and slim it is important to pull the fibers of the fly back creating the desired shape. I generally use a hair clip to hold the fibers down as I apply the epoxy. When the epoxy dries the profile will stay slim because the dried epoxy keeps the hair, fur, and other materials laid back.
Tons of streamer patterns require the head to be coated in epoxy. The problem often times faced when applying the needed epoxy to just the head is that it is hard to have a clean line where the epoxy starts and stops. To achieve this I often times cut small cardboard templates that I fit over the fly head and adjust to the proper, desired position. This rig gives me a visual and physical line to where the epoxy should stop. Using this method you can make very uniform flies that look the same and more importantly fish the same.
When using epoxy on small jobs like adding eyes, glueing popper heads down, or just adding weight to a nymph there is one important rule I always use. It goes back to your days in elementary school when you didn’t want to use too much glue. You can always add more epoxy to something but it’s a hassle and can ruin a fly (specifically a nymph) if you add too much. Excess epoxy tends to just get smeared around, gluing down parts off the fly you don’t want glued down. Just a dab is usually enough
If you plan on cranking out large numbers of flies that require epoxy I would first suggest tying all the flies to the point at which you must add the epoxy. It is also good practice to not waste too much epoxy, I usually whip up a batch of epoxy and do as many flies with it as I can before it becomes too tacky. From that point on I use that first group of flies as a template for how much epoxy to stir up per group of flies I make. This is particularly useful when preparing a large box of spoon flies.
When you’ve finished applying the epoxy you must dry it of course, well that’s easier said than done. You can’t just sit it off to the side and let it dry like you would with any other fly you tie. If epoxy is left tilted to one side or the other for an extended period of time it will drip that direction and dry that direction too. This can drastically change the appearance of a fly as well as the action in the water. Lop-sided flies will tend to move through the water more one dimensionally, what I mean by that is they only move one direction when stripped, instead of the multiple erratic directions a balanced fly can take.
To dry properly I highly recommend a drying wheel. These great devices keep your flies moving in a circle keeping your epoxy even, much like a rotating drying rack used to build rods. You can buy them commercially, made for fly tying, or you can build one yourself using an electric motor and a handful of household items. But either way it’s a must have if you plan on epoxy use as you advance your fly tying ability. If you’re just whipping out a handful of one kind of pattern then you can get around the need for a drying wheel. To do this simply place each fly with the head up vertically in a close pin or chip clip. The epoxy may drip some in this setup but it will mostly drip back down the fly instead of to one side or the other. This keeps the fly balanced and you won’t have to invest in a wheel.
Even with the introduction of the amazing clear cure goo products that are so widely used in the market I still believe that epoxy has it’s spot firmly set in the fly tying world. Though it seems difficult and a pain to use it gets relatively easy with some practice and extended use. It adds another dimension to fly tying and fly fishing alike.