I recently did some experimenting with clear coating on foam popper heads. I’ve wanted to find a better way to coat and protect my popper heads than what I was doing before.
Like those who tie flies for big predatory fish like bass, pike, muskie, dorado, peacocks, etc. you want to up your durability and practicality whenever possible. If you’re like me you’ve noticed that popper heads are extremely susceptible to damage especially from fish who have teeth. Bass tend to not be super rough on popper until you caught quite a few. Where as pike, dorado, and the like can destroy a popper after just a couple fish. So how do you keep your fly fishing to it’s full ability for longer so you can make more cast and hopefully catch more fish?
Commercially sold popper usually have a hard clear coat made from some sort of epoxy. I think most manufactures use a 30 minute epoxy just because the working time is longer so you can coat quite a few flies with a single batch. This has been the standard for decades and people haven’t really complained enough to stop most manufactures from changing their ways. The only company out there that, as to my knowledge, has been Flymen Co. They went from a hard, ridged coating to a thin flexible coating. Its bomb proof and to make that point they put out a video explaining it and even running a popper over with a truck. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSBzXbyvu8o
Now for an at home tyer you probably want something close to that durability. A while ago I thought I found it with Loon Soft Head. This is a water based, milky head cement that Loon sells as an alternative to their Hard Head which isn’t water based like the Soft Head. I liked it a lot at first. it didn’t screw up the Copic airbrush markings and it dried clear as promised. The only down side was it remained slightly tacky. I dealt with that and was mostly satisfied.
Now when I tie my bass divers, poppers, and birds I use a product called Liquid Fusion. It’s a urethane based epoxy substitute. I believe it’s supposed to be used as an adhesive, but for me it creates a great clear coat. It has a smell similar to a fresh basketball when its wet, although when it dries it has no sent what-so-ever. It takes a while for it to dry compared to a mixed epoxy, but almost the same time as soft head. The bottle says to let it cure for 24 hours and it isn’t kidding. A long while ago I tied a bass diver in the morning and coated my fly’s belly, eyes, and collar with Liquid Fusion. That evening I went out and wanted to fish my new fly. After about 3 casts the whole coating peeled right off. The water delaminated the coating completely from the fly. So let them cure completely. The only downsides I’ve found with liquid fusion is that its urethane base will run most dyes especially permanent marker (like Copic) and material dye. You also need a brush or bodkin to apply it. Side note, if you want a smoother coating I recommend a drying wheel.
After I discovered all this I decided to put it all together. I wanted to design a perfect or close to perfect mega popper for the biggest of prey (i.e. peacocks, dorado, pike, muskie, tigers, etc.) So I did some more testing, designing, painting, tying, swimming, coating, and developing. The fly below is what came out of all that.
It’s a perch for those who couldn’t tell. It sits great in the water considering it’s articulated with a 40mm shank and 6/0 hook. The XL head helps with that. It sits close to vertical in the water so it splashes and chugs perfectly. Its comparable to most large poppers conventional guys throw. I added a 4mm rattle and I don’t think its necessary. The rattle doesn’t add buoyancy like foam so it doesn’t help with the back end being lifted up. It also doesn’t need anymore noise being made, it is a popper after all. The fly is 100% synthetic so even though like my girlfriend said, “That’s going to cast like a wet sock.” It really doesn’t. Popper heads don’t ever cast great, but it doesn’t cast heavy. It just lacks aerodynamics. After one false cast the water is shed and it can be fired out effectively without the water weight. So with an 8wt rod and the right line it casts fine, a 9wt or 10wt would do you better if you plan to use this fly all day.
Hopefully that was helpful for fellow tyers and those who buy flies to know what to look for. If you want your own fully synthetic popper that comes in at 8″ please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you have your own experiences to share with fly coating email me or comment down below.