Silly Putty allows you to make just about anything out of epoxy—including expensive spoon flies!
THE FIRST TIME I ever went redfishing, I was lucky enough to be in the canoe with a local master. Glen “Catch” Courmier had volunteered to be my boatman, Cajun cultural liaison, and guide. I tied on a pattern that had been recommended years ago as a general purpose saltwater catch-all (I think it was a shrimp of some kind), and proceeded to strike out on the first half-dozen reds we slipped up on. (My crappy casting, seated in the canoe, may also have been a factor).
(1) Start your hook and lay a thread base, then palmer Krystal Flash for color. Whip finish and cut, then remove your hook from the vise.
(2) Make a Silly Putty mold with an old spoon fly or an infant’s spoon. First, roll the putty into a ball, then press it into a table using a serving spoon. Then, press the spoon mold (an actual fly or an infant’s spoon) in hard to make the final form.
(3) It’s okay if your form is a little deeper than the ultimate thickness of the fly. By brushing epoxy up the sides, you’ll help it make a concave face.
(4) Mix your five- or seven-minute epoxy or use Clear Cure Goo (or a similar UV-curing product), then dab a small amount into the mold. Paint the epoxy up the sides, then place your hook in the mold, point up. Make sure it’s straight. The epoxy will draw back down into the mold from the sides, so don’t use too much.
(5) When dry, remove your hook from the mold by stretching the Silly Putty away from it until it separates. Don’t worry if the epoxy flexes some, too.
(6) Bend the spoon “blank” just a little more to give it a concave underside by placing it in the meat of one hand and flexing the eye with the other hand.
(7) File or trim any rough edges with scissors or an Emory board.
(8) Let it set fully, then paint your fly as desired using nail polish, glitter, markers, or other paints. I like to mix clear Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails with glitter for a light sparkle.
(9) When you’re done with the glitter, let it set up. Now is the time for a final touch-up with the file. It may look a bit rough, but just wait until the two-ton epoxy smoothes everything out.
(10) For a clear finish, coat in a cosmetic layer of two-ton (30 minute) epoxy or more UV-curable plastic. Place on a rotator to dry (let coatings level before curing if using UV). Two-ton has become hard to find, but any thin, slow-setting epoxy will make a nice final coat.
(11) Remove the fly from the dryer and let set up hard for at least a few hours before you put it in your fly box! (I ruined some flies by shutting the lid on them when they weren’t quite dry).
After a while Catch decided that polite deference on the fly selection had to be sacrificed in favor of actually catching fish. He snagged my line, snipped off the whatchamacallit, and tied on a spoon of his own creation. Living as I do in a major city, I know how to spot a crack addict when I see one. Throwing spoons, all those redfish suddenly became junkies, and we started wearing them out.
Afterwards, I was a bit bummed to find out that spoon flies are among the most expensive patterns you can buy in a fly shop ($6-8 usually, but sometimes even more). There’s really no excuse for this; it’s just how things are. One of the advantages of operating a website, as I do, is that every now and then if you whine loud enough, someone will come through with a solution. That’s exactly what happened, and how I got turned on to Silly Putty Spoons.
Silly Putty, available at Wal-Marts everywhere for less than $2 an “egg,” doesn’t like to stick to epoxy. Some wise soul put two and two together one day and realized that this makes Silly Putty the perfect molding material for epoxy. In fact, with a little Silly Putty and a little epoxy, you can make darn near anything. Including, as it happens, spoon flies.
Making the Silly Putty Spoon with Epoxy
This process is a lot more akin to lure making than to tying flies. As a good friend says, when it comes to the question of whether a spoon is a “fly” or not, I’m agnostic. Silly Putty Spoons are light enough to be thrown with any fly rod (even a five weight), but still sink nicely. The key to a spoon fly’s action is the cup-shaped or concave under-surface of the fly. Coupled with a convex or bubble-shaped top surface, the “fly” will wiggle and wobble (or, if you’re using a barrel swivel, even spin) like a wounded and very agitated baitfish. For this reason, redfish (and big trout!) absolutely love spoons.
To tie the Silly Putty Spoon, start off with a normal saltwater hook, size #2 through #2/0, with a heavy gauge wire. I like a reasonably long shank, no shorter than an inch from the eye to the bend. Using pliers and your vise, bend the shank into a nice even curve, just about like a nymph or scud hook in trout fishing. (This will help the fly wobble later).
Once your hook is bent as desired, mount it in your vise and start some heavy thread. You’re simply going to lay a base for the epoxy to grip; you could simply wind thread to the eye, whip finish and cut, or, for a little more color, you can palmer Krystal Flash in whatever color you think best over the thread base. I typically lay down a bed of red Krystal Flash (but I’ve tested it and plain thread is equally strong).
When you’ve prepared your hook (or hooks—this is easily done in batches), take it out of the vise and get out your Silly Putty. I roll it tightly into a ball to pop any air bubbles, then set it on a desk. Use a dinner spoon to lightly press a concave shape into the surface. This is not the final mold of the fly, but merely a staging area.
Here’s where you might feel like cheating a bit. You could locate a infant’s spoon and make a mold from scratch (like the first spoon flies, no doubt). Or, you could use a pre-manufactured spoon—either a spoon fly or a spin fisherman’s metal spoon. Either way, gently press the spoon into the top surface of the Silly Putty to make an impression. It’s okay to go in a little deeper than the ultimate thickness of the fly, for reasons I’ll explain later.
When you have your spoon mold (or molds) made, you’re ready to mix up your epoxy. Five-minute or the new seven-minute epoxy work equally well, but seven-minute has a somewhat clearer finish. Mix for at least thirty seconds with a cut-off Q-tip or the tip of an old plastic paintbrush. Then, gently transfer a small dab of epoxy into your mold—about as much as a pencil eraser to start. The trick here is to paint the epoxy up the sides. That way, surface tension will give you a nice concave shape that will help your fly wiggle later. (This is also why it’s okay to make a slightly deeper mold).
Don’t overkill on the epoxy – you’re going to add more later anyway and you don’t need this to be too thick. Just put enough in the mold to make the spoon shape and be thick enough to cover the hook comfortably. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly even, either; you can touch it up with a file later. Once the epoxy is formed into the shape of a spoon, place your hook (point up, obviously) in the epoxy. Wiggle it a bit so the epoxy closes over the shank, and tend it so the hook doesn’t dry off kilter (in practice, this probably doesn’t matter, since the fly wiggles so much anyway, but straight flies are easier to store in your box). Make sure the shank of the hook is centered—halfway from both sides of the spoon—otherwise it may pirouette when you cast and twist your leader.
When the fly has dried, gently peel it away from the Silly Putty. Don’t worry if the epoxy stretches, just prod it back into shape and let it set up. Before it has completely set up, place the bend of the hook in the meat of one hand, point out, and use your other hand to slightly flex the shank from the eye, bending both the fly and the hook just a little more. This, again, will give it concavity. (It’s difficult to make epoxy dry in a curve since it is self-leveling; this way you can cheat and get the curve after all).
From here out, it’s all creativity. I like to paint my flies with clear nail polish mixed with glitter of various colors. You could also use opaque nail polish, markers or even dyes mixed into the epoxy. The point is simply to give the fly some color—red and gold are classic redfish shades. Once your paint job has dried, to get a nice even glossy finish, you need to do two things: first, use an Emory board to file any rough edges neat and smooth. (You can also use your tying scissors to trim ragged edges). Second, mix up some two-ton (30-minute) epoxy, and paint a light layer over the whole surface of the fly. After a half hour on the drying wheel, your flies will be glossy, translucent, and very, very sexy.
The ideal spoon should be thinner rather than thicker. If it doesn’t come together right away, just try again—within two or three batches, you should be turning out professional-grade spoons (in a kind you can’t yet buy in a fly shop). Finally, if you so desire, it’s easy to add feathers, rubber legs, or even dumbbell eyes to these patterns: simply tie the fly you want before you form up the spoon and proceed as above.
Variations on the Theme
Lately the world of epoxy has been turned on its head by new UV-curable plastics. One of the best of these for fly tying is called Clear Cure Goo. It comes in a syringe, doesn’t have to be mixed, and can be cured in under 10 seconds with a simple UV lamp (which comes with the starter kit, $50, from clearcuregoo.com).
Making a UV Silly Putty Spoon is even easier than making one out of epoxy; instead of bothering with mixes (and all the cleanup), you simply inject some Clear Cure Goo into your mold, position your hook, then nuke it. When you’ve painted it up and you’re ready for a gloss coat, just brush some more Clear Cure Goo in place, put the fly in the rotator, then wait until the coating has leveled before you nuke it for good.
The possibilities opened up by Silly Putty molding techniques are basically endless. I could see creating the spoon without the hook, for instance, for use in a spinner bait fly. You could turn out slider or diver heads by molding each half then mounting them together with epoxy. At the end of the day, the only limit is your creativity, which is, after all, the best part about fly tying.
A version of this article originally ran in the Winter 2010 issue of Fly Tyer magazine.