Try heat shrink tubing as an alternative to epoxy.
By Kendall Osborne
Originally published in the January 2009 print edition.
There are myriad ways to create durable heads or bodies for saltwater streamers, including reinforcement with epoxy, silicone and even plastic “fenders” sold in some fly shops. Here’s another: Heat shrink tubing—the same type you might already use to seal and protect electrical wiring connections in your boat or around the house.
Heat shrink tubing is a great epoxy alternative. No dripping mess. No fumes. No curing time. You simply tie on your materials, slip the heat shrink on, heat and shrink, and you are done! And, if the fly does not turn out to your liking, you can cut the tubing off and try again.
Eyes are often the first to go when a fish chomps a fly. By tying flies with eyes inside clear heat shrink, they stay on a bit longer. You can use heat shrink to secure rattles to flies, either by shrinking the rattle directly onto the shank, or by extending heat shrink beyond the bend and shrinking a rattle into the extended tubing. However, heat shrink muffles the sound a bit, so heat shrink-mounted rattles will not be as loud as rattles simply tied to the shank.
To taper the tubing, apply heat to just the nose, against the hook eye. This way, the heat shrink will contract the most at the nose of the fly and less toward the rear, forming a nicely tapered head.
Heat shrink tubing comes in a variety of colors, sizes and even shrink rates. Your local electronics or hardware store may only carry black, red and white, but green, yellow, blue, purple, gold, and—my favorite and most useful of all—clear, are all available at larger electrical supply centers or online.
Shrink rates vary from 2:1 up to 4:1. Four-to-one tubing allows more flexibility to shape tapered heads, works on larger flies, and fits well over dumbbell eyes, while ¼-inch 2:1 tubing is fine for smaller minnow patterns. Again, if your size choice doesn’t fit or taper the way you like, just cut it off and try another size of tubing. You’ll have to experiment in order to find the perfect fit for your particular fly style and size.
From top, optional weighted wire; clear tubing covers forward half of fly; applying heat with heat gun.
You’ll need a hair dryer or heat gun to shrink the tubing. Hair dryers are noisy. Heat guns can get pretty hot, so don’t use one around flammable glues and thinners. Never try to shrink the tubing with an open flame. Finally, some synthetic tying materials melt if exposed to too much heat. You can avoid melting materials with what sounds risky but actually works quite well. Simply hold the fly in your fingers as you slowly apply heat. If it begins to get too hot for your fingers, it’s probably too hot for the synthetics, so back off. Also, holding the fly in your fingers allows you to easily rotate the fly to obtain uniform tube shrinkage around the fly.