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The sticky myth of head cement

Using head cement to put that finishing touch on your perfect fly is a relatively new idea. As far as I can determine, using head cement to secure the head wrappings on a fly is somewhere between 30 and 50 years old.

Frederic Halford, Theodore Gordon, and Charles Cotton never used it. Certainly not Dame Juliana Bernersóour first writer on the subject of flies and fly fishing. Even if they thought about it, our earliest fly fishing legends would probably figure they were too busy tying their flies with their fingertips and then tying them onto horse hair next to a stream to bother with another impediment to getting on with the fishing.

I stopped using head cement entirely when I began tying flies on the streamside. Things got too urgent next to the water to bother with the extra step of applying glue. Also, whenever I did think about glue, it had dried to a substance resembling bullet-proof glass. Today, on all flies No. 2 through 24, fresh or saltwater, I leave the glue off.

To be sure, the first time I abstained for gluing my flies, I was filled with some angst, like that fateful moment when dad removed the training wheels off my first bike. My first concern was that the flies would unravel after the first fish or snag, leaving me with a fly all tangled up in its own devices with herl and wire and hackle creating a spectacle that even a fish would find amusing.

But after four years of not using cement, Iíve never had a fly head unravel. I figured Iíd lose the fly to a fish or to a bad cast or just become disinterested in the pattern before the head unraveled. As it turns out, the amount of thread and the whip finish knot are more than enough to secure material as isówhich may be one reason why early golf manufacturers used this knot with no additional glue to secure the heads of their heavy wood drivers and fairway woods.

In the process, I've learned to devote more attention to other parts of the fly that we all know unravel far too oftenómaterial tied in at the tail. There Iíll often use tighter wraps, single hitches or counter-wound wire to secure material I suspect will cause trouble on the water.

Now there might be a few exceptions. Bulkier flies tied with stacks of deer hair, calf tail or similar heavy material might need a little glue to help secure the materials. Maybe. But here, too, Iíve learned to use half hitches throughout the tying process of these flies, where I know that broken thread during the tying process is all too common. And I guess I canít argue with those who tie flies with epoxy-formed bodies. Obviously these kinds of flies need some serious glue.

There are other advantages to glue-less fly tying. I no longer need to devise increasingly clever ways to deliver the glue. I grew tired of constantly cleaning off the little needles of built up glue. I tried small syringes because I had seen others do this, but I could never figure out how to keep the needles free of dried glue. More often then not, I would end up soaking the head of the fly with too much glue, necessitating a minor cleaning operation on the stream while tying the tippet on, usually followed by the foulest language a fish ever heard after the tiniest piece of dried glue that remained severed the knot.

I have no real technique to pass along other than leaving off the head cement. One thing I sometimes do is make four wraps on the head followed by two more on top of these. I suspect even this is unnecessary, however, especially on the smaller flies. I donít wrap additional thread on the head either, thinking more thread secures more material. In fact, through the years, Iíve been decreasing substantially the amount of thread at this point. In the process I save a good deal of time that I add into tying the next fly.

--Toney J. Sisk



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