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Saltwater Popper - Part 2 of 2 Pattern & Tying Instructions

Fly Tying Recipe: Saltwater Popper - Part 2 of 2
Prismatic Eyes.
Copic Marker pens.
5-minute epoxy.
White, 6/0 or 140-denier.
White and orange bucktail.
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Video Transcript:

For part 2 of constructing a saltwater popper we're going to assume you were successful in completing part 1 and have a foam body with a hook firmly attached and the hook channel filled. Once again, assembling multiple bodies at a time really helps to speed the production process.

Before we start to put a finish on the popper, I'd like to recommend finding a piece of closed cell foam It's the stuff cheap boogie boards and pool noodles are made out of and it works just great for holding poppers during the finishing process. About a 6 x 6 inch square will do.

With a permanent marker make a line in the center of the square. This will help you to locate a slit that you make with a hobby knife. The depth of the blade is all that's required. The slit not only holds the popper securely but also protects the hook from the spray finish that will be applied. You'll find the popper's easy to reorient to just about any position and is easily removed.

The first part of the finishing process is applying a pair of eyes and there are a myriad of choices. I really like the very thin prismatic eyes like those from Witchcraft Tape. They are easy to remove from the sheet with a hobby knife and have a good adhesive back. It's a good idea to get them correctly located before pressing down too hard. Using the hook shank and the front edge of the popper as reference will help to get the eyes properly aligned on both sides. Like I said, these eyes have a wonderful adhesive backing, but to really insure that top and bottom edges don't lift during the finishing process I like to lift the edges just a little bit with a hobby knife and then apply just the smallest amount of Zap-a-Gap underneath the edge. A little pressure with the butt end of your bodkin is all it takes to really lock the eye in place. Make sure to repeat the procedure both top and bottom as, because of the curve of the popper, these are the two areas most likely to lift. There are other ways to achieve the same thing, but I've found this method to be the most reliable.

Since you don't want to cover up the eyes with the color finish, you need to mask them off and blue masking tape works just great. Use a burnishing tool to stick the tape down and then use the edge of the tool to trace the outer edge of the eye. Use this edge as a guide for your hobby knife and cut all the way through the tape, going down into the foam a little bit won't hurt at all. You can then remove the excess tape and you're left with a perfect mask for the eye. Once you've done this to both eyes, check one last time for eye position and alignment. You can then position the popper in the foam holder and it's time to add some color.

There are many different ways to decorate a styrofoam popper but the airbrush system from Copic Marker is my absolute favorite. The version I have utilizes an air can, a regulator, an adapter and an air brush. The finish comes from Copic Marker pens which come in just about any color imaginable. Here's how it works. You first secure the Copic air hose and regulator to the air can, the regulator allows you to adjust the volume of air going to the air grip. A handy foam base keeps the air can from moving around and tipping over. The air hose then connects to the air adapter which in turn is connected to the air grip. The whole thing is fairly small, light and really quite affordable.

The caps on the markers are color coded and identify each marker with a name and a series alpha-numberic code. Both types of markers that I have have a chisel point at one end and a finer point at the other. For the Air Grip, we're interested in only the chisel end. Just slip the color marker you want into the Air Grip and snap it into place. It looks like this when the marker is correctly positioned. By lightly pressing the trigger on top of the grip, air is blown over the tip of the marker so it works much like a traditional airbrush. Whoever came up with this system really had their thinking cap on.

Ok, back to the popper. I'm going to use two different yellows. Changing colors is a snap, one pen comes out and the other goes in, no cleaning, no nothing. The color of the pen tip is pretty much the color you're going to get but it's a good idea to always give it a little test spray first.

I like to use a cardboard box to catch over-spray although there's usually very little. Applying a nice smooth finish is really easy and you get that wonderful fade effect that air brushes are known for. I'd like the yellow to go a little further down the side of the popper so what I'm going to do is switch from the darker yellow to the lighter yellow. Make sure you cap your markers as they will dry out. Yes, it really is this simple. The back doesn't look quite dark enough for me so I'm going to switch back to the darker yellow and give it another coat. There's no need to wait between coats.

With that done, I'm going to switch over to a bright red marker for the face of the popper. The foam block makes it easy to get the correct orientation. A few light little shots is all it takes.

And there it is a beautifully painted popper. Now for a little bit of bad news. Copic Markers are alcohol based and are meant to be used on porous materials such as paper where they're basically absorbed. The slick outer coating of styrofoam poppers doesn't allow for this absorption and so the finish never really dries completely. From here on out you want to touch it as little as possible until you apply the epoxy finish coat. Before doing this, don't forget to remove the masking tape from the eyes. Once the tape is removed you should still find the eyes well adhered both top and bottom.

Although not essential, a tying vise really helps with the next step. Rotary vises make the job real easy but again, are not essential. I have found some compatibility issues between different finishes and the Copic Marker but also found that good old 5 minute epoxy works just fine. If you want to try something else, I'd highly recommend testing it first.

Mix equal parts resin and hardener about a dime sized puddle of each is more than enough. Make sure you mix the parts together very well. Although you could use your bodkin to apply the epoxy to the popper, cheap disposable craft brushes work really well. Start by simply getting the epoxy on to the popper, don't worry too much about smoothness just yet. Don't forget to coat the face of the popper. With that done, smooth everything out with light brush strokes. The epoxy will sag if you don't keep it rotating for the 5 minutes it takes to dry. Although you can do this with your vise, a drying wheel allows you to take a break while the epoxy dries. Even though it's 5 minute epoxy it's a good idea to leave at least an hour or two for it to cure. It really does make for a nice professional looking finish.

The final step is to give the popper a tail. White 140 Denier Ultra thread works well for this. It's quite strong but doesn't add a lot of bulk. An extra long saltwater bobbin is a good choice if you have one. Start your thread at the back end of the popper and take wraps toward the bend. You can then snip off the tag. I'm going to use natural white buck tail on the bottom. Strip out the shorts and measure the bundle to get a tail that's about 1 1/2 times the length of the popper body. Snip the butt ends off square and then place the butts flush to the back of the popper. I like to first secure the buck tail to the top of the hook shank and then use a burnishing tool to evenly push fibers down either side of the hook. This results in a flat landing area for the final clump of buck tail. For this one, I'm going to use orange. Repeat the same measurement procedure as before and once again tie in the clump at the back of the popper body. Here, a large whip finish tool is much easier to use than a small one as it allows you to get the thread around long popper body, 7 or 8 turns should do it.

Finally snip the thread off close. To finish the wraps, mix another small batch of 5 minute epoxy and apply it liberally to the wraps with your bodkin. As before, you need to keep the fly rotating so the epoxy won't sag as it dries.

And there you have it, a beautifully finished and functional popper. Just be forewarned, making these things is almost as addictive as fishing them. Have fun.