One of the most iconic flies in the history of saltwater fly-fishing came about because of bluefish. Or, more accurately, because of what happens to a fly when a bluefish eviscerates one with its teeth. On the sandy beaches of New Jersey, Bob Popovics would patiently wait for the blues to push close enough to cast to, only to hook one and be left with the gnarled remains of bucktail left after the fight. He brought this frustration home with him and applied it to his vise, eventually leading to the groundbreaking epoxy pattern known as the Surf Candy.
“It was all for durability,” Popovics said. “I just wanted something that would last on the beach.”
Popovics got into fly-fishing in 1969, fresh from a stint in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. His friend Butch Colvin Butch's father, Cap, owned a tackle shop, taught him how to cast, and eventually, Popovics became equally interested in fly tying.
“Back then you had blondes, tarpon flies, a streamer or two and poppers — that’s it,” he said.
Young tiers, including Popovics, started experimenting. A few tiers, such as Mark Sosin, were using epoxy to protect the thread wraps on their patterns.
A Step Further
“I’d been putting epoxy on the head of my blondes where the thread was and I thought, ‘Let’s just carry that epoxy all the way down the shank and see what I get,’” Popovics said.
The first iterations of the Surf Candy were crude and were made with bucktail and didn’t have eyes or gill markings. They were just something to break out when the bluefish came around. Popovics focused his tying energies elsewhere, into groundbreaking designs that imitated large menhaden — the preferred food of large striped bass.
When the striped bass population underwent a staggering decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s, participation in saltwater fly-fishing declined in the Northeast along with it. But Popovics kept persevering, logging long hours at the beach and at the vise. He’d invite other anglers like Andy Renzetti and Ed Jaworowski to his house to collaborate. During this ebb, he revisited his original epoxy fly to see if he could improve it. His goal was to more accurately represent more streamline-shaped baits like the anchovy, sand eel or silverside.