My inspiration for tying foam bombers came from many years of using foam for every type of floating fly there is, especially to replace deer hair in bass bug patterns. I figure if it can be tied using deer hair then it can be done with foam. Foam is lighter, easier to work with, lasts longer and is more buoyant than deer hair.
The first and most challenging step in tying the Foam Bomber is shaping the body. The foam I use is closed cell foam commonly used in the making of beach shoes (flip flops) kneeling pads and in the packaging for certain fragile equipment and parts. I get mine from a variety of sources from gardening centres, to dollar stores, shoe stores and even curb sides on garbage day, I even have friends bring me chunks of foam they have had lying around the house of have found at work. The stuff is everywhere and is cheap, or in some cases free.
The basic cylindrical plug is cut using a brass cutter in an electric drill. I make these cutters from brass tubing sold at hobby stores and some hardware shops. Cut about a three inch length with a pipe cutter or hacksaw and glue a short length of wooden dowel in one end using 24 hour epoxy. I use a 3 inch length of 3/8 inch diameter wooden dowel for cutters of the same size or larger. For larger tubing than the 3/8 inch dowel, wrap a collar of masking tape around the dowel until it fits snugly inside the brass tube. If you push the tape collar inside the tube, you fill the space up with epoxy thereby getting a solid joint between the brass tube and the wooden dowel. If you are really dubious about the joint you can screw the tubing to the dowel with a short screw. There is not much torque required in cutting the foam and the joining method of just tape and epoxy works fine. With the cutter inserted in an electric hand drill, run the cutting edge of the brass tubing over a flat piece of fine emery cloth to bevel and sharpen the cutting edge. An oval hole can be ground in the side of the tube about an inch from the cutting edge to facilitate easier removal of the foam cylinders.
Once you have your basic cylindrical foam plug cut, insert a heavy carpet needle into a Dremel or similar small rotary tool. With the Dremel on medium speed gently push the foam plug onto the needle keeping it as near to the centre of the cylinder as possible Do not push the needle all the way through the cylinder as the hole will be too big and you will lose the friction of the foam to needle. The foam needs to be a snug fit on the needle so that it can be turned without slipping, I usually push the plug onto the spinning needle until I just see the point showing and I am sure that the foam is centered then turn the Dremel off and push the foam onto the needle by hand. Turn the Dremel back on and lightly hold an emery board or piece of fine sand paper to each end of the foam. You want a long shallow taper for the back of the bomber and a steeper taper for the front. Try and aim for a profile just like a deer hair bomber body. This turning technique cuts the foam very quickly so a gentle touch is required but with a little practice you will soon be turning out the desired shape. I learned this technique from Jim Hatch’s excellent web page http://www.flyanglersonline.com/flytying/fotw2/082205fotw.html Jim has taken the Dremel technique one step further by turning his Dremel into a fixed lathe with a plastic shield and foot switch.
The body diameter and length should match the hook size you are using. Once you have your body shaped, wrap a thread base on your hook shank and tie in the usual bomber tail of calf tail.
Tie in a saddle hackle of the desired colour by the tip and leave the thread at the rear of the body position. Put a drop of super glue onto the thread base near the head of the fly and push the foam body onto the hook with a twisting motion with the shallow taper to the rear of the hook. The tying thread is then spiral wrapped over the foam to the head of the fly to bind the foam to the body. This also forms the groove into which the hackle will be wound later. I usually try for 5 equal segments.
Prepare the calf tail wing next by cutting the bunch of hair exactly to length. With the tips facing forward over the eye of the hook, bind down the butts in a drop of head cement or super glue right in front of the body. The butts of the hair should butt up against the front of the foam. Because this tie in point is so narrow, this gluing step really helps to lock the calf tail wing in securely. The wing can then be brought upright and anchored in position with a few turns of thread in front.
With your tying thread to the rear of the wing, palmer the hackle up through the body keeping the quill in the groove left by the thread. This depression allows the hackle to sink into the foam and helps to protect the quill much like in the deer hair version. Tie off and trim the remaining hackle behind the wing over the wing tie down wraps, whip finish and your foam bomber is complete.
The wing can also be changed from the traditional forward position to an upright divided wing as in a hair wing dry fly. An additional hackle can be added behind the wing and wound behind and in front making a hair wing dry fly with a palmered body.
By leaving the wing and tail off, and adding a floss and or tinsel tag at the rear of the body, you have a foam buck bug, one of the most well known of which is the Green Machine.
Colours for these foam salmon dry flies can vary from the standard grey body white wings and brown hackle to just about any wacky colours that the foam comes in or you can find. If you cannot find a particular coloured foam, just colour white or yellow foam with permanent marker of the colour you want. This makes the hunt for specific foam colours less of a hassle as permanent markers now come in every colour of the rainbow.
I will be the first to admit that foam dry flies for salmon may wrinkle the noses of the salmon tying purists but as a fishing tool they can not be beat. When I showed mine to a few of the guides and fishermen on the Grand Cascapedia, they could all see the benefits. No dry fly floatant required, no water logged deer hair and no false casting to dry your fly out. They can even be pulled under the water on a tight line and with a little slack they bob to the surface time and time again. A definite advantage while roll or Spey casting
Finally, from a tiers perspective, once you get the body shaping and tying technique down, they are quicker and easier to tie than the conventional deer hair flies.