If I were a man of lower morals, and it was possible to take out an insurance policy on fly boxes, I might be the victim of an unfortunate and devastating fire.
Nothing that would damage my home, mind you. It would probably happen in a trash can out in my driveway. The only casualties suffered would be a dozen or so plastic cases and hundreds of flies. By the time fire and rescue would show up, all that would be left might be some hinges. Interspersed in the carnage would be the larger hooks with synthetic yarn melted on in a black mess.
I’d shake my head and lament the loss. “So many nymphs… they never had the chance to grow up.” But right beneath the mournful veneer I would be rejoicing.
Why would I wish such a horrible fate upon my flies and fly boxes, you ask? Things have gotten out of control. There are flies of unknown origin and dubious quality interspersed between by go-to patterns. I have imitations for bugs that don’t live anywhere near me, and boxes that don’t really fit anywhere. Can you see why I’ve been pushed to the edge?
If you follow these simple guidelines you’ll probably avoid the desperate measures that I’ve hypothetically sunk to.
Get and keep flies that you need
This sounds simple enough. But what happens when you are nosing around the fly shop and throw some flashy little pink pupa in your plastic cup? Maybe you fish it and it becomes a reliable and trusted fly. Or, it sits in the same spot in your box forever. You never fish it, because you have no clue what it could be used for and why you even bought it in the first place.
But parachute Adams? Have a dozen in 14, 16, and 18. Hare’s ear nymphs? Four or five sizes, weighted and unweighted, all a dozen or so each. Princes, elk hair caddis, wooly buggers, San Juan worms: unless you’re fishing someplace where they don’t have any business being fished, these core patterns should be always at the ready in a few colors and sizes.
You don’t want to be in the middle of a caddis hatch and not have an elk hair caddis. There isn’t an excuse.
If you tie, just set some goals and knock out a series of flies in a night. This is what winter is for, anyways. If you buy flies, buying in bulk is a great way to go for the customer and the tyer. None of the aforementioned patterns are complicated, so they favor speed and economy.
And if flies are in your box but they aren’t being used…
Get and keep a process for moving and storing flies
I’ve kept two giant foam cicada flies in my terrestrial box for seven years. Why? I had a great season fishing the cicada hatch seven years ago. Here is how I justified keeping them: They are just big, buggy flies – they could be useful! But I have hoppers, crickets, and lots of other things. And those cicada flies take up space.
When outlier flies find their way into your boxes, either from an ill-advised purchase, a trip, or some sort of sweepstakes windfall, take them out. That’s it. Just remove them. That doesn’t mean that you should throw them away. But throwing them away would be better than lugging them around on every trip to the local stream. A fly doesn’t take up a lot of space, but the cumulative effect can be problematic.
Once you take it out, have a place for it. Big conventional lure boxes are perfect for this. The plastic trays have practically infinite options for adjustment, and can hold thousands of flies. Label them and use them regularly.
Having open space in a favorite fly box is good, because it allows you to fill it with the flies that you actually use and need. Cluttered boxes look cool in pictures, but they are a real pain to finger through and deal with on the stream.
Get and keep boxes that fit the pack you have
There are some great fly boxes out there. And anyone who fishes a decent amount can appreciate the subtle differences between a good box and a mediocre one. Yet the trendiest, most feature-rich box won’t do you a lick of good if it won’t fit in that one pocket of your vest that you prefer to use for holding flies. Or, if the new box will incessantly rattle around against another box in your sling pack, you’ll be cursing it instead of singing its praises.
This might sound a little finicky, but having boxes that work well with the rest of your gear can make a big difference in your fishing. Do you want to have to make sure that every time you put it away the box is oriented in such a way so that the clasp is facing up, and also so that your elbow doesn’t hit the corner when you’re casting? Probably not. So find a box that fits a little better.
Once you find that box, buy a few. And keep at least one as a backup or for another purpose.
Get and keep a plan for your flies
If you’re streamlining and maximizing the efficiency of your core boxes, and moving the periphery flies out, you’re well on your way to having an effective system. How do you take it to the next level? Here are some ideas:
- Make stream or hatch-specific boxes. By no means is this an original thought! This is something I’ve been trying to do more of, but my obsessive “what if” mindset steers me back to general-purpose boxes. But the reality is, I know I only need two or three patterns on some of the streams I’m most familiar with. Why carry dozens more flies and more boxes?
- Gather up your “weird” flies and donate them to a program or organization that could use them. One man’s trash is another kid’s bluegill fly. As long as they aren’t junk or rusty, kids’ camps and other groups will take fly donations and put them to good use. A much better use than you hauling around that pink sparkle pupa for years and years.
- Hone in on the flies you use the most. This is an auxiliary benefit, but one that comes from paying attention to your boxes. If you fish certain flies the vast majority of the time, you can probably stop fretting about the “what” and focus more on the “how.” A box of blue wing olive variations will eliminate choosing or switching flies and make you concentrate on presentation.
So do yourself and your flies a favor. Make some changes to your routine and you can save a life. Or, at the very least, a few valuable dollars and minutes on the water.