The never ending battle...
Keeping flies organized so you can quickly find them at a moments notice while fishing is definitely one of the trickier aspects to one's fishing tackle assortment.
While I'm not going to cover every detail of how you should organize your flies, I would like to give you some insight on my thought process for my personal fly assortment. Every angler is unique on how they want to access their fly selection, quantity of flies, etc. There is no one way or fool proof method, there are endless possibilities based off the anglers needs for good fly organization.
Some starter questions to ask yourself...
How large is my fly assortment?
This question right here dictates a lot of how your organize your assortments. If you only have a few dozen flies, well you could get away with one box for everything, end of story, problem solved. But if you have been fly fishing a long time you probably have hundreds of flies, if not a thousand plus, this is where it gets complicated.
My Personal Fly Assortment - I have a lot of flies. 26 years of fly fishing and 18 years of being in the fishing business. I need boxes.
Do you walk wade, boat fish, or a mix of both?
Walk wade anglers cannot take the entire kitchen sink with them, unless you have your own sherpa or fly "caddy". Wouldn't that be nice! Boat anglers can often bring a tackle bag or boat bag loaded with many boxes of various sizes. But if you do both walk / wade and boat fish well then you are going to have crossover.
My Personal Fishing Style - I do both. Some people think I only boat fish. Yes, I have a drift boat and raft, fishing is my only hobby (and career!) so I do a lot of float fishing. But for as much float fishing as I do I do walk wade excursions. Certain places boats can't go and there are days when hitting rivers on foot is a fun, productive way to fish.
Do you have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)?
Anglers with OCD (anal-retentive to put it bluntly) are going to want to have their flies lined up perfectly in foam slit style boxes. This is awesome for organization and quick ability to see where the exact fly is. Downside is, you have to meticulously manage and maintain this style of fly box organization, plus it limits you on how many flies you can take in a box. Example, if the box only has 150 slits that means if you just twisted up 1 dozen more flies for the box... well you are shit out of luck for space! This is when compartment style boxes are helpful. Just dump the flies in a spot and call it good.
My Personal Boxes - I have a mix of slit foam and compartment styles. Overall I have more compartment style boxes so I can just dump flies in and move on. Then I can cram more flies into the compartment if needed.
Organize flies by hatch, by season, or by style?
This one circles back to the first question, how many flies do you have? It also brings up a couple other questions... do you fish year round? Do you only do one style of fly fishing, let's say dry fly? Or do you do it all... dry, nymph, streamer, euro, trout spey, bass, saltwater, etc.
This category is a big question, and really the ultimate question... here's the basics of my organization in no particular order...
|Spokane River specific box||Contains dries, nymphs, streamers that I constantly use on the 'Kan. I fish here a lot, so I wanted a dedicated box to grab and go. It's a large boat box but can be stuffed in a pack.|
|Euro Nymph Box
|For the days or times when I just want to euro nymph. Can be stashed in my boat bag or wade packs.|
|Walk Wade Dry Fly
Boxes x 2
|One for small flies (caddis, mayflies, midges, yellow sallies, etc). One for stones, hoppers, chernobyl stuff. I can grab these two dry fly boxes and half most anything for early spring to fall covered. Designed around western trout fisheries and hatches.|
|Walk Wade Nymph Box||A random assortment of beadheads that covers all the categories: attrators, mayflies, caddis, stones, midges. Designed around western trout fisheries and hatches.|
|Trout Spey Streamer||Strictly swing style flies for trout spey sessions. Nothing too large.|
|Soft Hackle Box||For trout spey or single hand. Boat or wade fish.|
|Streamer box||A walk wade specific box for streamers. It is compartment style which I hate for streamers but it works.|
|Tailwater Box||Small slit box for sow bugs, scuds, and some bwo style nymphs.|
|Midge nymph box||Small box with midge nymphs only.|
|BWO / Midge Box||For those fall - spring days of head hunting. Dries and midges.|
|October caddis / mahogany dun box||Fall only, small box.|
|Boat Box Only||Mayflies / attractors. Para adams, purple haze, wulffs, pmds, green drakes, brown drakes, March browns, ants, beetles. Got 'em all in one large compartment box.|
|Boat Box Only||Caddis dries and emergers. I probably have too many in this one!|
|Boat Box Only||Nymphs. Variety of match-the-hatch, staples, and attractors.|
|Boat Box Only||Stones. I don't pack this one with me often, but it's a large slit foam box full of stones. I usually opt for euro box or walk wade box.|
|Boat Box Only||Skwalas. Not a big compartment box, but it's such a short season it gets its own box.|
|Boat Box Only||Salmonflies. I just love this hatch so it gets one big ass box. Also like skwalas it's a short lived deal or very river specific.|
|Boat Box Only||Streamers x 3. Thin, but large sized foam slit boxes. I can't stand clumped together streamers, pisses me off in a boat. One for flashy style streamers, one for buggers / leech styles. One for big articulated stuff (rarely bring it).|
|Boat Box Only||Hoppers / chernobyls. Only gets brought in the boat July - mid September. My small terrestrials are with the mayfly / attractor boat box.|
|Boat Box Only||Chubbies / goldens. I toss this big compartment box in May - October.|
|Bass Box||Bass only flies from streamers to poppers.|
|Saltwater Boxes||A whole other article needed!|
|Steelhead Boxes||A whole other article needed!|
|Fly Pucks||I usually have one or two these with me for experimental flies or frequently used flies I can just stuff into a chest pocket for quick access.|
Do I pack all of these boxes with me? Hell no! I grab boxes and throw them in my pack or boat bag depending on the season. But my organization allows me to remove boxes if they are not "in season" or not for a particular fishery. I don't want to pack my tailwater box with me when I go to the St. Joe River, etc. You get the idea.
I do have to check my pack or bag to make sure I have the right boxes before I go on a trip, but the system has worked well for me for a long time and I can bring the exact boxes I need.
Remember... nothing in fly box organization is perfect so just take into consideration all of these questions and try to come up with a solution that covers most of your needs. There will always be constant tweaking.