Fly boxes have really advanced over the past few years. There's almost too many options out there now. Lets sort out the whats and whys of picking the right box for you.
There are a few ways to hold onto your flies inside your box. Clips are available but not quite the best way to hold onto your flies, minus some salmon and wet flies. Foam has been around for a while. It has many uses in giving you a place to insert the hook point, or slits and openings to slip in the bend. Silicone has come out the last couple years as a more sturdy alternative to foam. It's used in many of the same ways as foam but doesn't degrade over time. Look at all these options before choosing your next box.
Next we will discuss the material the box is made of. We have wooden, plastic and metal boxes. Weight is one of the primary concerns of many anglers as they want to keep things light and reduce the amount and weight of the many many things they carry on the water with them .
In my opinion, wooden boxes are more nostalgic than anything. They're heavy, aren't very versatile, but can be some of the best looking boxes out there. I've seen many with burnt or engraved images on them and can be customized for the angler.
Metal boxes come next. They're lighter than the wooden boxes, but can still have some advantages and disadvantages compared plastic. I prefer the ones with the flip open containers inside. This allows me to put a few dry flies in there without crushing hackles. Metal can also take a few dings here and there and keep working. I dropped a plastic box the other day and it cracked on contact and was useless from there. Metal boxes can work in some situations but fall short in others.
Plastic boxes are here, and they're not going anywhere soon. They're lightweight, have tons of options that include foam, silicone, clips, containers, magnetic bottoms, etc. They can even be waterproof. They're fairly cheap to manufacturer and can be inexpensive to the angler. They come in a large variety of sizes and styles from small pocket boxes to huge briefcase boxes. They're not quite the be all end all, but you could probably get away with all of your boxes being some sort of plastic design.
What box should I choose?
Here's a few tips on picking the best box for your next one (or 10) and advice on how to organize the flies in them.
Dries - find a box with enough room for your hackles to not get crushed. Nothing worse than spending time tying a good dry and picking it out of your box looking like a squashed bug. (literally) Get a good box with some clearance, or containers that make room for those hackles.
Nymphs - These are somewhat the easiest of flies to organize. There's lots of boxes to hold tons of flies out there. I prefer the swing leaf, or slim boxes to hold a bunch of flies and reduce the amount of space they take up. Also check out the magnetic bottom for those flies sizes 20 and smaller.
Streamers - This actually may be the hardest of the bunch. Especially for those of you who like to fish big, I mean BIG flies. For your basic streamers up to size 2, I like some medium to large boxes with slits. This allows you to put different sizes of streamers in the same box. You can also use the basic plastic boxes you see from regular tackle boxes, to large briefcase boxes that can hold tons of flies and are easier to carry in a pack or onto a boat. For really large boxes there are specific systems out there to hold those big musky and saltwater flies. You can get away with some of the bigger briefcase boxes too. Sometimes if you can't find what you're looking for, you can also customize your own box from something you may find at a craft or hardware store.
I like to keep my boxes organized by the type of flies I have, rather than just a huge mix of everything. For instance, I have a regular nymph box, Czech nymph box, several dry fly boxes sorted by hatch (so when march browns and sulpurs are hatching that's all I bring), small stream box, egg boxes for salmon and steelhead, trout streamer box, salmon and steelhead streamer box, bass box, saltwater box, etc. It seems like a bit overdone but when I head out on the water I know what flies I plan to throw that day and just grab that box(es) and I know I'm prepared. Organization isn't for everyone but I bet most of you would really benefit by organizing your flies in your boxes a little bit better.
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Owner of Risen Fly