Fly Box Bloat: How did we end up here?



If you’ve gotten into fly fishing, chances are you’ve amassed a ton of different flies at some point during your journey.  Admit it, your fly box was so full you couldn’t shut it without pinching some fur or feathers in the clasp. Stop me if I’m wrong, but time and time again I hear experienced fly fishers tell tales of their lifelong journeys.  It usually goes something like the following, so much so that we can write the book for someone new:

  1. Pick up fly fishing.  Immediately feel overwhelmed by all the choices out there. Buy a generic assortment of flies. Throw on some waders, trample into the water and go fishing. Throw those flies and catch nothing.
  2. Assume that you’ve been using the wrong flies.  Dive into research mode.  Obtain some hatch charts. Spend tons of time and money amassing flies to match every specific insect in every size on it.  Buy 3 of everything.
  3. Head out fishing with 8 fly boxes full of your loot.  Never really know what to fish.  Second guess everything. Catch a few fish here and there. Develop back problems along the way. Buy more gear to relieve this.
  4. Finally learn what to fish and when.  Or is that how to fish it?  You don’t know, you just know you’re catching fish.
  5. At some point, realize that you’ve ended up with a fly box that contains less than a dozen patterns.  Shrug it off and roll with it, because it seems to be working.

So how is it that we get from 1 to 5?  How might we use this knowledge to avoid steps 2-4?  I think there’s something to be learned here.

Stuffed Fly Boxes: Are we powerless against them?

Time and time again here at you’ll hear us preach one main principle: simplicity.  It’s what we live by! Fly fishing is complicated enough without adding in all the other noise.  The crux of the matter is this: 99% of the time, to catch fish and catch them well, we need only to present a serviceable pattern in a proper manner.  That’s it.  End of story.

When we select a fly, what are we doing but selecting something to mimic what a fish eats?  And what do fish eat?  Well, their diet is nothing like that of a human.  For game fish, basically, it’s 3 things: bugs, crustaceans, and other fish. We can certainly say that there are other things (drifting fish eggs, for example), but by and large, this is it.

I can hear the cries already.  So what if there are only three categories? The possibilities in each are endless!  I’m even willing to grant you that.  Just hear me out.

Remember: we are dealing with fooling something whose brain is the size of a bread crumb.  In most every situation, if a fly drifts by that’s basically the right size and shape and of a reasonable color, it’s going to be eaten.  Apologies to all of the fly warehouses out there, but we’re aiming to de-bloat those fly boxes out there.

That trout isn’t pondering over whether it’s a “Baetis BWO Nymph” or a “Western Blue Quill Nymph” or a “Flashback East Coast Pheasant Tail” that just bounced through the rocks.   That bonefish isn’t debating whether  a “Standard Clouser Minnow with Flash” or a “Multicolored Ceviche Shrimp”  or a “Christmas Island Crazy Charlie” just scuttled through the sand.  That smallmouth isn’t mulling over whether that tasty morsel that just cleared the old log  is an “Articulated Double Bunny Streamer” or a “Gold-ribbed Conehead Muddler Minnow” or a “Barbell-eyed Threadfin Shad.”  Indeed, so long as whatever presents itself to that fish looks like something that fish might enjoy eating, it’s going to get eaten.

So…you got a solution to our misery?

Absolutely.  When putting together a fly box for your next trip, season, or whatever, always remember:

Pick some generic patterns in several sizes and fish them well.  You’ll do just fine.

That’s all there is to it. Don’t stress over whether the size 24 brassie nestled in the corner of your fly box has copper or brass colored wire.    Don’t lose sleep worrying that you’ve only got black woolly buggers with flash, but have none without. It’s not a problem to have only a size 6 Clouser minnow, but no 4s or 8s.  Don’t worry that your pheasant tails only have peacock herl thoraxes.

A good tip for discovering which patterns might serve as good “generics” is to revert to the old standbys.  Have you seen a pattern that’s suggested time and time again for tons of different species and bodies of water?  Chances are that’s a good one to have in your fly box.  Get it in a few sizes, pair it with some others, and go fishing!

One more tip:  You don’t need as many dry flies as wet flies and nymphs.  Since you won’t be losing them to the rocks, there’s no need to have 12 Adams dries alongside your 12 hares ear nymphs, or 12 poppers to go along with your 12 weighted woolly buggers.

What next?

We’ve offered some advice and vague tips to get you started.  Look for some species-specific suggestions for simplifying your fly fishing life in the coming weeks.  As spring gets ramped up, we’ll start off with smallmouth.  Stay tuned, and until next time, tight lines!



Article Name
Fly Box De-Bloat
Fly boxes often end up stuffed, especially for new fly fishers. We discuss why it happens, and offer some tips to reduce the mess in your fly boxes today!