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Organise your flies

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Whether you are a new, inexperienced fly fisherman or you know every trick in the book, everyone will benefit from keeping their flies well organised in a selection of fly boxes. There is no one correct way to store flies and every angler will have his or her own ideas. Terry Lawton provides some pointers.

Even relatively inexperienced fly fishermen will soon start building quite a collection of flies. Wet flies, dry flies, nymphs, lures, buzzers, loch flies, salmon flies. Flies for whichever branch - or branches - of the sport you have espoused. It makes sense to keep them in separate boxes, not just all mixed up. For the angler with a significant collection of flies who has not kept them in specific boxes, sorting them out can be a time-consuming but rewarding experience.

There are so many different types and makes of fly box available today, costing from just a few pounds to quite significant sums - as much as a fly line for example - that there is no excuse for not having separate boxes for each type or family of flies. The most practical boxes have either flat or ripple foam inside. The boxes can be either plastic or aluminium and if they are of different colours, that will help choosing the right fly at the right time. Flat foam is good for buzzers, nymphs and some wet flies whereas ripple foam is better for dry flies or the bushier wet flies.

Big bushy flies, such as mayflies, are best kept in a box with separate compartments with hinged lids. I would not recommend such boxes for regular use as it is too easy to drop a box with the lid, or lids, open, or even for a gust of wind to remove the contents of a compartment. But they do prevent the hackles and wings of big flies from being crushed. I have one box just for mayflies which is used only during the mayfly season primarily in May and June.

Anglers with poor or failing eye sight might consider one of the C & F Design Threader fly boxes. These boxes have a series of fine wire threaders onto which you load flies, at home and in good light. When you want to use a fly, you pass the end of your tippet through the threader and then pull the fly off the threader and onto your tippet.

Wooden boxes look nice but can be heavy. At the other extreme, the latest one-piece injection moulded boxes are very light. Aluminium and other plastic boxes come in between. If you are being weighed-down by the weight of your fly boxes, you can either reduce the number that you carry with you, or consider buying lighter boxes.

If you have a big collection of flies to sort out, start by buying a new box and transferring flies from existing boxes into the new one. This should help reduce the potential muddle if you simply empty a box, or boxes, onto the table (as has been recommended) and try to replace everything.

The best way to arrange flies is by types or patterns and in rows, in sizes from largest to smallest. How many of each pattern do you to take on the water with you? At least half a dozen of your favourite patterns and three of others. You need to have replacements for when a fly is lost, a hook breaks or the fly is chewed beyond use. I know that well-used flies are often the best but the time does come when they can be chewed beyond use.

As a regular nymph fisherman I have a box of just nymphs and boxes for dry flies. I have now got a separate box for CDC flies which I tied over the winter. You might want to have a box for just old favourites, the flies in which you have most confidence. Flies that you always turn to when you are having a hard time catching fish. Another box could, perhaps, contain a selection of nymphs, emergers and dry flies, a match-the-hatch box to cover the flies that you are most likely to encounter on your local river or stillwater.

Travelling anglers may well have boxes of special patterns selected for a specific trip. River fishermen may want to have a stillwater box for those visits to a stillwater. Equally stillwater fishermen could have a river box for days on moving waters.

It is not that crucial how you arrange your fly collection. But is important that there is some reason. If you find that the way you have organised things is not working, think about what is wrong and then re-organise the boxes that are failing you.

Storing salmon flies is an art in itself with the diversity of hooks - singles, double and trebles - as well as tube flies and Waddingtons. Tube flies are best kept in a special tube fly box whereas singles can be kept in a clip box. If you do use a clip box, make sure that you check to see that the flies are dry and that neither the hooks nor the clips are going rusty. C & F Design makes a special box for Waddingtons.

If you drop a box into the water and it is not waterproof, do leave it open and let the flies inside dry. This will help stop the hooks rusting. Equally, try to dry flies before returning them to their proper box. Nymphs and sparsely-dressed flies can be squeezed whereas bushy ones can be blown on or dried with a piece of amadou (used to dry flies when fishing) or a handkerchief. Or you can leave them on a fly patch to dry and then put them back in their proper boxes when you are at home or at the end of the day.

My final thought on this subject is that you should always keep the same box in the same pocket in your fly vest so when you need a fly quickly, you can always go straight to the right box. Keep the box you use most in the most accessible place.

Terry Lawton is a passionate nymph fisherman who caught his biggest wild brown trout (in the UK) - 4lb 2oz - on a home-tied variant of a goldhead, Sawyer-style pheasant tail nymph.

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