Let's face it... your field fly box does NOT have to carry ALL of the flies you own. I know that people have boxes with rows and rows of flies that look like soldiers in formation waiting to go to battle. Sure this is fine for storing them at home or perhaps bringing along a good selection in your car. But why carry that big old honking box with you on the trail? Have the fancy big box for keeping your library of flies in but leave it behind. Carry a smaller box and be surprised by how little you really needed.
What I realized was that in any given day of fly fishing I never need more than a dozen flies at the very most. I can take couple varieties of flies along with me in a smaller box. All I have to do is have a few dark patterns, a few light patterns and a few that I just want to try out for the first time. The most I have with me at any given time is about 16- 24 flies and that too is overkill.
Of course one of the basic tenants of traditional tenkara is to use presentation over the “match the hatch” approach. We don’t need a dozen different flies to do this. I am of the school of make flies that you think will catch fish. If they catch fish then keep using them. I'm pretty sure at this point that there isn't a fly that can't catch a fish.
I love boxes of all kinds and am a self-proclaimed “box freak” who never met a box I didn’t like. I collect boxes of all kinds because you never know when you will need a good box to put something in. You may notice with the ideas below that some of the boxes I have collected here can also be used as line holders. That dual purpose makes them a great way to manage your line and keep everything together in just your shirt pocket.
Assorted breath mint tins.
Good old Altoid tins! They are great for keeping lots of things in. Originally I thought the tins were an obvious and easy solution to use as a fly box. For a while I used them. They fit nicely into a shirt pocket and can hold a lot more than my dozen to 16 flies. I have found different sizes and shapes even variations with plastic windows so you can see what is inside of them. You can just toss your flies loosely into these, but I don’t recommend this. I’ve had times I opened my box to take out a fly and the wind kicked up and blew them out across the stream.
A side note on holding flies inside any fly box.
I’ve used both small magnets and craft foam in the past to hold the flies in place. I go back and forth with which I like best. The real problems with these tins you will learn is that they can rust if they get wet, they do crush if sat or stepped on and depending on the design of the box can be reflective. I am sure I have more than once scared away a fish with a flash of polished aluminum in the sunlight. I’ve since abandoned these for anything other than as a handy shipping container for flies or to use to store hooks, materials or finished flies in.
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Eye glass cases.
One of my first self-made fly boxes was made from an old clam shell style eye glass case. I cut a piece of 1/4 inch thick craft foam and glued it into the inside of the case. I then took a razor blade and cut diagonal slits in the foam to drop the hook curves down into. This was a pretty good box. It fit in my shirt or jacket pocket and was easy to grip. It can actually hold a lot of flies. One minor issue is that it is a little heavier than you might want.
Now I am not really talking about the kind that have an initial for each day of the week but those would work too. I'm talking about the ones that resemble small craft boxes with compartments. There are even some cool wooden or even metal containers used for keeping pills. All of these are suitable for flies. These can be found in craft and drug stores. A few fly fishing companies have sold basically pill boxes for years. They just repackaged them as fly boxes and jacked the price up on them. (Note the photo of the black one I own with a neck lanyard.)
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Hard shell, (RF blocking?) wallets
I keep finding these at garage sales and I buy them if they aren’t too gaudy in design or too reflective. To convert them into fly boxes, you just tear out the wimpy partitions glued inside that are designed to hold credit cards and glue in magnets or a few strips of craft foam. Throw a sticker on the outside of them to personalize them. They fit in a back pocket and are sturdy. They are pretty tough and make a really nice compact fly box.
The Fly Holder Wrist Band
In my quest for ideas I thought about a lot of ways to carry flies in the field I found this webbing band that I could wear and carry flies on. The velcro on these bands is positioned with the strap in a way that I can attach flies to the fuzzier part of the Velcro strap and have the "hookier side" still flop over and cover the flies when they are not in use. Now this is really a short term way to carry your flies into the field for the day. I have had no problem with the flies being crushed but I could see how that might be an issue as hackles can get crimped slightly. What I found was that they actually fluff right back up if they do get a little squished. Think about those old fly fishing vests that had a patch of sheep's wool to hook flies in. I found these wrist bands sold originally as Go-Pro camera mount straps. I bought a bunch and they come in different colors. Very light weight and right there when you need a new fly.