Fly boxes: A journey, a couple reviews, and a simple how-to

When I first happened upon the fly fishing scene, I read every book, watched every YouTube, and listened to every podcast. I wanted to know everything and have exactly the right gear for what I was going to do.  An intricate part of the fly fishing get-up is the fly box. The fly box can tell a lot about the person holding it. Is it expensive or is it cheap? Is it battered or does it still have the sales sticker on it? Is it full of mangled flies or is it neatly laid out according to color and genus?

My journey started the same as many others. It began with an extremely nice Scientific Anglers waterproof fly box. This box is almost indestructible and it is airtight, which is a good thing considering the countless times I have dunked it in the creek and watched it float and keep all my flies dry. I really like this box, but as I tied more and more flies, logic led me to believe that I needed more and more boxes. The Scientific Anglers box is perfect and continues to be my standard small stream box, but it carries a hefty price tag.

Scientific Anglers Fly Box

So, in search of that inexpensive fly box I bought a generic Cabela’s box that has served me well. It has a unique studded bottom in which the angler wedges fly hooks. After buying it, I definitely went through some buyer’s remorse as I saw the box sit on my shelf at home, but ultimately I have filled it full of streamers and leeches and have been happy with its performance. It is a decent box that won’t break the bank, but certainly not of the highest quality material.

Cabela's Fly Box

Over time, I really scaled back my fly selection to my favorites, some standards, and a few new creations to throw on the small streams where I normally wander. In anticipation for some upcoming trips to the larger tail-waters in the Southwest, I found myself searching for a new box in which to put my midges. I looked and surveyed the walls of the stores and finally decided that 25 dollars is not worth it. Frankly, 10 dollars is not worth it. I decided to keep things simple and landed on a tried and battle tested classic…an Altoids tin. I added a little foam and some magnetic tape and ended up with fresh breath and a nice little fly box. Enjoy.

Altoids - A classic fly box

Ingredients for your fly box:

1. magnetic tape (craft store /easily cut by scissors)

2. 2mm foam in whatever color you want (again, very cheap at the local craft store and you can use the rest for some foam mini-hoppers)

3. Altoids box – The bigger ones are very roomy, but the small ones will fit everything you need for a warm summer’s day.

10 Responses to “Fly boxes: A journey, a couple reviews, and a simple how-to”

  1. winonaflyfactory

    Nice work Ben, I love homemade gear. I like the foam and the magnet idea, it looks like you can peel it out and reload/access it quickly. My only concern here would be your standing in a bit of faster moving water, downstream is a big deep hole, you slip, your tin full of flies drops and in a short bit I see it filling with water then sinking to the bottom of that deep hole. Just a thought, maybe keep those boxes protected from the creek.

  2. azwanderings

    Yeah, I thought of the same thing. My midge box is definitely something that I am going to need to upgrade at some point, but I think the Altoids tin for a small stream box is going to be a winner. I generally only fish a couple of different flies when I’m on the small stuff, so the limited room in the DIY flybox is going to be perfect. When I am at the San Juan, I’ll keep that midge box clutched pretty tight until I can get something a little more bouyant.


  3. Rohan

    I only have two, one is tin made in New Zealand and the other a plastic modern one. They both do the same job, but I have a real soft spot for the old NZ tin box. Something classic about it.

  4. azwanderings

    Truth be told, sometimes more is less with fly boxes. All the fancy new ones come out and my eyes grow big and I want to give them a shot, but ultimately the simple ones work just the same

  5. Jason

    I recently opened a online fly store based out of Tucson specializing in premium flies and boxes. I have Wheatley and UPG boxes and will have the new UPG boxes next week; Daytripper, Flats, Streamer, Double Wide….

    I will give your readers 20% OFF with “20% Off” code at checkout!


    Fly Fishing Flies

  6. Fontinalis Rising

    Great ingenuity- I used unaltered Altoids boxes for years to store spinners before I switched completely to flies. I’ll have to give it another look. I have the same SA box and love it, but have since added a bunch of Morrel’s soft boxes. Now I just buy those small clear Plano boxes and stick my flies into furniture packing foam. I’m all about the fishing I guess, could care less about how it looks.

  7. azwanderings

    Thanks FR. Once I get all the pics from the San Juan around I’ll show you how I stored them. I used a little velcro and kept everything safely tucked away. My biggest fear was dropping the box and seeing it sink to the bottom. I agree. More fishing, less on how it works.


  8. skiranged

    This is a fantastic idea–simpler the better, I’d say!

    One way to keep the boxes from sinking is to attach them to one of those retractable lanyards your hemostats, nippers, etc are probably on. To attach the lanyard, drill a hole in a corner of the box and attach a split ring to the hole.


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