Salt Water Fly Box Organization

Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Crab Boat Box

Staying organized on the water means catching more fish because you spend less time prepping, searching, or fumbling(!).  Organizing saltwater flies is remarkably similar to the strategies used for keeping freshwater boxes neat and tidy, with a few additional considerations.

Read “Tips to Organize Your Fly Box” and “How to Organize Your Fly Box” by Elizabeth Simpson’s article to get you started. #uwotftuesdaytip

Start with the Right Fly Box

  • It should be big enough for the size and number of flies you intend to carry and small enough to fit into whatever you plan to carry the box.
    • Small box for in a shirt pocket, vs. medium for in a fanny or sling pack, vs. super-sized for in a boat bag.
  • Even on a 2 week saltwater trip, small to medium fly boxes will be more versatile. 
  • Big boat-sized boxes do not travel as well and are generally left in a boat bag or hatch – not carried on you.
Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Paul's Boat Bag

Saltwater Flies Need space

  • Saltwater flies need space. They are tied on big hooks (my box has hooks in the 2 to 4/0 range) with lots of materials that stick out and take up space (i.e., weed-guards, protruding mono eyes, crab bodies, and legs that stick out). Spacing is important and some fly box manufacturers do not get this (or the need for thicker foam). When you are shopping, insert some salt flies and then shake the box to see if they stay put.
    • Big hooks need head room. Think: deep with vertical clearance/depth to accommodate their wider gaps and to hold the large gauge hooks in place. Thick, dense foam is needed with deep slits.  And make sure the lid does not smash the flies when it’s closed.
    • Big flies need shoulder-room. Just like when you space out dry flies to avoid crushing their hackles, crab bodies should not be packed in so tight, like sardines in a can.
Saltwater Fly Box Organization

3 Approaches to SToring Flies

Fly Imitations

Saltwater flies can be organized according to what they imitate. (All the flies in one box imitate the same thing).  This is simple … shrimps, crabs, and baitfish styles, along with a miscellaneous box for styles like saltwater poppers.

Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Boat Box Labels
Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Crab Boat Box

Target Species

Saltwater flies can be organized according to the target species. For Example: a Bonefish box, a Permit box, a Tarpon box, Redfish, Speckled Trout, etc.

The box might have one style of fly, or a variety because some species of fish will eat everything.  Creating a box for a specific species will have a variety of styles, in various colors, in various weights. For example, a Bonefish box will be mainly shrimp and small crab patterns.  A Permit box will be all crab patterns.  A Redfish box will be a smorgasbord.

Water Types

Saltwater flies can be organized according to water types. 

  • Redfish, an angler could have a Clear Water Box (natural, realistic patterns).
  • Dirty/Muddy Water Box (bigger profiles in contrasting colors).
  • Deep Water Box (bigger and/or heavily weighted).
  • Topwater Box. 

This can also relate to the size of fish you are targeting (standard sized fish vs. or oversized fish).

Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Big Reds Boat Box

Within each style of the fly

Sort by Color

  • Sort by color: light vs. dark
    • Saltwater prey mostly mimic the bottom color, so darker flies over a grass flat and pale/lighter colored flies over sand.
    • Most fish need to see the fly so it should either be realistic in color or be a contrast. 
      • In clear water, I go for realistic/pale (tan, gray, white, light olive). 
      • In dirty, murky water I go dark (black, purple).
Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Baitfish Boat Box

Sort by weight

  • Sort by weight: will it sink slow, medium, or fast?
    • Within each style and color you should have varying weights of the same pattern (i.e. light, medium and heavy tan crabs).
    • Sink rate is primarily according to water depth but also to other factors:
      • Wind Velocity (low wind = lighter fly, higher wind = heavier).
      • Fishing Style (wading = lighter, fishing from a boat = heavier).
      • Fish Behavior (spookier = lighter – for a stealthier presentation).
Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Shrimp Boat Box

Other saltwater fly box tips

  • Keep a good hook file handy and use it religiously.
  • Keep a good pair of small scissors handy. Flies often need to be “edited” to be more productive (i.e. cut out some material to open the hook gap up; remove legs or excessive flash; even trim off some of the lead dumbbell eyes to tweak the sink rate).
  • If you are on a trip your used flies (that you have rinsed with freshwater) will not be dry before packing.
    • Use a couple of small desiccant packets (like the ones that come in the box with your new shoes) inside your “bone pile” box or ziplock bag to help draw out the moisture.  And then allow the flies to fully dry once you are home.

Used Saltwater flies need to be rinsed and dried before they go back into their designated box.

  • Very important: Used saltwater flies need to be rinsed and dried before they go back into their designated box. Have a spare box to put used flies in. A small plastic box (like what most fly shops give away) with some holes drilled into it makes a great “bone pile”, as I like to call it.
  • Also, very important: freshwater hooks do not belong in or even near saltwater.
    • Leave those hoppers, mayflies, caddis and any non-stainless hook patterns inland.
Saltwater Fly Box Organization - Bone Pile Box

Mark the Fly Box Slit Foam

Most of the fly boxes that accommodate big flies have deep, dense slit foam and because the foam is dense it is difficult to see the slits.  So I stick the tip of a black marker into the slit and run the marker up and down to mark the slit.  Makes it so much easier to see.  In this photo you can see a couple of the unmarked slits in the lower right … much harder to see where to insert the hook.

Salt Water Box Tip
Captain Stacy Lynn

Connect with Captain Stacy Lynn

Captain Stacy has been an avid saltwater and freshwater fly angler since 1995. She has 20+ years as a professional fly fishing coach and is a Fly Fishers Intl. Certified Instructor and a graduate of Joan Wulff’s Fly Fishing Instructor’s School. Captain Stacy is a TPWD Licensed Saltwater Fly Fishing Guide in the Rockport/Corpus Christi area. She has been a featured speaker, demonstrator and instructor at numerous events and has been working in the fly fishing industry for 25+ years. Her favorite fly fishing endeavor is sight casting in saltwater, especially to Redfish from her own poling skiff, and Tarpon and Permit in tropical destinations. Her instruction specialties are conducting casting diagnostics, and helping fly casters prepare for the Saltwater Fly Fishing experience. Her business, WOW Fly Fishing, is dedicated to the experiences, education and business of fly fishing.

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