Said Jeff Spicoli to his surfer bro prior to rescuing Brooke Shields from drowning….
Ok… maybe he never said that but he probably would have had he taken a look at how many fly boxes most of our fly fishing brethren carry for a day on the water! So today is all about the box. How many do you carry? What is in yours? How do you organize them? What kind works best for you?
I must confess, I used to be one of those guys that put on a virtual flak jacket with pockets filled to the zipper with every kind and size of fly imaginable to make sure I never missed an opportunity. After light dawned on marble skull I came to realize that 98% of the time, I fished the same 4 or 5 patterns in a couple of sizes and colors for most scenarios. It also became apparent that it is almost impossible to be stealthy when you have more gear hanging off of you than a small infantry division would carry. Some might paint me with a minimalist brush, but that is probably a bit of an exaggeration. I do however perform a litmus test for each and every piece of gear that I carry and it is a very simple rule to follow:
- When is the last time you used said gear, fly, tippet, etc….?
- Is there something else that you are carrying that can get the job done in similar fashion?
As most of you could imagine, it was amazing how much gear now sits in the gear box in my car rather than stuffing my bag, vest, waders, etc…. Now let me make a small disclaimer. If you are in a boat with a good sized boat bag this is a much less compelling discussion. If you are a wading fly fisher primarily this may be a revelation that is nothing short of life changing. Almost as mind blowing as realizing that Justin Bieber is really just a Monsanto project that used modified DNA from Vanilla Ice and Clay Aiken.
So fast forward to today. I have ditched the vest and tend to fish three basic configurations. Which of the three is most effective is often dictated by several variables such as, water, species, weather, etc…
If I am only on the water for a few hours or on a river I know well and know what I will be fishing for, I will most often be seen in my waders, a lanyard and one medium or two small fly boxes in my wader pocket along with two spools of tippet. A good lanyard will hold the basic necessities.
- Split shot
If weather dictates a wading jacket the above scenario doesn’t change dramatically other than the addition of some weather specific gear and maybe one extra fly box. This might include items like:
This is most often used for a full day on the water for multiple species in varied water conditions. A sling pack is my pack of choice but a vest waist pack can do the same job. My gear list typically looks something like:
- 3 spools of tippet
- leader wallet (don’t forget sink tips!)
- stripping guards
- 2 medium or large sized fly boxes
- Shock tippet or wire
- Split Shot
Most of the bulk and wight you can drop is going to come down to fly selection. Start to think about the flies you use most often that are representative of multiple prey species. Also think about covering different parts of the water column. Depending on your species, water, etc… this list will vary drastically for the individual. Here is a basic example. My local warm water river/creek supports smallmouth, carp, drum, channel cat, sauger, walleye, etc…. The maximum depth is about 5-6 feet. I can fish this water effectively with a handful of flies that read something like this:
- Sculpin patterns
- Can be used to fish for smallies, sauger, drum, walleye, channel cat, and are fantastic for getting down fast and covering the bottom of the water column
- Black and brown will cover 99% of your fishing needs
- Clouser Minnows or Wooly Buggers
- Also can be used for all of the above species and can be fished for the middle and bottom of the water column with amazing effectiveness
- Olive over white and Chartreuse over white cover the vast majority of fishing situations for clousers
- Black, brown, or olive wooly buggers are my colors of choice
- Blood Dot / Egg patterns
- Absolutely killer carp pattern and can be fished on the surface with desiccant to imitate mulberries, cottonwood fluff, etc…
- Carp Soft Hackle Hybrid
- Killer on carp as well as drum. Will also play well for bass and channel cats when not in aggressive feeding modes
- Gartside Gurgler
- I always make sure to have a few of these in my box for when the smallies get active up top
- I don’t think color matters all that much but will typically carry in either black or white
All of the above flies can fit in one medium sized box for a day on the water! One of the most valuable fly fishing lessons I have ever learned is that the 80/20 rule of life applies to fly fishing as well. 20% of your success may very well rest in having the right fly. The other 80% is vested in your ability to read water, approach the fish without alerting it to your presence, and lastly to make a presentation with your fly that looks natural enough to resemble something edible.
The above is my “meat box” that I travel with. Prior to hitting the water, I will pull from this box and fill 1 or 2 fly boxes for what is appropriate for the water and conditions I am about to fish. As fly fishers we all love gear and I am no different. Just remember most of it is designed to catch you rather than catch fish. A very successful Erie steelhead fly fisher I know jokes that he carries two fly boxes. One is for the two or three flies he uses with regularity and the other is the decoy box he shows whoever walks up and asks what he was using to catch all of those fish!
So once we have pared down our flies to a reasonable selection, how do we go about organizing what we carry? Remember, you have a 0% chance of catching fish if your fly isn’t in the water so a successful fly fisher will look for ways to maximize that time. This again is a very personal thing but what works for me is to organize by water column. I start with surface flies and end with flies that work bottom. I know some people that organize by species but I never quite found that to be an intuitive way to think about what I was doing. I guess the key here is to have a system that works for you so when you need a specific fly that you know exactly where it is and can easily get to it.
Now we have all fished a situation where we just didn’t have the right fly for the moment and I am not telling you to leave your best weapons at home. Go through the above exercise with your own fly boxes and I think you will be shocked how much lighter and stealthier you can fish. The last thing I would want to do is insult you, but Dude….. that is some serious box!
Kerplunk!!! Kerplunk!!! If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was standing in the middle of a faux water hazard at a city park driving range…. golf balls making pronounced splashes as they descended into the water with force. (9.8 meters per second squared for all you physics buffs)
Thankfully, I was not on a driving range but rather a beautiful Michigan river watching golf ball sized berries plunk the water at 9.8 as 10-15 lb river carp gobbled them up as they bobbed in the current. As luck and poor planning would have it, I did not have any mulberry flies so I made do with what I had. I found some pink over sized egg patterns and drowned the suckers in floatant and plunked them down hard!
With only an hour to fish I was extremely luck that the good folks at Schultz Outfitters (www.schultzoutfitters.com) put me on some great spots in a hurry. I could see the storm clouds beginning to roll in and knew I was on the clock. The water was a bit high and moving quickly so getting a good drift was a challenge but after toying around with a few different angles a pair of yellow purple stained lips broke the surface and it was on. Hook set… came tight…. and off to the races. Before I could blink a good sized carp was in the fast current and the line was zipping off of my reel. She was heading straight for a huge brush pile and I knew I was in trouble. As I tried to chase her down I knew it was over. I put the wood to her and tried to turn her but between the girthy fish and the fast current the only thing I felt was my 3x popping as I grinned knowing that round 1 went to the fish.
I tied on a new fly and plunked it down under the tree. Mend.. mend… mend… bang! This time the fat fish bolted for open water and downstream. I chased her down and side pressured her into some slack water and I knew I had the advantage at that point. Five minutes later I was bank side with my prize. For a fish that I chase on the bottom 95% of the time, seeing them eat on the top for berries or cottonwood just lights me up.
After releasing the fish, I could hear the the thunder heads getting closer and as I peered over the trees, things went black. I high tailed it to the car as a the lightning began and stripped my waders off as the hail stones bounced around me. Needless to say, I grinned the whole way home!
Carping is no longer the other white meat. You don’t carp fish to prep for a bonefish trip…. you bonefish to prep for carping. If you are not ready for the coming carpocalypse you might want to go out and purchase a reel with a respectable drag, check your backing, put on a stripping guard, and go tell all the dudes you hang with at TU that you just followed Darth Vader to the dark side.
Heading out to Vegas for the iCast show so if any of you are going to be in Vegas look me up! A friend is launching a very cool new product so for any of you who do any significant wading and chase big fish, this is for you! Carp, Chrome, etc…..
I will be posting a full product review from Dale Fogg after his trip to the Colorado next week.