Tips for Filling Your Fly Box

Winter is a perfect time to prepare and fill your fly box for spring. But how do you know what to put in your fly box? It can be tempting to rely on your knowledge from past fishing experiences and searching local fishing reports. However, you could be missing great opportunities to catch more fish. It’s important that you know bugs, keep it simple, and keep it organized.

Bugs & Their Behavior

It’s important that you take the time to learn entomology. It can be overwhelming at first but with time it becomes second nature. By arming yourself with bug and behavior knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the right flies at the right time. There are numerous books and videos available to learn more. "The Bug Guy: Entomology for the Fly Fisher" is a helpful DVD that can get you started. The Catch and The Hatch also offers a  Fly Selection Mastery Series. Tim Drummond, Umpqua Feather Merchants Signature Tier, also recently wrote a helpful  blog about Tying the Hatch.


By nature, anglers have a tendency to collect and try every fly imaginable. However, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Some of the most skilled anglers keep it simple. In 2014, The Denver Post wrote an  article talking about how experienced fisherman, Landon Mayer, has his fly box pared down to 25 patterns in three sizes. Mayer’s point for keeping less flies is to focus on technique.  Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia Founder, is also known for a trying a one-fly season.  In an  article for the Fly Fisherman, he talked about fishing with a Pheasant Tail and Partridge style of fly for all trout, salmon, and saltwater fish for an entire year. Yvon said that by using minimal flies for one year gave him deep knowledge about what to do with a simple brown fly, and a deeper understanding of fish.


There are multiple ways to organize your flies into fly boxes. You can start simple with one fly box for the flies that you fish most often. As you progress and grow in your fly fishing endeavors, you can begin organizing fly boxes by imitation, pattern, profile and weight, and season and water type. Regardless of how you choose to organize, it’s helpful to carry a range of sizes in go-to patterns.  And remember, you don’t need to carry all sizes in all patterns.  Focus on profile and files that imitate more than one thing.

Instead of filling your fly box with every fly possible, challenge yourself to learn bugs and their behavior and be knowledgeable to carry a small, refined arsenal. As you collect flies, keep it simple and, most importantly, organized so you can quickly find the fly when you need it.

The Idaho Statesman published an article in 2010 with some helpful guidance to get you started with specific flies to fill your fly box. We included their recommendations below.

Dry Fly Fishing

This is arguably the most exciting method because you get to watch a fish rise to pluck a fly off the surface. You'll use flies that imitate insects that are hatching off the water or "attractor" patterns that tempt fish to strike.

Dry flies typically are "dead drifted" on a slack line so they look like a bug drifting in the current. You can use them on lakes or ponds by letting them sit and wait for a fish to find them.

Fill your fly box with ...

Parachute Adams: This imitates a lot of mayfly species, and in smaller sizes imitates midges. It's one of the most popular flies. Have a few in your box in different sizes.

Royal Wulff: This is a variation of a classic attractor pattern with tufts of calf hair for wings. It's an excellent pattern in large and small sizes.

Stimulator: It's a good attractor pattern, especially for rivers. Large sizes imitate a stonefly, while smaller sizes imitate caddis flies. It can be used successfully in places that have neither of those insects. It floats well and is easy to see on the water, so it's an excellent fly for beginners.

Griffith's gnat: It's designed to imitate a cluster of midges. It's bigger than the real thing, which makes it easier to fish.

Joe's hopper: Another hall of famer. It's a go-to summer pattern on rivers and many lakes. Fish it aggressively. Plop it on the water and twitch it a little and you can get some amazing strikes.

Elkhair caddis: Although it's a caddis imitation, it also mimics a stonefly and a hopper. It floats high in the water and is durable.

Nymph Fishing

This is effective when there are no insects hatching and fish are feeding below the surface. Anglers use imitations of aquatic insects to entice fish, typically by drifting a fly underwater below an "indicator," which is a fly fishing term for a bobber. If you don't see fish rising, a nymph is often the best tactic.

Like dry flies, they're naturally drifted with the current. The best fishing is usually in water less than 10 feet deep that is flowing at about walking pace. If the water is deep or swift, use split shot or similar weights to get the flies to sink quicker.

Nymphs are similar to traditional "wet flies," but wet flies imitate an insect that is about to get its wings.

Fill your fly box with ...

Hare's ear: This is an excellent all-around pattern that resembles a caddis and other aquatic insects. Its mottled gray color is a fish magnet.

Prince nymph: This has a peacock herl for a body, and there is something about peacock feathers that fish love.

Pheasant tail: Pheasant tail fibers are sort of like peacock herls in their ability to attract fish. A pheasant tail imitates a lot of different mayfly larvae.

Copper John: This weird pattern sinks fast, which probably accounts for some of its effectiveness.

Kauffman stonefly: This is one of the most realistic-looking nymph patterns. It mimics an important trout food. It's large and heavy, which makes it a good lead fly in a tandem setup.

Streamer Fishing

Streamers imitate a living thing, like small fish, leeches or crawdads. Some don't imitate anything but still attract fish. Streamers are similar to lures because they are cast and stripped back.

Streamers are fished with lots of motion so they imitate a wounded fish or prey fleeing a predator.

Fill your fly box with ...

Woolly bugger: There are more variations to this fly than any other. Black, brown and olive consistently work well.

Clouser minnow: Probably the most versatile fly in the world. It works well in fresh and saltwater.

Leech: Leeches are common in lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and imitations of them will catch multiple species of fish.


Muddler minnow: This imitates a variety of small prey. They are tied with buoyant deer hair, so you may need some weight or a sinking line to get them down.

Whether you're buying flies or tying your own to fill your fly box, Ed's Fly Shop has flies and flying tying supply available now.  Please don't hesitate to call us at (970)372-2395 or send email to if you have any questions.


Back to blogs