During winter each year I try to tidy and prepare my small stream fly box for the upcoming river season. Over the past season I seemed to have spread out all my flies into several boxes, completely disorganised. As I write this, some flies are still in the drying box where I left them the last time I came off the river. As a matter of principle, I never put wet flies back in my main fly box. I carry a smaller plastic Mustard hook box where I place my wet flies so that I can dry these properly after the days fishing. I want to make sure that I don’t introduce any excess moisture into the main storage boxes. It’s a lesson I learn from salt-water fly fishing. A couple of wet salt-water flies introduced back into the box will result in all the hooks in that box going rusty. I’ve learnt that lesson the hard way!.


For years I’ve carried several fly boxes, usually filled to the brim with rows and rows of flies covering every situation imaginable. Fact is, I may have only used a maximum of six patterns at most. I always convinced myself that the flies weigh nothing, so what the hell!. But fly boxes taken up valuable space, with the other “essential” stuff, it makes for a bulky and cumbersome backpack. One has to get ones priorities right; essential in my mind is coffee…good filter coffee not that plastic shit, gas stove (one can’t start a twig fire in most of the places I fish), camera, something to eat and a few key medical supplies.


Apart from the bulk of all these fly boxes, to access them is logistically a nightmare as the fly box you want has ALWAYS worked its way to the bottom of the backpack. The fly change is usually in the middle of the stream while wading but as I haven’t master the unslinging of the backpack on stream, I have to wade to the side to change my fly!. It’s really unproductive and inefficient. So I got to thinking, surely the ideal setup is one, yes just one, fly box with just sufficient patterns to deal with the majority of situations one is faced with onstream.


With only a few weeks to go to opening day I need to get my stuff sorted. The venue on the Mooi River is booked and I’m being joined by a great bunch of guys (aka Zippermouth Creek). The sort of lads that I’m comfortable around. There no unnecessary banter required as one would with a newer friend that you might be getting to know.  However, as guys will be guys, there is loads of leg pulling and joking. We are so different in many ways but when it comes to fishing we are of the same mind. Virtually all my small stream fishing last season was with this bunch of guys. This season we will be fishing new rods which we have built over the winter. A ruby coloured graphite stick 7’6″ 1 weight with a red ivory reel seat and TiGold rod eyes. They sure look pretty. With several trips booked, my thoughts turn to flies. So this got me thinking…what would be my ideal set of small stream flies for our KZN streams?.


I need to digress a bit here to explain something that is critical to this story. I’m a collector. Or to quote my dear wife Tina…“you’re a hoarder!”. I like to see all my flies sorted and grouped. I have dedicated plastic boxes for just nymphs, or for just terrestrials and so on. All neatly placed in the plastic compartments by colour and by size. The humble Elk hair caddis, these are tied in a range of colours, cream, brown and green. With or without CDC, in hook sizes #12 down to #18. Oh there’s even a series tied with Klipspringer instead of Elk hair. OK… I know…I’ve a problem. But this system works for me…and I know I’m not alone in sorting my flies like this!. After a trip, the flies that I haven’t been lost to trees, bushes or fish (although this generally is less of a problem than the others) are dried and returned to their respective plastic boxes.


So every time I prepare for a trip, I go though the same process. What flies will work where I’m going?. What size and colour would be best?. How much space for flies do I have?. I then sit down and choose the flies accordingly.


Typically my small stream box works out to a selection of the following flies.



Elk hair/CDC caddis #14/16


IMG_1621 copy

Hopper #14



Brigg drowned emerger #16 (shown) and Brigg Klinkhammer variation #16


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Meyer RAB #16


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Para Adams #16



Terblanche Ants #16/18



PTN #16/18 and Flashback nymph #16/18



Soft hackle #16


But what about the thousand or two flies of varying patterns hiding in my flyboxes…I try not to think about them too much…maybe one day they will be used!. Maybe they get used by my future sons-in-law…or by my grandkids. Who knowns….

Right I’m signing out to tie up some of those nice caddis patterns I saw on Son Tao site!. I know Warren will be wanting some and then if he doesn’t take them I can always put them in my flybox.

5 thoughts on “Small Stream Flybox

  1. I’ve had this niggling idea for a week or two. A wisp of an idea. The sort of idea that is not unlike trying to hold a vapour; you think you have it, but then you don’t.

    I’ve been thinking about fishing only one fly pattern all season.

    Just as I think I’ve held onto the idea, trapped it, got it in a corner it does that vapour thing. I decided to make it one fly of a sensible variety. That is, one dry, one emerger and one nymph. Seems simple enough, but I open my cupped palms and its just not there where I was so certain that I trapped it.

    One of each? It’s not that easy.

    A high riding dry or something spent? I love how a RAB or an Adams sits jauntily on the surface and sort of resonates as it feels the drag at it’s heels. A spent pattern lies there like a corpse just waiting to be languidly absorbed into its maw and on to becoming a tiny component of a trout’s nutritional intake. Hoppers, ants, beetles and other terrestrials behave like the seamen of a reefed schooner in mute panic as they wait for some flotsam to grab hold of in the hope of being delivered to a friendly shore.

    Emergers exist in the very same way as a trout does – on the edge of everything. They float in the meniscus that separates one distinct world with another as they either take that first step into the ether or lie crippled in their effort to shrug off one existence for another.

    The nymphs and the massive range of invertebrates that we so easily lump into this category with scant regard to their species are increasingly interesting to me. They scuttle about in their homes of sand grains and twigs, or they cling to rocks, swim freely and badly or just do the sort of things that only they know until, like a silent army, the order is given and they move in the safety of numbers to cross the bar between their watery atmosphere and ours.

    Carry one box?

    In the words of Eliza Doolittle “not bloody likely!”


      1. Ha ha ha. You must be nuts. But I carried five boxes last season. Silly. It’s like a comfort blanket, they settle the anxiety.

        Besides, we need to test that glass on a variety of bugs.

        Keeping writing bud. I’m enjoying it and I know I’m not alone in that.


  2. Well written Doc. I honestly can say i sit with the same problem. I tie flies. A shit load of flies and once i convince myself i do have enough Terreblance , Roberts or Brigg will post a fly and i convince myself i need it. So it’s back to the vice. Unfortunateley as you know in our groups we have a fly thief of some ethnic origin. So my fulled to the brim fly boxes never stay full, even before i hit the stream. But i don’t care. I’m glad that they like it and gives me reason to tie more flies.
    We’ll i look forward to another season on the river with you okes and more banter and leg pulling. Let’s just leave the bum rubs at home.


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