Fly Box Wars

candfdesign.jpgEvery angler has one thing he’ll always need, regardless of how minimalist he may be: he has to have somewhere to store his flies. Frugal types like Altoid tins and Morell foam boxes, while traditionalists prefer Wheatleys and technogeeks like the Japanese C&F Design plastic models (pictured, left). While it’s true that ultimately a fly box is just somewhere to put flies, that’s like saying a reel just stores line–it’s not the whole story.
The number one thing a fly box should do well is protect its contents; around water, that usually means keeping away the rust. Classic boxes like the Richard Wheatley hinged series (some of which are more than 100 years old) look absolutely great (pictured, below right), but they’re poor at water protection. Dunk a Wheatley, and you better get everything out to dry, or pretty soon all your hooks will crumble to brown dust (I speak from long experience). Cheapo plastic Planos also have a rust problem, not to mention that if you slip and fall on one, it’ll shatter (guilty)! Metal Wheatleys also can crumple like tin cans if you fall or sit on them, but they at least have the advantage of being able to be more or less hammered back into shape. Meanwhile, Morell foam boxes are light, cheap, and have ingenious magnetic closures; unfortunately they also are prone to crushage, even in normal carrying conditions, and they have no water barrier whatsoever.

wheatley.jpgThe absolute best boxes on the market at waterproofedness, crush protection, and organization are the C&F Design waterproof series. Their slit foam is just awesome, because the foam lasts so much longer without hooks being constantly ripped out (just witness how many have copied the technique); the systems are innovative, with swappable panels on some models, and the waterproofing works great so long as you make sure no stray hackles cross the rubber gasket barrier. Unfortunately, they are really expensive. Scientific Anglers came out with an innovative partial solution a couple years back: the System X box (pictured, below left), which relies on the old Tupperware “burp” method to ensure waterproofedness. With similar slit foam, multiple models, hinged replaceable panels, and reasonable crush protection, these are a strong alternative to the C&F Design models. The only downside is a tendency to come “un-burped” in storage (or with temperature change), and a generally cheaper build (which is both a plus and a minus).
SA_SystemX_FlyBox_300.jpgFor my own fishing, I’ve bit the bullet and use C&F Design boxes for most of my flies. My Atlantic Salmon patterns (many of them just for show) still reside in a clip-based Wheatley. My biggest beef with C&F Design is their lack of a truly big fly box; even if the sucker cost $100, I’d be interested, especially if it came with swappable panels. For my biggest flies, I’m using a Cliff Bugger Beast instead (honestly, and not to sugar-coat it, it’s nothing more than a screwdriver box with hand-slit foam glued in, but it’s the best on the market for big flies).
Fly boxes are one of those areas where you think everything possible has already been done, then someone comes along with a hot new invention that makes you say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that.’ While the most feature-laden models are very expensive, generally speaking this is an area where you can save money by spending more up front. After all, no box is worth more than all those flies it contains – if those crumble to dust, you might as well have carried them in a paper bag.
Have a favorite fly box or an innovative fly storage solution? Let us know in the comments section!

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  • Robert Morselli

    Agreed, Zach – the C&Fs are untouchable. One of the reasons for the fancy price tag is that the shells are made of hi-density plastic, about as strong – perhaps stronger – than a Wheatley aluminum model. I’ve performed the very un-scientific test of falling onto a C&F box and the result was zero damage – to the box or its contents. You won’t get that kind of performance for $9.99

  • Robert Morselli

    … and another thing…
    NOTE to flybox designers: please come up with a decent compartment fly box (the ones with individual, clear, flip-up lids for each compartment). These boxes have sported the same, pathetically weak desingn since day one.
    A couple of suggestions:
    Sctatch-resistant polycarb for the windows. Windows are only good if you can see through them.
    A solid and permanent replacement for the flip-up mechanism. The current mechanism (bent wire, essentially) is not designed for long term use. Perhaps a properly secured spring-loaded mechanism – just a suggestion.
    Will all this add to the cost of a flybox? You bet! But at least you’d end up with a lifetime box, which generally works out to be cheaper in the long run.

  • Robert Morselli

    NOTE (II) to flybox designers:
    Limited edition, titanium boxes!
    Ti’s all the rage these days – used in everything from bike frames to walking sticks.
    Necessary? Nope.
    Overkill? For sure!
    But so’s an $875 fly rod or a $1,200 reel.

  • Peter

    personally, I love my 25 yr. old Richardson flybox

  • Ed

    Agree 100% with the C&F. But. There are multiple C&F knockoffs available for cheap (15-30% of the price) that perform nearly as well. I pack my one C&F box with all the trout dries and nymphs i can fit and everything else goes in the 3 knockoffs (that cost me less than 1 of the real thing).

  • I recently switched to C&F boxes from the Scientific Anglers plastic hindged boxes. I probably recouped my investment in 1 season in fewer lost flies falling out when I open the box. Thumbs up on the C&F foam slits.
    Instead of a bugger barn, I found a Nintendo DS carrying case on sale. A quick stop to the foam store (Michaels), and applying a razor blade. Ta-da: the Elwood Blues edition of a bugger barn. See photos at:

  • Alan Bowers

    Once again we flyfishers are expected to spend $50 on something that doesn’t have $5 worth of production cost. You might not be able to get that kind of performance out of a box costing $9.99 because everyone in the retail end of flyfishing knows that we as a group are dumb enough to shell out $50. If we refused to pay these outlandish prices it would be very long before someone offered a quality box for a reasonable price. It’s called capitalism.

  • DickM.

    A couple of years ago we were doing the home run in a flats boat to Turneffe Flats.
    It had been a long and tiring day and I got lazy and laid my C&F Waterproof fly box on the seat next to me. We hit a wave at high speed and the box went flying over the guide’s head. We backtracked and it took about ten minutes but we finally found the box floating. Everything was intact and dry. I figure that the box saved me about $300 to $400 in flies. Well worth the cost of the box.

  • Eric

    Nice fly boxes but $50. I will go for knock off and use my $200 fly rod to cast those flies it holds.

  • I echo your thoughts on the C&F boxes, Zach. Money well-spent. A great, nearly indestructible design. Especially like them for classic streamers (I have several of the large and M series boxes) as you don’t need to have the fly ‘nosedive’ into the foam like you would a regular flat foam box – keeping the front end from getting crushed up. There is also no hook rusting like a clip box, nor do the flies get ‘roughed up’ like in a traditional fly wallet.

  • Does fly wallet count?
    I “was” a big fan of C&F box. But, as I fish more and more wetflies… I become using my fly wallet more and more often. It is a beautiful custom made wallet. Genuine leather, amazing artwork, light weight and good feel! from Marc Rowdy.

  • phil romans

    I found a clear box that has a rubber or plastic seal around the top and keeps the water out quite well. It is about 3.5 X 6″ but I can not find them anymore. Fortunately, I bought out all I could find, so I have about twelve of them. As a guide, I need to keep my flies dry. If anyone knows who makes them, I would like to hear about them. I bought them at Bob Wards in Hamilton MT, and Bob Wards in Missoula MT.

  • J Blevins

    Why not go with the “Justin Case” from Cliff Outdoors. Waterproof and around $100 bucks.

  • A month or so ago I asked the guys at Trout Predator Online to vote for their favorite nymph fly box and got some great feedback. They voted for some of the boxes you mentioned and a few others:
    1. C&F Design – 5 stars
    2. System X – 4.5 stars
    3. Wapsi – 4 stars
    4. Cliff Outdoor – 4 stars
    5. H20 Bug Box – 3.5 stars
    6. Cabelas – 3.5 stars
    7. Flambeau Blue Ribbon – 3 stars
    8. Altoid box – 3 stars (but one of my favs)
    You can pick up the discussion thread at: TPO Fly Box Poll

  • RevBadel

    You failed to list “Big Luggage”. Great way to keep your flies neatly filed, and protect them from own poor housekeeping (fly keeping)

  • upstate tj.

    flambeau’s newest foam slit box is awesome with continuous slits from top to bottom and clear plastic lid. my new box for sure.