Fly Box (Dis-)Organization

On July 22, 2012
Comments (7)

written by Jason

Tenkara Fly Box

Back when I “matched the hatch” and carried various stages of each species of insect, my fly boxes were the epitome of organization.  Each pattern was grouped together by type and size and always in the same quantity.  If I had six of every other fly in the box, but only five of one pattern (or I lost one), I would promptly tie one more just to make sure the quantities were all the same.  I even went so far as to hook and re-hook the fly next to it’s box mate two or three times to ensure even perfectly even spacing.  Row after row of perfectly arranged and composed patterns and colors.  When opened, my unfolded fly boxes resembled pointillist paintings and I swear that if you squinted your eyes and stared at them long enough, you would see some kind of hidden image come to life like in those op-art posters.

Fast forward to today and my fly box (notice the lack of “-es” on the end of the word “box”) looks more like someone threw a bunch of hooks and feathers in a blender and then haphazardly poured them into each of the compartments.  My fly box is a mess and I know it.  People sometimes ask me, “how do you find anything in there?” To which I reply, “Easy, I don’t look for anything.”

In tenkara, the actual fly itself doesn’t really matter as much as what you do with it.  When asked how he decides which fly to fish, tenkara master Dr. Ishigaki always answers that he doesn’t give it much thought.  He just picks a fly and fishes it.  Of course, he essentially ties one pattern so when you only have one choice to begin with, the decision is pretty easy.  This rejection of finding the “right” fly is at the heart of the tenkara one fly approach.  It’s something I’ve been practicing and maybe that explains my newfound rejection of fly box organization.  I just pick a fly and go with it.  And somehow, it works.

One thing is for sure though.  The obsessive-compulsive me from my match-the-hatch days would have a heart attack if he opened my fly box today.  But then, he hasn’t heard of tenkara yet so I’ll cut him some slack.

How do you organize your fly box(es)?  Are you a neat freak, a slob (like me), or somewhere in between?

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7 Responses to Fly Box (Dis-)Organization

  1. Karel says:

    Jason, this is too funny, I thought the picture is actually my box. Same here, if I am fishing sakasa kebaris I just pick one (although sometimes its difficult just to pick one since there is something ingrained in your brain as to “what should work”). Is that really not my fly box?

  2. Despite wanting to be more of an “organized angler”, (Which is probably a blog or at least should be), I never really quite lived up to that ideal. While I do utilize Western style fly boxes, your write up has me contemplating the tenkara style even more now.

  3. In art as in fishing, and other things too I suppose, the Japanese have an idea, a tradition what have you, called wabi sabi. The idea behind wabi sabi is celebrate the beauty in the imperfect, which is a big part of my photography. I can see your point completely about finding freedom in disorganization.

  4. Tom Davis says:

    So why do you , or any of us for that matter, tie more than just one fly pattern? I see all types of kebari-style flies on the web. Maybe we should all just use the same fly — one fly — reverse hackle, black thread body, no collar, no rib. If the fly doesn’t matter in tenkara then it should be as good an anything, right?

    OK, maybe I’m being a little facetious. I supose we tie more than one fly because we enjoy tying. But maybe we could tie a bunch of different flies for show but only use one pattern, ever 😉


    • Hi Tom, that’s it–I enjoy tying different patterns. If I only tied one pattern for the rest of my life, I’d lose all interest in tying. Experimenting with different patterns keeps it fun & exciting. Since it doesn’t really seem to matter which pattern you tie on, why not tie a myriad to keep it interesting at the vise?

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