The Fly Box Shift

Winter might seem like a season of many flies: I carry quite a few boxes of trout staples like Woolly Buggers, various baitfish patterns, stick caddis and all the midge stuff. Then, in a separate box, I have the salt and estuary flies: Clousers, Hammerheads, EP Zonker patterns, plus many more; even a couple of Rob Meade’s crab fly masterpieces which I’m almost too scared to use lest I lose them!

I’m quite proud of the fact I can fit all these salty numbers into a single (albeit big) box. It means, that on, say, a mixed trout lake/ saltwater trip to south-west Victoria, it’s relatively simple to swap out a trout box for the salt box, and then back again as required. Yes, the vest bulges a bit; however it all seems to work, and only rarely do I find myself cursing that I’ve left an important fly box back at the car.

I can cover winter on the Hopkins (and other salty options) with one large fly box.

But then at a point in spring, the day arrives when the winter collection is suddenly inadequate. To some extent, I’ve seen this coming – if I’m going on a river trip for example, I will remember to pack the weighted nymphs which have enjoyed a winter holiday. However, with the explosion of spring life, there’s a commensurate upsurge in the number of times I find myself frantically searching my vest for, say, termite patterns… and they’re not present. Yes, for 80 percent of the time, a few staples will do the job, but spring trout periodically seem to delight in locking in on some particular insect or lifecycle stage which isn’t easily covered by any old thing. While it might only be for an hour in a day, an hour is a long time to be constantly refused.

Hmmm, we’re going to need another two fly boxes.

Mayfly are among the biggest causes of a sense of fly box inadequacy. When trout deign to rise to mayfly (and whether they do or not is a whole subject in itself), it is extraordinary how particular they can be about species, never mind life cycle stage. A Paradun can be gold standard one day, then kicked out by a Shaving Brush the next – seemingly without any change in the species being eaten, or even the dun stage the trout are focused on.

A fat mayfly feeder fooled by a Shaving Brush, when only a Paradun worked the previous day.

Oh, and overlaid on all this, you’re still just as likely to need those ‘winter’ flies like midge and smelt patterns for a little while yet. So here I am in the middle of spring with up to three fly boxes per pocket, and that’s in a vest that has a lot of pockets anyway. I even split a seam yesterday.

‘Winter’ flies are mixing with spring flies.

It’s nice to be out on the water with all that life buzzing around, and there’s no doubt the trout are really switched on in response. But I do occasionally find myself pining for the fly box simplicity of just a month or two ago.