4 Tips to make your flies last longer

Dry fly box. how to make your flies last longer.

As a fly angler, chances are you have invested a significant amount of either money or time (most likely both) into your fly collection. It would be nice to get as much use out of your invested time and money by having your flies last as long as possible. Here’s a few tips and tricks on how to make your flies last longer from a fellow fly fishing addict.

Add Head Cement to your Flies

Head cement is probably the single most useful material available to a fly angler to make their flies last longer. It’s not just limited to fly tyers that tie their own flies, you can add head cement to to fly patterns you buy as well to help extend their fishing life. Just a little drop of head cement applied to the finishing thread wraps of the fly, and the thread is locked in place. I’m sure many of the fly anglers reading this have purchased a fly only to have the thread unravel on us after 10 or 15 minutes of fishing. The head cement will prevent the thread wraps of the fly from unravelling.

I use a bodkin to apply head cement to the fly. Just dip the point of the bodkin in a bottle of head cement or hard as nails and let the excess drip off. You often only need one drop of head cement unless you’re applying it to a larger fly such as a big streamer, popper. or bomber. I prefer it when the head cement is quite thin, and can soak into the thread wraps, although if it’s thicker and lays on top of the thread wraps that can work as well, it’s just a bit bulkier… it’s really a matter of preference.

Organize your fly boxes

A well organized fly box will lengthen the life of the flies in said fly box, mostly by virtue of them not getting lost. If you throw all your flies into the same box, I guarantee you’re going to end up loosing midges in your streamers, or have the hackle on your dry flies get bent out of shape due to overcrowding in the fly box, or have half your flies hooks rust out because you put a fly back in the box you used in salt water (speaking from experience on this one, more on that later).

It’s a good idea to keep your flies organized by either function, species targeted, or size of the fly. Doesn’t really matter what criteria you use to keep them separated, just as long as there’s a ryhme and/or reason to the madness. At the very least organize your flies into the following categories.

  • Dry flies
  • Nymphs
  • Streamers

Ideally you would further divide the categories based on things such as species targeted, salt or fresh water, type of forage imitated (i.e a mayfly box, a stonefly box, and a caddisfly box). Exactly how specific you get in your orginization really depends on the number of flies you have. If you keep to a few dozen flies, you may very well be able to stick to one or two boxes, but if your anything like me you’re going to need many many more fly boxes!

Another tip is to keep the fly boxes you don’t intend on using at home or in the car. The less stream time a fly gets, the longer it’ll last. Flies can get beat up even if left in the box, and example would be falling in the river with a non-waterproof fly box in your vest.

Put your Flies away Dry

When your out on the river, it’s tempting to chuck the fly you were just using back in the fly box, because you have fishing to do and can’t be bothered with fly box management when there’s a 20″ Brook trout rising 10 feet infront of you! The problem with throwing your flies back in the fly box like this, is that flies will rust and/or fall apart much more quickly when put away wet.

Invest in a fly patch to stick flies to on the river, and allow them to fully dry out before putting them back in the fly box. This is just as quick (if not quicker!) than putting them back in their fly box and gives the soaking flies a chance to dry out. It also keeps them within easy reach if you decided you want to try that particular fly again. good 

A tip specifically for the salt water fly anglers reading is to rinse and dry all your flies at the end of the day before putting them back in your box. You don’t need a fly box soaked with salt water, especially if your putting the fly box away for the winter! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve done this before and got a nasty surprise in the spring when half my flies were rusted out!

Add Counter Wraps when Fly Tying

This is a tip for the fly tyers reading this. Try to Incorporate some sort of counter wrap if at all possible when tying flies. This can be utilized in many different fly patterns but the most common example I can think of is the hares ear nymph. You wrap the dubbing forward onto the hook in one direction, and then wrap the tinsel or copper wire forward in the opposite direction. The counter wraps of the copper wire will keep the dubbing in place. It also works well on palmered hackle as well. For those of you that have fished a Woolly Bugger without counter wraps, you know the hackle has a tendency to break and unwind. If you counter wrap wire across the hackle, this will reduce how much a broken piece of hackle can unwind, keeping the fly fish-able even when it’s had a bit of abuse. Intheriffle.com has a good video demonstrating counter wrapping.

Bonus tip: Avoid Trees!

This one may be a bit obvious, but avoid trees or alder bushes. Nothing shortens the fish able life of a fly faster than loosing it in the top branches of a riverside tree! If you’re fishing a river that has heavy growth on the riverbanks, learn how to do a roll cast. Orvis has a great short video on how to do a roll cast.

Update! Pinch the barbs on your fly.

It was pointed out to me after initially posting this article that mashing the barbs is another way to enhance the life of your fly. a barbless hook is much easier to remove from the mouth of a fish than a barbed hook. Every extra second a fly is in a fishes mouth is an extra second that your often delicate fly could be shredded by a flailing fish.

If the hook is barbed and really stuck into the fishes mouth, there is also the risk of bending the hook when removing the fly. That risk is none-existent with a barbless fly, as the fly is easily removed from the fishes mouth without applying any extra force.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day there are some factors you just can’t change when it comes to how long your flies will last. A fly angler targeting pike is going to go through many more flies per fish than a fly angler targeting trout or bass, just due to the toothy nature of pike. Likewise, a fly angler fishing lots of dry flies is going to go through more flies than a nymph angler, simple due to the fact that dry flies tend to be more delicate than nymphs.

No matter what species of fish you’re targeting, or what kind of flies you’re using. The above tips will hopefully let you get a bit more fish-able life out of your flies, and protect your investment of both time and money.

1 Comment

  1. howard levett

    I’ve never really thought about counter wrapping when tying a fly except when it’s been explicitly mentioned in the instructions, so that that good tip. I fish small streams that are always crowded by trees, etc. I’m not a great rollcaster, so I guess it’s time to go to school. Thanks Ben!


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