• James Garrettson

A fly box from scratch: Introduction

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

September on the Conejos is a special time. The tourists have mostly gone, the air is crisp, and let‘s not forget the fishing. Doug and I were having a great day on some private water in the upper Conejos Valley. We had come up with a solid game plan of working the edges of the most likely runs with light dry dropper/midge rigs, then jigging a streamer on a euro rod back through for clean up. And clean up we did.

After landing a few good fish on both dry dropper and ESN (euro style nymphing) techniques, I decided to go back to the box to mix things up. My heart sank. Thats when I realized I no longer had my box. It belonged to the Conejos now.


I've never lost a box while guiding but hey, first time for everything I guess. Luckily I had enough flies for the rest of the day. As my season does the "Thelma and Louise", its time to hit the vise hard again and build up my starting line up for the 2020 guide season. You may wonder what thought process if any goes into what I'm going to use for the up coming year. I can assure you its a combination of equal parts science and "that looks cool".


When thinking about flies we all have our confidence patterns. I'm going to show you why I'm picking the flies that I am, based on multiple factors. Every angler will have their favorite flies. I am a huge believer in presentation over everything. Figuring out where the trout are feeding in the water column is huge. Some days it makes sense and some days it doesn't. I've had days completely change by adjusting the bead of the flies(nymphs) up or down one size.



Quilldagons. Same pattern, same hook (fullingmill jig #16), different bead size. Weight is almost always my number one factor when selecting a nymph from my box. From L to R 3.8mm, 3.3MM, 2.8MM

Before we get into the foundation, let me just say I don't tie dry flies. Its not that I can't, its expensive, time consuming, and I don't enjoy it. The former, combine with the fact that 99% of the time I'm guiding/fishing with nymphs is another reason. I do fish and use dries on guide trips though, but maybe only 6 patterns . I will list those at the end of this series.


There are multiple schools of thought on building a box for all your trout fishing scenarios. You can build a box per particular body of water or use a shotgun approach. I prefer the latter. I want to be able to deal with every condition. High flow, off color, low flow, clear, wild fish, stocked fish, and crowded pressured waters. My work depends on it. Considering a trouts biology will help give you confidence when we get to the pattern portion. Lets start this off with the foundation.


Hooks and Beads.

Stay tuned for Pt 2.