How to Organize Fly Fishing Gear: Tips for Beginners

fisherman with organized fly box

As I ventured into different aspects of the sport, I found myself needing more and more gear. My garage began to be consumed by rods, reels, fly boxes, bags and a multitude of other various tools. For my sanity, and to appease my wife (most importantly!), I took the time to come up with some organization techniques to make life easier on myself. So what is the best way to organize fly fishing gear?

The best way to organize fly fishing gear is by having it sorted by intended technique or species. Rods should be stored on a rack to avoid damage. Flies and leader can be labeled and stored in bins or bags that are easy to access. Frequency of use should also be considered when organizing gear.

Taking time to organize fly fishing gear can be frustrating and time consuming. Below I will walk you through how I store some of my gear to help you get started. Storing your fishing equipment inefficiently will lead to wasted space, the inability to locate things, and potential damage to expensive items. 

Ways to store your fishing gear

Although there is more than one way to store your stuff, there are some common themes to being organized. These include:

  • Protecting your most expensive items
  • Storing away smaller items that can be lost
  • Being consistent in your methodology to avoid later confusion

Protecting your purchases and being able to locate things is paramount. There is nothing worse than experiencing an avoidable break of a rod, or purchasing things you already own because you were unable to find it.

The most important thing is that you take the time to organize your gear, regardless of the method that you actually choose.

Best way to store fishing rods

The key component to fly-fishing is your rod and reel. If you have not purchased a new set up recently, I would implore you to go to your local fly-shop so you can see the current outrageous prices!

organized fly rods on wall

If you were going to spend that much money on something, wouldn’t you want to protect it? You would be surprised how often I see rods sloppily thrown in garages, or just left leaning against the wall waiting for an accident. 

Ideally rods would be broken down, put into the sock, and stored in their respective rod tube.

Let’s face it, this is a lot of work. Especially if you use your set-ups more than once a month.

A better alternative is to build a horizontal rod rack on the wall. This can be as fancy as hand carved exotic wood, or as simple as a few dowels drilled into pieces of 2×4’s. No matter how it looks, I can assure you this will be a more efficient way of storing your rods.

This will keep them up off the ground and allows you to keep them put together for easy use. By hanging them horizontally, it will allow you to save space by having the ability to double or triple them up on holders.

Not only will this protect the rods, it will also help protect your reels from being scuffed from rubbing against things. If you are not very handy, there is no need to worry. Fly rod holders can be purchased relatively cheap on Amazon.

Click here to see a list of examples on Amazon.

How to store leader, fly lines, and tools

It’s a challenge to organize fly fishing gear methodically. I personally like to break them out into two categories:

  • Gear that I use often
  • Gear that is back up or used only occasionally

Storing frequently used fishing gear

For things that I use often such as pliers, my main leader spools, rain gear, and back up fly-lines, I like to keep in a ready to go waterproof bag. This allows me to quickly grab my bag and jump on a boat or head out for a day of wading. This bag contains  things that I know I do not want to forget. 

When putting together my leader pack, I prefer to purchase the leader spools that can be snapped together or use a small piece of rope to keep them tied together. Loose leader spools are a nuisance.

For more information on my recommended leader spools, be sure to check out my Recommended Products page.

Also in this bag will be my backup fly-reel spools. These back up spools will have any other fly-lines that I may need when heading out on the water.

Back up fly-lines are typically used when fish are presenting themselves in unique scenarios. For example, sometimes fish will not go shallow and instead stay confined to deeper holes. In this situation, I will pull my back up spool out of my bag and switch it out.

The backup spool will have an intermediate sinking fly line that allows me to fish deeper in the column. I keep this spool in my ready to go bag, because this situation can occur frequently.

Use shelving and bins for backup gear

Any gear that I do not use frequently or is simply a backup of things already in my gear bag is put into clear plastic bins that are labelled. Having a good shelving system will allow you to store more gear and have easy access to things.

organized fly gear in bin

My personal preference is to have many smaller bins as opposed to a few larger bins. Having smaller bins allows you to subdivide things easier and makes the labeling process easier. Smaller bins also allows me to find what I am looking for easier than digging through a bin with a bunch of gear. 

When putting your gear in bins, try to do so in a logical fashion. I personally like to start with the label first and think of ways I want to group gear together. A good labeling system is key for finding what you need. A good example of logical grouping is to put all fly-lines and fly line cleaner in one bin. Try to avoid mixing things that don’t make sense. For example, when putting fly-lines in the bin, it does not make sense to also put pliers in the same box. 

Lastly, when putting the bins on the shelf, place the bins you are most likely to access frequently at eye level. Bins that hold things that are not used often should be placed higher on the shelf as these are the hardest to access. Bottom shelves should be reserved for larger items like coolers, stripping baskets, and heavy items like boat batteries.

How to get your flies in order

Organizing your flies is a never-ending battle. As you switch flies on the water, they will naturally tend to become disorganized.

When fishing saltwater, the need to rinse used flies before replacing in your box will also cause disorganization. Periodically it is a good idea to sort your flies, check for rusted hooks, and re-evaluate the flies you keep on hand.

organized fly box

Create fly categories

The first step to fly organization is to divide flies into categories. Being that I travel to various fisheries often, I have flies for many regions of the country. There is no need to have flies that I use for bonefish in my everyday box for North East Florida, as we do not have bonefish in this region. Therefore choosing to organize fly fishing gear by species or region will make the most sense.

I have various fly boxes for various regions that I travel. Some examples on how I box are:

  • Main fly box: Flies that I use daily, or that are needed for anticipated species
  • Flies for tropical environments: Targeting species such as bonefish and permit
  • Freshwater boxes: For trout fishing
  • Seasonal flies: For migratory species

As seasons change, I will adjust the flies in my main fly box. 

Keeping box sizes small is important

One of the biggest issues I see when people organize flies is carrying too big of a box. In fear of not being prepared, people tend to over-pack their fly box to have a fly on hand for every possible occasion.

While I applaud the desire to be prepared, 90%  of these flies are never used. This only adds confusion when making a selection.

The reality is that most fish will eat a well-placed fly that is stripped correctly, regardless of what it looks like. My recommendation is to use a smaller box with flies you know will work. Be targeted in your fly selection on hand. 

What is the best way to pack gear for wading?

Anytime you are heading out on foot to fish, you need to be cognizant of the amount of gear you bring. There is a fine line between being over-prepared and not being prepared enough. As mentioned, I like to keep an everyday bag handy with my basic gear. This bag is lightweight, has plenty of storage, and can worm comfortably while fishing. This is the same bag that I will use when wading. 

fly fishing wading bag

Before I head out the door on a wading trip, I will review the items I have in my everyday bag. The first thing I check is whether the items in this bag make sense for the intended application. If they are not necessary or do not make sense, I will take them out. Rather than just leaving them in the bag, I will choose to remove them so that I can cut down on weight and clutter. 

Knowing what you may encounter will help you pack your bag. It is always a good idea to have leader material, a pair of pliers, and a small box of applicable flies on hand.

From this point, it is simply accounting for the unexpected such as the need for bug spray, a rain jacket, or back up fly lines. 

When heading out for a wading trip, have the mindset of taking as little as possible while feeling like you are still prepared. 

Tips for organizing boat storage

A boat will not only increase your access to fish, but it also serves as a giant storage compartment. Boat manufacturers have mastered the design of boats that maximize storage features

For fly-fishermen who fish in shallow water, this storage can cause you to overload your boat and sacrifice your draft. 

When packing my boat, I like to have the same mentality as if I am heading out for a wading trip. Just because I have the storage, does not mean I need to have all my fishing gear onboard.

Obviously, things such as life jackets and safety gear are a priority and will always take precedence over other items I store. These items remain on the vessel at all times. Other larger items I may load into the boat include a net, an anchor stick, or a trolling motor battery. 

Start with the basic gear

The first thing I load into the boat before heading out is my bag that holds my basic gear. Again, these are the necessary items for the day. In addition to my bag, I will keep a dry box that holds things such as boat paperwork, licenses sunscreen, and a small headlamp.

organized fly fishing gear

I will store my phone while on the water in this box. Any box that I use on the boat will be waterproof. Although most of the hatches stay dry, it is never a good idea to risk it. 

The last box that stored in the boat is a small toolbox. The toolbox is waterproof, and the tools are placed in zip lock bags. This is to prevent rust while being stored in the boat.

Toolbox packing strategy

When packing a toolbox, the use of multi-tools is a great idea. It is almost impossible to fix major issues while on the water, so this toolbox is to help you problem solve small issues. Your toolbox should include things such as fuses, zip ties, a small socket set, wire strippers, waterproof butt-connectors, and a 5 in 1 tool.

Most of the issues you will face on the water will be electrical, so my tool box is packed accordingly.

I never leave tackle stored in the boat when not in use. This not only prevents theft, but also forces me to be deliberate in the gear that I bring. Not over packing is the easiest way to keep your boat clean and organized. 


Whether you are an occasional angler or on the water daily, it is important to organize fly fishing gear. Being organized will allow you to prepare more efficiently for when you are ready to hit the water. It will also save you time, frustration, and money as having proper storage for gear will also help extend its useful life. Whereas clutter will make you more prone to breaking or losing items.

In addition to helping you be prepared, being organized will simply make you feel better!