DIY Streamer Fly BoxPublished on 03/16/2023 · 6 min readCan't ever find the perfect fly box? Follow along and make your own streamer box for under $20 with Fly Fishing Expert Marshall McDougal!
Photo by Marshall McDougal
Big, boat-style, streamer boxes can get expensive. Companies like Montana Fly Company, Cliff Outdoors, Fishpond, and Umpqua make great streamer and boat boxes for drift boat or truck storage but they come with a hefty price tag. Here’s how to use an art bin, some super glue, and foam to make your own big bug locker for much cheaper.
There are three items you will need to complete this project. An art bin from your local craft store such as a Michaels or Hobby Lobby, a thick foam sheet, and some glue. A utility knife or scissors will be needed to make the cuts necessary to fit your foam in the box and make the slots that hold your hooks. I found all the items I needed at Hobby Lobby and my total cost for this project was under $20. If your local craft store does not have one of these items, check Amazon.
I found these awesome little art bins at Michaels Craft Store. They are clear in color and have the exact same durable locking mechanisms as most streamer and boat-style boxes on the market. There are three different size options (10.5”, 14”, and 17”) that will accommodate flies anywhere from a two-inch Clouser minnow to 14-inch musky flies. You don’t have to buy this specific brand or size though. Any plastic box with a locking lid that is 3-4 inches thick will work. If you are looking for something smaller than these boxes, check out paintbrush or pencil storage bins. These will be more compact and will be something you can fit in your fishing pack or vest.
I’ve found that the best option for your foam inserts is just a simple 6mm thick foam sheet. There are companies out there that make replacement inserts that would fit these boxes, but I have had the best luck with just foam sheeting. You can experiment with the thickness based on the size of the hook you are using. If 6mm doesn’t quite hold your larger hooks, explore a thicker foam or try gluing two sheets together before inserting them. An alternative option, if you are a saltwater angler, would be to use some sort of silicon for these inserts. They will be less likely to deteriorate with the abuse saltwater has on gear and keep your saltwater flies from rusting.
Grab some sort of super glue laying around your house. For my box, I decided to use E6000 Plus. It has great adhesive strength and is also water-resistant so if I were to get any moisture in my box, the glue would be rated for it.
Stickers or Paint
Spice up your box after you are done loading it with flies. Slap some of your favorite stickers on it to give it a personalized look. I have also seen people paint/draw on their boxes. If you happen to have some artistic ability, look into putting a custom work of art on your box.
- Art bin or pencil box
- 6mm foam of your color preference
- E6000 Plus adhesive or super glue
- Sticker pack or paint for fly box art work
- Your favorite flies
How to Build the Box
Take a piece of paper and make a stencil for your foam by tracing over the outside of the streamer box. An alternative to this would be to use silicone. You might be spending a little more, but this will allow the box to dry out faster and keep rust off of your hooks. There is a raised side and an indented side. Both should be the exact same size so it doesn’t matter which one you use for your stencil. If you decided to buy a foam leaf replacement, you can skip this step.
Now that you have your stencil made, move over to your foam. Trace the stencil and cut out inserts for both sides. I was working with a 10.5” standard box in this tutorial so I was able to get away with only using a single 9x12" sheet of foam. You will need multiple sheets if you choose to go with the bigger streamer boxes. Once you have cut both foam inserts, make sure they fit and trim them to your liking. For the indented side of my box, I had to trim off some of the edges to get it to sit flush down in the groove.
Once you have the foam inserts fitting to your liking, glue them in. If you purchased replacement foam leaves, simply remove the backing from the adhesive and stick them into the streamer box. Something to keep in mind when applying your glue is that these boxes have a clear lid, so you will see the glue streaks on the backside. I knew I was eventually going to add stickers so this didn’t bother me. If you don’t want to see the glue streaks, a simple way to combat this is to use a popsicle stick to smooth out the glue and evenly distribute it across the area where you are gluing the inserts in. Give your glue some time to dry after you get the inserts secured into the box.
When your adhesive has cured and your foam is securely attached to the box, it's time to make your slotted foam. Add slits to hold your hooks. This step will keep your craft foam from having chunks torn out by the hook barbs and will help it last longer.
The slit spacing will vary depending on the size of your flies. Smaller trout streamers might only require a 1/4" width between strips while larger bass bugs could need up to an inch of spacing. I went with 1/2” spacing which is the closest I felt comfortable with, but spacing up to an inch can be cut depending on the bulk of your flies. Give yourself a half-inch on all of the borders of the foam.
When cutting your slits, start a half-inch from the top and cut against a straight edge to a half-inch from the bottom. The easiest tool to use for this is an X-Acto knife but a razor blade will work just fine too. The biggest key here is to make your cuts against a straight edge so you don’t have wavy or crooked slits. Make a single incision to start the slit and then come back over a second time to get the depth you want. The death of these slots should correlate with the hook gap on the streamers to maximize fly storage.
Add stickers of your choice or get artsy and paint your target species of fish on the front of the box. This fly box should now have room for a large number of flies weather that be big bass bugs, medium trout streamers, or even small dry flies and nymphs. Fill it up with your choice of fish candy and go fishing!
For tips on how to organize your new fly box check out my article, How to Organize a Fly Box. If you have questions about what types of streamers or flies to fill your box with, reach out to me or another Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated.