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Get Organized
by Ed Zaun

hen I started fly-fishing, I also started tying my own flies. I figured that if I was going to jump into this sport, I was going all the way. I started with the large mouth bass and pickerel that are the most common freshwater fish near my house. Of course, I couldn’t let it stand at that, so I started tying trout flies as well. Then, an inspiration hit me. Why not stow the spinning rods and use the long rod in the saltwater? I had certainly seen enough of it on Saturday mornings on ESPN… I knew it could be done. The problem was, I couldn’t think about abandoning the other quarry, and that’s a lot of different materials and most of them are not universally needed for all the flies I tie.

The house I live in is not a large one, and although my wife is fairly understanding about such things, I could tell that the various animal pelts, feathers, hooks and floss stashed in shoe boxes and secreted about the house was beginning to annoy her slightly. I became aware of this when she told me, “Clean up all that $%^&#* fly tying stuff and find a good place for it or I will!” That only meant one thing… Either I needed something that would keep my wife from giving me a saddle hackle, Flexament and deer hair enema, yet keep my materials organized to my satisfaction. I’m not a compulsively neat person, but I insist on any tools or stuff I use in my hobbies and work to be organized, almost to the point of being anal retentive. When I was a plumber, I could go into my van in total darkness and easily find whatever I was looking for. My shed/workshop is the same way (most of the time). As you might guess, this was not going to be an easy problem to solve, and if push came to shove, my wife would win.She always does… You might call me a coward, but I also sleep much more soundly than she does.

I started looking around in the various magazines and catalogues. I found a lot of interesting ideas, but nothing that was big enough for my stuff and me. I tie every fly I need from a size 24 Griffith’s Gnat to size 3/0 Lefty’s Deceivers. I need a lot of very different materials, and I needed it organized fast.

The stroke of luck came, of all places, in K-Mart. I was shopping with my wife and children, that is to say, my kids and I were browsing the sporting goods aisle while my wife looked for whatever she needed. This is a normal ritual for us. My wife will turn the store over in search of those things that she is convinced are essential for civilized living, paper towels, dish detergent and such, while I look for the truly important things; hunting doo-dads, fishing lures, line or maybe a new reel. Anyway, heading towards the sporting goods area, I happened to pass the hardware section and I saw some of those shed/garage organizers. You know the ones that are made of plastic and have a mess of little pull out drawers. Then it hit me! Like a bolt from the blue, I had a sudden inspiration. I had found what I needed to fit the bill. I immediately grabbed two that had 10 rows of 6 drawers each. That would be 120-2” x 1 ½” x 6” compartments to stash my stuff in. I had some plywood and other materials at home, so now I had a Project.

What I ended up with was definitely a prototype, but it had possibilities. I took some ¾” plywood and made a cube large enough on the inside to house the two organizers, but about 8” longer than they are, and then cut it in half. I mounted each of the organizers in its section, put on some hinges and a handle. To keep the thing closed, I used an old fashioned sash lock. I also made two larger wooden drawers, one to hold hooks glues and such and the other to hold full bucktails and capes of hackle that were longer than 6” so they wouldn’t get a permanent curl. Those two drawers went in one side and for the other, I made a tool caddy that fit nicely under the organizer on that side. The case measured about 30” high and about 15” square on the outside, so it was very portable and could easily be hidden in a closet if necessary.

This served about two years, but as always is the case with me, I ended up needing more space. This worked out for the best, as I was not totally satisfied with the first model anyway. I went out and got another organizer like the first two and made another case.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m going to add a cheap two thousand words to the length of this article by including pictures of the Kit. You’ll be able to see what I mean better that way.

Open Case, © 1999, Ed Zaun Case Closed!,  © 1999, Ed Zaun This time I did it right.
I used ¾” finished-one-side birch plywood. I made the case tall enough to accept two organizers on one side and my tool caddy. I mounted the remaining organizer on the other side and to take up the excess space, I made four wooden drawers. These hold hooks and beads, bucktails, hackle capes, and glues, paints and glitters. Some finish sanding, a few coats of urethane, and I was ready.

Tying with the organized material is absolutely perfect. I can pull the required material, drawer and all, and set it on the table. This way, if a pattern calls for a lot of different stuff, it stays neat without taking up a lot of real estate on the work area. Most saddle hackle fits nicely into the 6” drawers and synthetics like Super Hair coil without loosely without taking a permanent bend.

Because my mind works this way, I undertook to classify the materials I use and group them into families. All my feathers are on the left side. The fur and hair (natural and synthetic) and their substitutes are on the right. Flosses, yarns and chenilles are organized in vertical columns according to color. They follow the spectrum from top to bottom, you know, red, orange, yellow, etc. The new Kit gives me 180 small drawers and 4 large ones. I have just about everything I need and I must keep telling my self that, because I used ¾” plywood, the thing is heavy and I’m going to sprain something putting it on the kitchen table if it gets much heavier.

One other thing, if you should decide to do something like this yourself, make sure you put some kind of aligning pin in the two halves were they meet on the front side. I used a ¼” dowel glued into one side that fits into a hole drilled in the other. This keeps the two halves from twisting and putting a lot of stress on the hinges when you pick it up because you can only put the handle on one side, unless of course you have handles that swing, like suitcase handles.

The drawers you see without the little white tags are empty, but at last check I had only 7 without tags. That means I can 7 different kinds of new stuff before I have to start doubling up. The organizers I used have removable partitions in them, so you can put, say, up to 3 different size dumb bell eyes in one drawer. I prefer to have one drawer for each color or size of material, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices…

Most likely, you won’t ever need to build something this big, because it isn’t very portable and as I said, I tie for a large variety of fish. Now I’m also looking into building a smaller version of A Place for my Stuff that I can take to the beach with me. Sometimes, the fish just don’t co-operate and I have some free time on the sand. I don’t know why it happens that way, maybe the fish just read different magazines and don’t know where they’re supposed to be. Anyway, I figured that it would better to wait it out on the beach and that would be a perfect time to tie. You can get instant feed back, at least about action on those new patterns you’re dreaming up (don’t be shy… we all do it). Not everybody has access to the tools to build an organizer/tool caddy, but there are some excellent ones available on a commercial basis.  End

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