Ben asked me to review the C&F Design Small 12-Row Ultra-lite Fly box with Flip Page during our Gunnison trip. He tossed it to me and I thought it was either fake, or a disposable case, because it was so light. I was pretty skeptical about this fly box at the start, but I’ve started to appreciate a few of its finer points. Overall it ended up being a rather well made, super-lightweight box great for small dries and nymphs.
The C&F Design Small 12-Row Ultra-lite Fly box with Flip Page is 4 7/8″ tall, 3 9/32″ wide, and 1 3/8″ thick. That makes each of the compartments about 5/8″ deep. That was plenty deep for even my size 6 streamer (although the hook seemed a little big for the small foam slits). There are three pages total in this box, one in each side, and a flip page with foam on only one side of the page. This made it convenient for me to stick larger flies in the rear compartment where there weren’t flip-page flies that would smash hackle, and leave the front compartment and flip page for smaller dries and nymphs. Each page has six rows of foam fly holders with 19 slits per row. That means you could cram up to 342 flies into this box! I wouldn’t recommend that, but you could easily put in 170 quite comfortably. If you own 342 nymphs, just send the rest to me.
This box is extremely light. The flip page and outer casing are made out of what feels like plastic-coated cardstock, and the side walls are made of lightweight (but very stiff) foam. It’s probably more of a lightweight solid plastic, not cardstock, but that’s the feeling you get. When I first picked up the box my first thought was “cheap construction” but I’ve now taken this box through the Black Gorge of the Gunnison river on a raft, and through Alaska on the Kenai, and it has held up quite well, so don’t let lightweight materials trick you into thinking they are low quality.
The box does not have a latch, the edge of the box is magnetic, so it snaps itself shut when you close the lid. The magnet isn’t super strong, (you could open it with one hand) but I never had the box fall open on me.
The foam edges are waterproof, so don’t worry about the foam soaking up water, I’ve dropped the box right into the river and the box came out as light as it went in. Because it’s foam, and the foam is waterproof, if this box goes in the drink, it’s going to float on top of the water, a definite plus if you’re trying to catch it before it washes downstream.
Although C&F Designs says the box holds hooks #10 to #20, you could fit larger if you needed to (though it might not hold tightly to the smaller hooks afterward). I put in a size 6 streamer with a cone weight head and it held on just fine. Even heavily shaking the box didn’t jar the #6 loose.
The box is pretty rugged, and the materials seem sturdy, but it isn’t a strong box by any means. I stuffed it in my dry bag on the Gunnison, and it came out a little tweaked so that it didn’t shut straight. After pushing on the spine for a while it straightened back out, but the box isn’t exactly TSA proof. This was probably what gave me that first feeling of low quality, because the box easily bent out of shape. I have to again give credit to the materials, though, because after being bent back into shape, it has held up quite well!
This isn’t necessarily something wrong with the box, but it was a little too thick for my liking. I tend to prefer very slim boxes, and this is my first box with a flip page, since I typically go for the thinnest box I can find. The box is thick in order to have those nice, deep, 5/8″ compartments, but that made it hard to stick an extra spool of line behind it in my fly vest.
While the box will float forever, and the foam is much sturdier than you’d think, the box is in no way waterproof. Even closed, there’s a visible gap around the edges, especially near the binding (which is just a perforated fold in the inner plastic-coated-cardstock material), so while your box will stay afloat, your flies will get wet.
I’ve seem some pretty interesting middle-page fly box designs, and C&F has a few of those designs that I really like (see Ben’s review of their waterproof case for one example). But the flip page on this box just felt like it got in the way to me. The flip page isn’t a completely separate page, it’s actually connected to the top coating of the back compartment. Since there aren’t any hinges (to save weight?) the flip page looks like a lid on top of the rear case with a perforated, foldable edge on one side so you can pull it back to get to the stuff underneath. It was nice to have the extra fly space, but the fact that it was so attached to the back compartment made it very difficult to access the flies in the rear compartment, especially with one hand. To move the flip page, you have to pull on the very small tab on the outer edge of the flip page. Since the tab is made of the same ultra lightweight material, it is very thin, and very difficult to grasp. I had to use a fingernail more than once to pry the page up in order to access the flies in back, because something sticky had gotten on that little tab. The flip page also has small tabs on the top and bottom of the page, presumably to keep the page from falling into the rear compartment. A good idea, but in my case where the box got banged up in the dry bag, one of the tabs got pushed into the rear compartment, making it even more difficult to open.
If you need a lightweight box for small dries and nymphs for high-water backcountry fishing, this would make a great little box that wouldn’t add much weight to your pack. While it is lightweight, the construction is pretty sturdy, and the box floats very well. However, I would recommend not taking this box on a trip where it might get thrown around or smashed (like in a raft). Also, I wasn’t impressed with the flip page, just go for the box without the flip page (or, since the flip page is only connected by a perforated edge, buy the flip version and if you don’t like it, rip it out).