Fly tying can be as simple and spontaneous as one wants it to be.
Yesterday I met up with a couple of friends for some wine at their place. As we started chatting the conversation turned, as it always does, to fly-fishing. More specifically we started talking about flies. My friend, Salome, had just bought a fly-tying kit and had some questions about tying flies. I suggested she bring out the kit. Then her roommate came home and was very intrigued; her roommate Sibel had never seen an artificial fly before. And, before we knew it we were enjoying a great evening wine and tying session. It was spontaneous, unplanned, and just plain fun. Sibel started recording it, and here’s the video. Fly-tying can be simple too!
The other day I talked about how empty my fly box was starting to look. I have been fly-tying for a long time, as a matter of fact fly-tying is what got me into fly-fishing. But these days I don’t tie as much as I used to. Part of it is time (or lack of time to be more exact). Part of it is the fact that I often get flies in bulk when we get them for our site; though these days we’re selling through our flies quickly and I don’t like taking them from our inventory. But, what would you know, a man’s gotta have flies.
Lately I must have been giving too many flies away (and sure, a few were “given” to trees too!). Yesterday I went fishing with some friends and this was what my fly box looked like when I arrived. I had only 7 flies to use for the few hours I would be fishing, and each one was identical in size, color and shape. Size 8 Oki kebari.
Four years ago (WOW! Typing that just made me feel like time is flying way too fast…pun totally intended), I wrote a post about finally letting go of my “just-in-case” flies. It was a turning point for me. After 12 years of being indoctrinated in matching-the-hatch, and one year after learning that I could use one fly (or, rather, any fly), I was finally gaining some confidence in the approach.
It had nothing to do with tradition, rather, it was a step I saw toward liberation. How cool would it be to learn how to use my fly and not worry about hatch books or stopping by a shop to ask what to use? On that post, I also posed the question: “If you only had one fly pattern in your box, could you still catch fish? If you ran out of your “go-to” fly pattern, would you feel okay and continue fishing, or would your day be ruined?”
TJ ties his favorite tenkara fly, the Salt and Pepper tenkara fly, in the sakasa kebari style. He will be tying the “gourmet” version, which is tied with two feathers for hackle, a black one and a white one (other options are grizzly or just black or white hackle).
Oh, the places you’ll go!
Have you heard of the Vagabox?
In 2012 one of the users of our forum, Acheateaux, had this idea of creating a traveling tenkara fly box. The Vagabox. The box would contain some flies, and be passed from angler to angler in an itinerant fashion.
The “One fly” concept of tenkara – in which it is observed that most experienced tenkara anglers in Japan stick with one fly and don’t change it all the time, and that just about any fly can work – is a difficult one for most people to embrace. It is also a concept that has sparked a fair amount of debate within the tenkara community; some of it by folks misinterpreting the message as “you must use one fly”. But really, all this concept brings to us is a different way of thinking about fly-fishing. It is just like tenkara, it brings us an entirely different way to think about fly-fishing.
When I first learned that tenkara anglers in Japan were only using one fly pattern, it absolutely changed my fly-fishing life. It simplified it by telling me I could reduce my fly choices considerably. And it liberated me from second-guessing what fly to use and from consulting hatch books and locals for what flies I should use. And, that’s why I’m passionate about sharing this concept. Not for sake of purity or tradition, but because I have found it works. At least it works well enough to keep my life simpler and keep me from second-guessing my fly choices or worrying about what fly pattern *might* work a *little* better.
I can not say whether one fly will always work, in fact I have been challenged and talked about that in this video. But over the last 4 years I have fished throughout the US and other countries with some of the most experienced anglers around, and to be honest have not yet seen a noticeable different in the numbers of fish caught.
So, if you’re getting into fly-fishing or have been at it for decades, just know there is a different way to think about fly-fishing, fly choices and fly selection. You can ask yourself, is changing flies and second-guessing your fly choice worth the *possible* marginal benefit it brings over sticking with one fly pattern anywhere, anytime?
We have put out a lot of videos since our inception in 2009. 88 to be exact. Here are 5 videos we think you must watch to learn tenkara, tenkara fly-tying, or just for your entertainment as the cold weather sets in:
1) How to cast with tenkara:
2) Tenkara Techniques:
3) Tenkara Pronunciation Guide:
4) Tenkara Knots:
4B) You may also want to watch this video on my “one knot”, used for tippet to level line and fly to tippet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eemGKr-GYrE
5) How to tie a tenkara fly:
6) Landing a larger fish on tenkara and long line:
7) Tenkara and Canyoneering
While not all tenkara flies have the hackle facing forward (away from the bend of the hook / “reverse”), the most popular and most easily recognizable tenkara flies do. These are called the “sakasa kebari”, or “reverse [hackle] flies”. As a result that’s a question often asked: What is the reasoning behind the reverse hackle on tenkara flies?
There are three main theories for why tenkara flies came into being (as well as why some of the flies used in the Italian method of fishing called Pesca Alla Valsesiana turned out to be tied in similar fashion).
1) Speed: Tying flies with the hackle facing forward, away from the bend of the hook, may be one of the quickest ways to do it. You simply wind some thread on the head, wind it back a bit, secure a feather and wind it, brush the feather forward, then build the body of the fly with the thread and finish the fly on the body of the fly where there is a lot of room to do so. This would have especially been important before vises came about.
2) Body: When a fly with hackle pointed toward to the bend of the hook hits the water and is pulled toward the angler, the hackle brushes back against the hook. The fly becomes slimmer. When the reverse hackle is forced back a bit, it actually opens up and the fly has even more “body”, or more visibility, than in its dry state. Flies will vary in how pronounced their reverse hackle will be, but for the most part they retain the reverse hackle fly quality. This is the photo of a reverse hackle fly when it is wet, the hackle is back a bit, but it still has body to it.
3) Motion For the most part western flies have been designed with aesthetic imitation, not motion, in mind. Perhaps because it is very difficult to impart motion to a fly that is very far away or tied to the end of a very heavy line or a line that has to go through guides of a rod. Tenkara on the other hand was developed to be fished with lighter lines, normally closer range, and with the line tied right to the tip of the rod. These characteristics allowed for the fly to respond to any movement imparted on the rod. Whether the reverse hackle flies were deliberately “invented” that way because or motion or not we will never know. What I do know is that this is probably one of my favorite reasons for the reverse hackle. When I want to, and if the situation calls for it, I can pulse my fly. I can impart motion to it. When I pull it a bit, the hackle opens, when I relax it it closes. When tenkara flies are imparted with motion they are very buggy and lively. This is one of my favorite reasons for tenkara flies, and the fact that they are quick to tie, retain some body when in the water, and are very versatile as I can fish them on the surface by keeping line off the water or under by allowing it to sink a bit.
Stay tuned for an upcoming video on different techniques for tenkara.
Photo by Brian Flemming
This weekend we held the first Tenkara Tie-a-thon to help victims of the devastating Colorado flood. The recent floods have swept homes, displaced thousands of people and took a few lives right near the Tenkara USA headquarters (which, luckily, was mostly untouched). The Colorado community has been super welcoming to Tenkara USA. we are at home here, and we wanted to help in some way. We also wanted to engage the community for support. It’s one thing to send a check out, it’s another thing to send a check out and have hundreds of people sending their thoughts and moral support to those affected.
So, we proposed that for every fly the community tied and shared a picture of this weekend we would donate $1 to help flood victims. As we expected, the tenkara community showed their support en masse. According to our tally, 701 flies were tied and pictured this weekend (and 12 videos, for which we’re giving $5/ea., were made). That’s $761 going to flood victims this week on behalf of the tenkara community. The donation has been sent to United Way’s Foothills Flood Relief Fund. Thank you all who contributed for your show of support.
I have just returned home from a 30-day round-the-world journey that took me to 3 countries (Japan, Italy and the UK). It will take me a little time to digest the experiences and share more insights, tenkara how-to’s, videos and photographs with you.
But there was one photo that jumped at me the other day and I wanted to share it with you.
During this trip I tried many tenkara flies which were given to me by friends I made along the way. I used most flies given to me, even if they were not the “one fly” that I normally tie. After all they were in my box and because they were there, if the catching slowed down I had to experiment. Interestingly, not a single time did changing flies started producing more fish. I did catch fish on at least 3 other flies (one dry, a bead head nymph and a very small nymph), but switching back to my usual fly produced fish too and I can honestly say I didn’t notice any difference.
I realized a big part of my confidence and reliance on “one fly” stems from having left the others behind, and the biggest reason I like the idea of one fly is so I don’t have to think much about what I’ll be using, nor spend a lot of time working on flies or second-guessing my fly choice.
Regardless, in the last 30 days I have caught 8 different species/types of trout (Amago, Yamame, Yamato Iwana, Nikko Iwana, rainbow, leopard trout, Mediterranean brown trout, and brown trout), in addition to grayling, 2 types of minnows and a chub. I caught each one of these species on the Ishigaki Kebari. I caught these fish, with that fly, in shallow water and in deep waters. I fished with it in slow and super clear spring creeks, in steep tumbling mountain streams, in large rivers, in dark tea-colored waters, in notoriously difficult tailwaters, and in clear water for spooky fish. I also fished in hot and humid days, bright and dry days and in torrential rains.
Why did I do it? It was not a mission to catch as many fish species on “one fly”, it really was not that at all. I just did it because that’s the fly I had most of in my box and over the last few years I have gained a great degree of confidence that it works in a variety of waters and for a variety of fish. The greatest thing about it for me is freedom. This approach allowed me to travel to 3 countries with the same small fly box, without once having to go online to see what would be hatching in the waters. As I often say the one fly approach in the most difficult concept in tenkara for people to embrace, but I also find it to be the most liberating concept from this wonderful method.
What? Daniel was seen using a non-tenkara fly today? A parachute adams?
Yes, I was seen using a parachute adams fly on my tenkara rod today…actually, I believe nobody actually saw me using it. Here’s what happened.
I went fishing with my friends Dan and Graham today. We heard there were possibly some grayling in the area and decided to find them. Upon arrival at our destination I setup my tenkara rod with a long tenkara line, and kept the tenkara fly from the last trip tied on. Almost immediately I had a beautiful brook trout on. Within an hour I had probably caught 20 brook trout on that one fly, until I lost the fly to a tree.
Reduce: Over the last three years I have greatly reduced the number of fly patterns I feel I need. In fact, it’s now essentially one pattern with 4 variations (the four tenkara flies that we offer on our site, well, one is out of stock). And, since tenkara has helped me stay away from trees more often than I used to, I feel that I have also reduced the number of flies I lose while fishing. And, of course, I reduced the amount of time changing flies, the amount of tippet bits I lose when changing them, and my consumption of materials used in tying flies.
But of course, I still lose the occasional fly. Today’s stream was relatively tight with lots of trees behind me and the inevitable happened when I got caught on a branch and the fly wouldn’t come free. I collapsed the rod, plugged it with my thumb and pulled the line to break the fly off. Then, off the corner of my eye I spotted a section of tippet material on a branch. (As I always do to prevent animals from getting caught) I decided to retrieve the tippet. And, then I noticed there there was a fly at the end of it. Often the flies I find hanging on trees are badly rusted, but this one wasn’t too bad. And, there were 3ft of slightly faded tippet along with it. Maybe all the flies hanging from the trees could allow me to reduce how many flies I take with me even more.
Reuse: Instinctively I went to put the tippet and fly on my pocket, but then I had this thought. Why not just use it? I mean, I just lost my fly and would have to replace it anyway. I’m not a “tenkara-fly-purist” (as some may think) – my philosophy is simply that the fly doesn’t really matter that much and just about any fly will work. While I typically I opt for the simple tenkara flies, which I find to be more versatile and quickest to tie, the time-proven parachute adams was certainly not below me. The tippet wasn’t too bad, a bit thinner than I like, and a bit faded, but there were no knots on it and it would save me from getting more tippet out.
I tied my “one knot” on the tippet and connected it to my tenkara level line. That’s when the title of this post came to mind: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
This was the first time in 3 years that I used a parachute adams. The fly was so easy to spot, with the bright white post, I almost felt that I was cheating a bit. But, it is not about rules, it’s about enjoying the fishing, learning and when possible conserving. On my second cast I connected with a rainbow trout, only rainbow of the day. And, then a brook trout and another one, and another one, and then a take that was stronger and perhaps faster than any I had experienced until then.
I had all but forgotten about the grayling by then. I watched the parachute adams drifting downstream into the calm pocket below me. The natural drift of the fly filled me with anticipation. This pocket of water was slightly calmer and bigger than most I had fished today; it had to hold a good fish.
The take, as I mentioned, was fast and strong, and the strong fight greatly reminded me of the grayling I caught in Alaska a few weeks ago. As I got the fish closer to the surface, it shone brighter than any of the brookies I had caught, and it was more slender than the rainbow. This had to be a grayling.
After the fight I was thrilled to hold another grayling in my hand and snap a quick photo of it to share with you. This marked a sort of Grand-slam today, which was pretty cool especially since it was a grand-slam on a fly and tippet that I found hanging from a tree. In total I caught 8 fish on that fly and section of tippet. The grayling was released to continue its life-cycle.
Recycle: I could have stopped at reuse but it wouldn’t sound as catchy, would it? So I’ll just point out that flies don’t have to be the disposable items we often think of. You can read this post on “Recycling fly tying hooks” to see what I’m talking about.
Have you found ways to reduce your fly load? Ever reused a fly found on the trees? Or, spent a bit of time recycling fly tying hooks?
Just started the celebration by tying a fly with an independent spirit, the Tenkara Independence Kebari.
Happy Independence Day everyone!
Near the end of the day I was able to sneak out to a nearby stream and test the fly. The water is still running high so I had to work hard to find the first fishable spot. Then, when I did, on the first cast I caught this little brown. I missed two more and landed one more before it got too dark to see.
Fly tying can be a wonderful hobby in itself. But since I have personally embraced a philosophy in which the fly pattern is not all that important, it has been a while since I have done any creative fly tying. Last week Anthony Naples provided some inspiration for a fly I thought I should tie using the cotton from the cottonwood trees as dubbing. Anthony himself was inspired by the Japanese tenkara angler’s use of the zenmai, or fuzzy material found on the stem of certain ferns to tie flies. But, while zenmai is available, it is difficult to find stateside. His post was very timely.
I have never lived anywhere with a lot of cottonwoods, but we have plenty in my new neighborhood.
At the time of Anthony’s post, the cotton from the cottonwoods was not yet falling. Then, this past Saturday I started noticing a few falling here and there. They fell sparingly and I collected a few I found on our lawn. I had no idea what to expect from the cottonwoods, but it is as they say, “when it rains it pours”. Yesterday, a very warm day with some breeze, the cotton was to be found everywhere, and at moments it felt like it was snowing. Whereas the day before I labored to find and collect a few, yesterday they collected by the handfuls on the streets.
Margaret, my wife, just told me that cotton is “wata” in Japanese, so I’ll call it the Wata kebari. Here is my first fly tied with the material. Like Anthony I found the cotton to be very easy to spin on thread. It did not require any wax or anything like that. I did remove the seeds, which come off very easily, lest they find themselves in a land where they don’t belong and become an invasive species. I also decided to do a quick test with the material in water. I was expecting it to absorb water, especially when spun tight, and thus help sink my fly. But, it seems to have a hydrophobic property that keeps it floating well even as I tried to push it down. I have no idea how they fly will stand the test of time, but I thought it would be a neat experiment. I’ll probably have to bring some of it to my friends in Japan when I come visit later this year, so I’ll collect it while I can.