Tenkara Flies: Conservative, Moderate, Liberal

On November 9, 2012
Comments (9)

Written by Daniel

No, this blog is not about to become political.

After going through the highly turbulent political times of the election campaigns – phew, so glad that is over – and after months of being bombarded by highly divisive politics, the image above came to me today (and, yes, I recognize it would have been more timely a few days ago!).

For years I have noticed some themes when it comes to tenkara flies: there are three types of perceptions about tenkara flies, and there are three types of personalities when it comes to choosing the flies. These could be described as: conservative, moderate, and liberal.

A very common question we receive is: “do all tenkara flies have the hackle facing forward?” The answer is no. Some tenkara flies’ hackle is brushed back against the body of the fly as a soft-hackle wet fly. Some will have a hackle that sticks out. And, some will have a very pronounced forward hackle. Most people coming from a western fly-fishing background to tenkara will perceive the reverse hackle as a bit weird. The conservative option will have the hackle in a more standard posture. With a little explanation the hackle facing forward a bit can be understood as the “moderate” option. But, don’t make it too big with the hackle drastically forward-facing!

Most folks versed in western fly-fishing tradition will think of small flies are an important part of their arsenal. If the fish are rejecting a fly, switch to a smaller size. If the fish are not biting, try something smaller.  Thus, from a western angler’s perspective the more “conservative” option will be the smallest fly with hackle that is not as pronouncedly reversed.  A size 12 fly for trout is an acceptable, “moderate” size. A size 8, with reverse hackle? You have to be brave, progressive, “liberal” to try that!

The fly box of an angler may well demonstrate which camp he will fall into: there are those who dip their toes in tenkara in a more conservative fashion – using only western flies and changing flies regularly. There will be some people who embrace many of the concepts in a moderate way, keeping their western flies and floatant, “just in case”. And others who are very liberal when it comes to adopting tenkara into their lives and go all the way.

All I may suggest here is, don’t be afraid of changing your stance a bit. Get outside your comfort zone sometimes. If you think all the fish are interested in are tiny flies, consider that I have been fishing size 12 or 8 flies almost exclusively for the last 2 years throughout the country, and whether the state was red or blue, the flies worked. In my opinion, if the fish are coming to check out my fly and refusing it at the last second, the fly is working fine, my presentation not so much – I don’t go for a smaller size fly in these cases. I am pretty liberal when it comes to flies, and really enjoy starting my day with a large fly to see what is working. If the fish start coming to that right away I’m golden for the rest of the day. I also enjoy using the flies with a hackle that drastically faces forward as I can give them lots of action. But, if the fish are trying to take my fly and not getting hooked, maybe there is something else at play then, and I may go a bit conservative with a small fly.

Of course, these are all just broad generalizations. Anyone willing to give tenkara a try has already demonstrated a very open-mind and the willingness to try something new. And, unlike in politics, here we can all be friends and get along and share insights and experiences and learn from each other. There is absolutely no right or wrong – just perspectives and interests.

What has been your perspective?

Although this post was inspired by the political discussions of previous weeks, it is important to note that the terms “conservative” and “liberal” here have nothing to do with “social”, nor “fiscal” conservatism, and they have no other political connotations. At its root, the term “conservative” denotes someone who desires to keep things the way they are/were. These are dictionary definitions – not wikipedia definitions. Further, they are applied here from a western perspective – using the larger size flies with reverse hackle will be the most common and thus more “conservative” approach by tenkara anglers in Japan.

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9 Responses to Tenkara Flies: Conservative, Moderate, Liberal

  1. Funny and educational post Daniel! I for one, in the context of this conversation am pretty “moderate”, with “conservative leanings”.
    In that I have plenty of size 12 hooks, with the hackle swept forward, plus I also have several smaller flies with hackles that are more straight up.
    In the more literal sense of those words, I am… Oh who cares! We’re talking about fishing, what else matters!

  2. Personally, I have avoided tenkara type flies mostly because I am a dedicated dry fly fisherman. I fish dries 95% of the time. Because I know my local water so well, I’ve pared my flybox down to just a few flies that I know will work consistently. So, even though I am not fishing a sakasa kebari, I can be on the stream with a very small flybox, keeping with the simplicity in tenkara.

    • Tenkara Ambassador,
      “So, even though I am not fishing a sakasa kebari, I can be on the stream with a very small flybox, keeping with the simplicity in tenkara.
      Indeed I think that’s the ultimate thing to take from tenkara: keep it simple. Regardless of one’s leanings.

      Sean, Thank you for the comment. I think your autocorrect changed “sakasa” to “salads”, which is really funny as you started with “pumpkinseeds”. Glad you’re giving them a whirl.

      Karel, I thought of a different diagram too where the conservative approach was a box full of different patterns, a moderate had few patterns and a very liberal has one.

  3. Sean Dziedzic says:

    I started Tenkara fishing in April this year and have mostly used it for pumpkinseed and other warm water fish due to where I live. But, since late May I have used salads kebari almost exclusively. I tie mine with grey, white, or black thread, natural brahma hackle, and a red size 8 or 10 octopus hook usually. I also tie some random styles with wire as different hackle on size 10 TMC 2499spbl’s and some on size 12 TMC 206bl. Either way, I wasn’t a believer until I tied on a salads kebari and caught tons of fish from all different species. Great post Daniel, keep it up!

  4. Karel says:

    Very interesting article Daniel. As a fly tier, it looks like the liberal flies give you more to work with and be creative and artsy (hmmm…) but from my experience the conservative flies are the ones I pick first if I am serious about catching fish. I think this article could be he beginning of a series about how one evolves as a tenkara angler and kebari tyer.

  5. Sean Dziedzic says:

    Daniel, son of a gun! I didn’t even notice it that time. I’ve typed sakasa kebari a million times and Siri still can’t figure it out??

  6. Matt "statikpunk" Donovan says:

    I guess i would put myself in the moderate camp, my one fly is a size ten and recentlly i have been tying it with less of a forward hackle, but that has nothing to do with action, it has to do with the fact that i was tired of getting my hackle caught in the knot of my fly when i was tying it 😛

  7. Kevin Jacka says:

    I tie my kebari flies on eyeless hooks with aforward facing hackle.
    I use e loop silk thread onto shank making oversize eye which is easy to thread on for connection thus keeping well away from hackles

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