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?
5 Responses to Tenkara One Fly V. The Marginal Benefits of Multiple Flies
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In the spirit of candor I must admit I haven’t fully mastered my impulses to change flies whenever fishing is slow, but I admire those who stay with one fly and consistently catch fish.
Many years ago my buddy and I fished with a man who owned a B&B in the Catskills. We’re not talking about a place you’d find in Country Inns & Suites, although the food was great and the rooms clean. The owner was “salt-of-the-earth,” born and raised in the farmhouse we staid, using his hands and earth movers to make a living.
Rex had a quaint custom. On a hook screwed into the siding next to his kitchen door he hung a fly rod and reel BY A SNAKE GUIDE! We could never convince him the potential damage that could cause. The rod was always rigged up with one fly and one fly only. It was a #12 Cahill, usually tied by Elsie Darbee. There the rod, reel, line, and fly rested year-round, even throughout the winter months until sometime in April trout stirred to sip Quill Gordons from the river’s surface. When my friend and I arrived for the weekend, we’d always commandeer Rex from his chores, and darn if he didn’t consistently catch fish on that Cahill, all the while my friend and I slashed the water with peacock quill bodied concoctions. Then time would press on to Hendrickson season, then March Browns and Grey Fox, Pale Evening Duns, the elusive Green Drakes, Caddis, Blue Wing Olives, and so on. No matter what was hatching, what stage of the hatch, time of day, type of weather, Rex used only that one crazy Cahill, and most often the very same one fly throughout the entire fishing season. He never caught less fish than us as we transitioned from larva to pupae stage, then sub-imago, and finally imago imitations all the while Rex using that silly cream fly.
It was about that time I finally figured it out. Imitation is only part of the formula; a much larger part is the presentation. You should have seen his old leathered hands work the rod and line in so many different ways; each motion he made as though his tools were merely extensions of his pointing, twitching arms and hands. It was so ingrained in him I don’t even think he could explain it to another, but the subtleties were obvious to a practiced eye.
I still can’t bring myself to use one and only fly throughout the entire fishing season, but I do stay with the fly of the day much longer than I used to because of what I learned from watching Rex. Having confidence in your go-to-fly means you’ll fish it with keener predatory motion, and that makes fishing one-fly-only a fortunate possibility.
P.S.: Rex is gone onto the honey hole in the sky, but I wonder if he were still with us how he’d manage to hang a Tenkara on his hook? Trust me, he’d figure out a way and it wouldn’t be pretty
I think reducing the number of fly changes is a huge plus of what this extreme of “one fly” can show us. Most people will look at the two extremes: one-fly without any attention to hatches, or changing flies often and trying to exactly match the hatch, and realize they can be happy in the middle. This may be the biggest value the one-fly philosophy brings to the western fly angler.
I tend to use an Ishigaki Kebari, 12, for 80-90% of my fishing, and only occasionally start with a different fly if I’m in the mood. I still enjoy having a parachute adams on the surface and watching a trout rise to take it. It’s a beautiful sight. If fishing is slow, out comes the Ishigaki and in come the fish. I’ve found, like others mentioned, with the one fly I pay much more attention to presentation, manipulation, and the water, which results in more fish being caught. But I’m still guilty of carrying way too many other flies with me that never get used, and probably never will.
I love your article on this. I can also say that I have not yet overcome the ‘need’ to change flies from time to time.
I have gotten to the point where I usually make the change once I am catching fish with most every cast. I do this to test a new or minor pattern change. I feel that at that point, I am keyed in to where the fish are located and what the fish are looking for as far as action. Due to that, I feel that if I change to a different fly I can determine if the fish like that ‘new’ fly. This lets me gain confidence in new flies or just try out new materials. I do usually stick to one or two flies for an entire fishing trip, however.
I caught the ‘few flies, multiple sizes and colors’ bug (ha) a while back from this article, where a good friend put it forth for WFF.
I think most of us can benefit from using fewer pieces of equipment, including number of flies, and using more of our brains to fool the fish.
I think we point out the extreme in here, but the main value is knowing we can reduce what we carry a bit and at least meet in the middle. Good that you have gone that route, and glad you shared your experience here.