Wata kebari – Cottonwood fly

On June 10, 2013
Comments (8)

Cottonwood falling from the sky

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.

Cottonwood on sidewalkAt 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.


How to tie a tenkara fly with cottonwood, fly fishing fly with cottonwood

How to tie a tenkara fly with cottonwood, fly fishing fly with cottonwood

How to tie a tenkara fly with cottonwood, fly fishing fly with cottonwood

How to tie a tenkara fly with cottonwood, fly fishing fly with cottonwood

How to tie a tenkara fly with cottonwood, fly fishing fly with cottonwood

How to tie a tenkara fly with cottonwood, fly fishing fly with cottonwood

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8 Responses to Wata kebari – Cottonwood fly

  1. Jeremy says:

    The water here in Tn is full of this fuzz, in the past years I’ve used flies tied in all white and casted into this fuzz. While the fly appears to match the surrounding fuzz the fish often key in to movement and take the fly. This useable fuzz for tying is a great use of natural materials. I have yet to try this, but one of these days I’ll have to try Spider web on a natural fly as well. A nice fly, Anthony & Daniel. Thanks for another good post!

  2. Fred says:

    Saying the “fly” doesn’t matter is perhaps overstating a belief. The fly does matter in many ways in terms of size, color, shape and other such characteristics as I am sure you are aware of.

  3. Dale H says:

    Another item I have found that works for tying is to use the “fuzz” off of a dandelion after is has bloomed.


  4. Brian Larson says:

    There is also the fluff off of milkweed seeds. I beleive there was an article written over 20 years ago using that in a streamer.

  5. Justin says:

    Kind of off topic, but am curious how you take your pictures, they are always really nice. What kind of lighting, camera lens etc. thanks!

    • Justin, it really varies a lot, especially because I’m always experimenting and doing things a little differently.
      For camera this time I took all photos using a DSLR, I use a Canon 7D.
      The photos of the fly here were taken following a suggestion from a friend to have a painting on the background, far away from the fly and blur it. This, in contrast to having a plain color background ensures parts of the fly can stand out better. I had two fluorescent light sources, one behind me and one on the other side of the fly at a 45 degree angle. The photo of the cotton falling was just taken in the backyard with natural light and a long zoom lens and wide aperture (3.2 I believe).

  6. Graham says:

    Very cool idea and something I am going to experiment with myself since it is a very accessible material in my backyard.

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