Covid-19 Announcement

Some shipments are still delayed. If you are planning a trip, please order well in advance.

Favorite Four

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Utah Killer Bug

Utah Killer Bug

I’m not a “one-fly guy,” but I am a “small-handful-of-flies guy.” Since the TenkaraBum website allows the uploading of four images, I thought I’d share the four flies that I use 90% of the time and which seem to be most effective in my Texas warm-water angling. I hope that other tenkara anglers will share their favorite flies. In this way, we can all learn something.

If I could only carry four types of flies with me on a typical tenkara outing, what would they be? Not surprisingly, three out of the four are nymphs, and all four are simple patterns that are easy for yours truly to tie. Hey, if I’m going to tie it, then it has to be super-simple! All four of these patterns cast easily with tenkara rods and work well in a variety of circumstances.

The first pattern is the reliable Utah Killer Bug, or crane fly larva imitation. Indeed, if I could only fish one fly, this would probably be it. I usually put down a few wraps of .015 wire to help it sink, cover it with pink thread, and finish with a body of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift Oyster yarn. I typically use a size 12 or 14, Daiichi 1120 hook, and it seems to help if I fuzz up the body with a piece of Velcro when I’m finished. How can something so simple, be so effective?

Next is my variation on a Czech Nymph pattern, which I call the “Shaggy Possum”. Again, the hook of choice is a Daiichi 1120 hook in size 12. I use 8 wraps of slightly-heavier .020 wire and cover the hook with red thread. I heavily dub on black possum fur for the back and red possum dubbing for the head. Finally I cover the back of the nymph with clear or red Wapsi Thin Skin and wrap the body with monofilament for the segmented look. This fly is a real winner in deeper water for such species as Texas cichlids and even channel catfish. Just bounce it along the bottom and see what happens. Sometimes ugly flies work!

Third is Herb’s Black-Thread-and-Hen, which I’ve written about before. I guess mine is a Black-Thread-and-Rooster since I usually use dry fly hackle. I push six or seven wraps of .015 wire to the back of a size 14 Daiichi 1120 hook and cover with black thread. I palmer two or three wraps of hackle on the front half of the hook and often tie a red collar behind the hackle. This simple, classy fly is especially effective for panfish. Thanks, Herb!

Finally, I don’t often fish dry flies, but—when I do—the black foam beetle works well. The beetle is simple to tie and use, and there’s something special about seeing a fish explode on the surface.

I fish all four of these flies very simply. For the nymphs, I typically cast across stream, let them sink to a count of five, and then slowly lift them to the surface, with maybe one or two twitches. The most common mistake I make is over-working the flies. On the foam beetle, I cast, let it land and sit, then twitch just once or twice. Again, too much twitching is a turn-off!

I fish all four of these flies with confidence, and that’s a big part of the game. If you think you’re going to catch a fish—and stay after it—you usually do. These four flies catch panfish, largemouth bass, catfish, Guadalupe bass, and stocker Rainbows—in other words, just about all of the common, catchable species in my fresh waters.

I wrote this brief article for two reasons: First, I’d like to compare my four flies with the selection from other anglers. Comparing fly patterns is a cool hobby, and who doesn’t enjoy seeing flies used by fishermen in other parts of the world?

Second, I always like to encourage tenkara anglers to tie their own flies. I had never tied a fly until I was past 50, and I’m not very good at it, but the fish don’t seem to care. It always amazes me that they’ll strike a bit of yarn and feather, clumsily tied, if it’s fished right. The first flies that were ever tied were probably fairly crude affairs. As my wife puts it, “Some flies catch fishermen and some catch fish.” These simple flies work for me.

There are few pastimes more enjoyable than bringing a fish to hand on a fly that you’ve tied yourself. What are your favorite four?

Comments for Favorite Four

Click here to add your own comments

Aug 26, 2017
The Fav 4
by: Hoppy D

1. Killer Bug (anybody's)
2. Mop Fly
3. The Insult
4. Crackleback Fly (fished dry and pulled under)

If they don't bite one of these, then they aren't biting, and I go home with the odor of a skunk lingering on my person. But there's always tomorrow. Hopefully.....

(Nice article, John!)

Aug 26, 2017
Hate to ask
by: Chris Stewart

HD, I really really hate to ask you for an insult, but what is The Insult?

Aug 26, 2017
Great Topic, John!
by: Herb S.

An angler's favorite flies are always of interest. Thanks for bringing it up.

Ditto on the Utah Killer Bug (various sizes) and Black Foam Beetle! I add a green foam sighter on top of the beetle and tie it on a #14 Mustad 94840 dry fly hook.

The Black Thread and Hen/Rooster is tied on size 14 Mustad C67S and C49S hooks, just thread and hackle. The small one is already my shiner/chub go-to and the larger version interests the panfish. I'll try them on trout one of these days.

Size 8 Mustad 9672 Muddler Minnow is my "only" fly if only one was allowed. I tie the head with one batch of deer hair, pre-trimmed to give the rough, buggy look of the original. Add a split shot if needed or dope it to float. Size 8 is a versatile size for panfish, trout and bass.

Woolly Buggers, black and olive, are right behind the Muddler, tied on #8 Mustad 9672 hooks, both unweighted and with a 1/8" bead head, gold for olive and nickel for black. The Killer Bugger a necessary smaller version in #12 on a standard wet fly hook.

My standard nymph is the Hare and Copper as it's known overseas. I tie it with a gold bead head and fox squirrel body hair, no tail, no rib, no hackle, on various hooks in #10, 14 and 16. Amazingly effective!

Size 16 Griffith's Gnat works dry or wet when smaller bugs are on the water. I could go on....

John, from the looks of your flies you've arrived and will get better. Keep it up! I've been lashing things to hooks since the mid-70's (1970's - I just look like a product of the 1800's ;-), and consider fly tying necessary for anyone serious about the sport. My only regret is not starting sooner, but then I'd have even more flies I don't use. "The more you know, the less you need."

Happy fishing and tying,

Aug 27, 2017
My top four
by: Les A.

1. Hare's Ear Nymph
2. The Renegade
3. Prince Nymph
4. Elk Hair Caddis

John you make it tough when you restrict it to just 4 flies. Two flies that are getting a lot of use this summer have been the Utah Killer Bug and the Keeper Kerabi.

Praying for you and Texas as you get slammed with Harvey. Sounds like you will have some time to tie flies before the water goes down.

Aug 27, 2017
"The Insult"
by: Hoppy D

This pattern is an old one from Poul Jorgensen, Chris. He developed it as a beginning tier's fly, but it is truly an ultimate tenkara fly--quick/easy to tie, a short list of materials, and deadly.


*"Swimmer" hook -- Daiichi 1770 or bend your own, size 10 or 14. (The original was a size 10.)

*black thread, 140 denier or what you have.

*lead, size of hook shank. (Can also be an unweighted fly.)

*6-8 sprigs of stiff, brown hackle for primary tail.

*3-4 long lengths of peacock herl for secondary tail and body.


Wrap 6 turns of wire in low spot of hook, start thread, and tie in wire--fore and aft--back to hook point. Tie in brown hackle--hook gap and a half in length. Tie in butt ends of herl--half length of hackle with blunt butt ends evened-up and facing rearward--and secure with two half-hitches. Wrap herl forward, letting it push the tying thread forward for neat, even wraps of herl to behind the eye. Whip finish, and fish.

(For a slightly-tougher fly, you can twine the herl with the tying thread, but it really isn't worth the time/effort. The fish don't care!)

And the only insult involved is to dry fly fishermen and fish everywhere.....

Aug 27, 2017
by: John Evans

Harvey has been devastating in the Houston area. San Antonio (200 miles away), fortunately, has just received soaking rains, with some wind, but not the floods in the Southeast part of Texas. Sadly, more rain is predicted for some of the areas that are already saturated. Believe it or not, some areas are expected to receive 50" of rain . . . 5-0 . . . before it's all said and done. When you start talking about feet of rain, instead of inches, you've got trouble.
On the fly-tying side of things, the simple patterns seem to fit nicely with the overall simplicity of tenkara angling. As I said earlier, to me it's an endless source of fascination that fish will strike a bit of yarn and feather. I can just imagine the first fly angler saying to himself, "I wonder what would happen if I wound this blue jay feather around this hook and cast it out?" I enjoy hearing about the patterns that work in other parts of the world.

Aug 28, 2017
Yarn and Feather
by: Les A.

John - I agree with your fascination! I will never forget the first fish I caught on the first fly I tied. It was a simple fly too, a size 12 Wooly Worm. I was 24 when I started tying flies. I was fishing the Salmon River near Welches, Oregon. It was a ten inch planter rainbow, but I couldn't have been prouder!

My most memorable fish caught on a fly was with a more complicated fly, the Royal Humpy. It was one of those experiences that may never be duplicated. I was fishing the Little Malheur River in Eastern Oregon. The water was clear. The sun was in just the right spot for me to see a nice 18 inch rainbow finning near a fallen branch in the river. A monster of a fish for this river. I floated the fly through the air and it gently landed on the water 4 feet upstream from the trout. It was in the perfect spot. As the fly drifted to the fish he simply slurped it in,(I can still see the mouth opening and the fly disappearing in his mouth in my minds eye.) and the battle was on! He jumped several times. There were two memorable tail walks. Three attempts to take me into the downed tree failed. When I landed the fish, I was astounded at the beauty of this rainbow. It was a living kaleidoscope! I admired it in the landing net for several minutes before letting it go. It was the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. The head biologist at the Oregon Fish and Game in John Day told me that it must have been one of the children of a hatchery rainbow that had crossed with a Redband rainbow. He told me that it is a rare happening, but the results are a larger dramatically colored rainbow. I had no camera with me that day. I did have a witness, Jack. Jack was a student at the time at Oregon State working on his Ph.D in fisheries management. He had never seen a more beautiful rainbow, and didn't have a clue as to where the brilliant colors came from.

Aug 28, 2017
Fish On!
by: John Evans

Now that's the kind of episode that keeps us fishing! Even if an angler isn't sure that he'll enjoy tying flies, he owes it to himself to try because the experience on the water is unique . . . unexpected . . . and exhilarating.

Aug 28, 2017
Top 4 for trout
by: Jeff D in KC

1. The Utah Killer Bug. Duh.

2. Frenchie (aka tungsten bead pheasant tail nymph with hot spot collar) jig. Slim and gets down quick in fast water.

3. The micro egg: just a tiny bit of bright dubbing on a size 26 Gamakatsu C12-BM. For very slow, very clear water.

4. Wyatt's Snowshoe hare emerger. I hate tying small hackled dries, so these have become my favorites and it turns out the fish like them too.

Aug 28, 2017
by: Herb S.

You guys brought 'em flooding back! I can't remember exactly what fly I tied that caught the first fish, but I'm betting it was a #14 Grey Fox Variant or a #14 Dun Variant. Both are in "Art Flick's New Streamside Guide", the book that saved my fly fishing. I had been stumbling around trout-less until I bought Mr. Flick's wonderful book that simplified dry fly fishing for many of us. I bought both of those patterns, 3 each at a time in Grayling when I got up there to fish the Au Sable, and they were the first dry flies I began tying.

Years later I got to meet Mr. Flick at a Trout Unlimited National Convention in Traverse City. I was happy to give him a message from our mutual friend, John Voelker (aka Robert Traver) and got my well-worn 1969 first edition autographed. What a thrill!

Jeff D, I've been tying up Wyatt's Deer Hair Sedge in various sizes, and found a #14 was exactly what the Big Manistee browns and bows wanted during a caddis hatch last May. Lost count of the fish, but that fly kept floating and floating and floating. It might replace my favorite Elk Hair Caddis. A very simple fly.

Speaking of the EHC, Les A., it's long been a favorite fished both dry and wet. The Renegade, size 16 has been my go-to midge/tiny mayfly pattern for many years. I think I got the fly from a Ted Trueblood (another hero) article in Field and Stream. Lately, the Griffith's Gnat has been easier to tie.

Happy fishing,

Aug 29, 2017
Something different
by: Hoppy D

If you want a break from tying Griffith's Gnat patterns, Herb, give Gary LaFontaine's "Buzzball" a try. One of those older patterns where messier is better.....

Aug 29, 2017
Thanks, Hoppy D!
by: Herb S.

I've got LaFontaine's dry fly book (and some of his others), but somehow this pattern escaped me. Looked it up on youtube. VERY buggy! A light version of the Gnat. I bet it also works wet like the Gnat and Renegade.

Happy Fishing,
Herb S.

Aug 30, 2017
by: Hoppy D

It works great fished wet, Herb!

Come to think of it, I catch more fish pulling dries under at the end of the float than during the float. Just a died-in-the-wool wet guy, I guess. Something lacking in my upbringing..... Ha!

Aug 31, 2017
Wet Flies
by: Herb S.

You're talking my language, Hoppy D! I mostly fish wets and have for decades. Along the line, like you, I found that many dries work as well or sometimes better fished wet, especially down-wing and palmered dries, but fish will smack almost any dry (even a Humpy once) when sunk. Apparently the Bizarre Trout Food guy, Anadromous Zimmern, says, "If it looks buggy, eat it!"

Happy Fishing,

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Your Tenkara Stories.

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." -
Col. Robert Venables 1662

As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.

Beware of the Dogma

Currently processing orders that were received Sep 25.

Back in Stock Notification

To be notified when a specific item is back in stock, please use the Back in Stock Notification form.

To be notified when new items are added to the shop and when out-of-stock items are back in stock please use the
This Just In... Signup