Ishigaki Kebari

The Ishigaki Kebari is the American name for the fly. Dr. Ishigaki does not call it the Ishigaki Kebari. He would not name a fly after himself, but I think it is only fitting that we do so.

In May 2009, Dr. Ishigaki gave a slide presentation and on-stream demonstration of tenkara at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. His visit seems to have kicked off the interest in tenkara in the US. In an interview after the presentation, he said that what he likes about tenkara is the simplicity.

He definitely takes that appreciation for simplicity to his choice of flies. Years ago he ran out of his favorite fly and went to a fly shop to get replacements. He saw this extremely simple fly, bought it, and found that he caught just as many fish with it as he did with his favorite.

From that experience, he came to the conclusion that the choice of fly is not the most important factor in catching fish, the technique is. And from then on, he mostly has fished this one fly. This simple fly allows him to fish with many different techniques.

Ishigaki Kebari in netIshigaki Kebari in the net with a brown trout

The Ishigaki Kebari is constructed with just a hackle feather and a thread body. When he tied his fly at the demonstration in the Catskills, he used brown rooster hackle and black thread. Dr. Ishigaki uses simple sewing thread from the equivalent of a 99 cent store. He also ties the same fly with a grey thread body and a grizzly hackle.

Golden Trout with gray/grizzly Ishigaki KebariGolden Trout taken with a Gray/Grizzly Ishigaki Kebari

The Soft Hackled Ishigaki Kebari

At his tying demonstration in the Catskills, Dr. Ishigaki clearly indicated that he tied his fly with rooster hackle.

hair feathers

When this page was first written, wearing feather hair extensions was all the craze and good hackle became almost unobtainable. Add to that the fact that I have loved soft-hackled flies from the moment I first saw one. Thus, I've started tying the Ishigaki Kebari  as a soft hackle. The tying sequence below shows the Ishigaki Kebari tied with dyed partridge hackle. The gray bodied fly tied with partridge breast feathers is also a clear winner.

Whether to use rooster hackle or soft hackle depends on where you will fish the fly. In faster currents (or among a faster crowd) the rooster hackle would work better.

Tying a Soft Hackle
Ishigaki Kebari

The instructions below are for a soft hackle variation of the Ishigai Kebari. Dr. Ishigaki ties the fly with rooster hackle, and although the hackle has a slight foward slant (sakasa kebari style) it is not slanted forward nearly as much as the fly shown below.

1. Start your thread just behind the hook eye. For a size 12 hook and 6/0 thread, make 9 or 10 wraps back from the eye.

Hook in vise, thread started just behind eye.

2. For this step-by-step I am using a partridge feather that has been dyed brown. Strip the barbs off a feather to the point where the barbs are about the length of the hook shank.

Prepared brown-dyed partridge feather.

3. Tie in by the tip, with the dull side of the feather (the side that was towards the skin) facing up. Wrap about halfway to the eye. Push the end up with your fingernail to make it easier to trim off.

Hackle feather tied in

4. Trim the excess, build a head with thread wraps, lift the feather and take three wraps on the other side of the feather stem.

Ready to wrap hackle

5. As you wrap the feather, at each wrap, pull the barbs out of the way with your right hand and wrap with your left. Each wrap should be just behind (towards the hook bend) the previous one. Wrap until you get to bare stem. Clip the stem and any stray hackle barbs.

Hackle wrapped and tied off.

6. To taper the body, first wrap halfway back to the bend, then back to the base of the hackle.

Starting to wrap thread body.

7. Then wrap ALMOST to the bend, back to the hackle and again back to the bend. This time take three wraps beyond where you stopped previously. Do a whip finish going back over those three wraps in touching turns towards the eye. Clip the thread.

Thread body wrapped to hook bend.
Finished fly in vise.

I must point out here that the body shown above follows years of tying slim-bodied soft hackles with silk thread. It really doesn't look like Dr. Ishigaki's own ties. He ties the fly with cheap sewing thread purchased in the equivalent of a dollar store. Not because he's cheap but because it works just as well. He wraps quickly, with absolutely no regard for "touching turns." He brags that he can tie the fly in 60 seconds (and indeed he can). Why does he tie quickly and not neatly? Because with respect to flies intended to catch fish rather than fishermen, neatness doesn't count.

So, the Ishigaki Kebari the only fly you'll ever fish? Almost certainly not. But is it the only fly you need? Well, let me just say that Dr. Ishigaki, who knows more about tenkara than we do, thinks it's the only one he needs. He considers both variations (black body with brown hackle and gray body with grizzly hackle) to still be one fly.

(Spoiler Alert: Dr. Ishigaki has been seen - filmed actually - showing and fishing a beadhead fly! He called it his secret, but once the film got out, the secret got out. However, it does not change his basic philosophy - which is not ONE FLY, and only one all the time. The philosophy is simplicity and practicality - use what works. His simple, black bodied, brown hackled kebari works in Japanese mountain streams, so when fishing those streams he fishes the simple, quick-to-tie fly that works as well as any other. When fishing a much slower, much deeper river in England, he pulled out and tied on his secret fly. Why? Because in slower, deeper water it would work better.)

Tenkara USA claims a trademark on the name "Ishigaki Kebari" even though they did not develop the pattern and the name was in the public sphere ever since Dr. Ishigaki made the recipe and tying instructions public in May of 2009.

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