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One Fly? A Few Flies? Many Flies?

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Purple Reaper Midge

Purple Reaper Midge

When I first started fishing tenkara a few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of one fly. Some anglers preferred to use only a single type of fly in their fishing, stressing that stealth and presentation were far more important than the pattern one used. As long as a fly was generally the right size, with the correct overall appearance, and was fished in the right way, switching colors and patterns was an unnecessary distraction.

I respect those who practice this philosophy and appreciate the emphasis they espouse.

Other anglers are “fly junkies,” with fly boxes filled with dry flies, nymphs, and streamers, in a kaleidoscope of colors and sizes. They “match the hatch” continually and love to experiment with different patterns according to their understanding of the fish, water, and seasons.

Most of us, I suspect, are in-between, with, perhaps, a half-dozen favorite patterns that we rely on and fish with confidence. That’s the way I fish tenkara, anyway. I enjoy tying flies, and I think I would become bored if I tied only a single pattern. On the other hand, constantly switching flies leads to too much time NOT fishing! So, I stick with a few flies, and find that on some days one pattern works better than another.

Which patterns are my favorites? Well, that continues to evolve. I don’t think I could do without a gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph. I also love my Utah Killer Bugs and Reaper Midges. Another dry fly favorite is the tried-and-true Elk Hair Caddis. Sometimes, when I’m feeling more traditional, I’ll tie on a reverse-hackled Kebari fly.

How about you? Are you a one fly, few flies, or many flies tenkara angler? And how would you rank your favorite patterns?

Comments for One Fly? A Few Flies? Many Flies?

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Jan 10, 2019
Fly selection
by: Martin

Like you John I fish a few of the standards mostly. I like the dry dropper for pond fishing and normally use a tandem rig when fishing a stream or river. My basic flies are prince nymph, pheasant tail, hares ear and killer bug. I will normally use a size 18 or 20 back, olive or red zebra midge on the bottom. Occasionally I will substitute the midge whith a soft hackle. Seems to work for me.

Jan 10, 2019
Build a tradition of your own
by: Les Albjerg

The more I read about Kebari, the more I realize that it is a fly or family of flies based on tradition. It is a joy seeing you John build a set of flies and making your own tradition for fishing.

The latest fly that has become a part of my tradition is the "Keeper Kebari." It was one of my top producers last year. The one fly I am never without and fish often is the Renegade. It catches multiple species. It can be fished wet or dry. It is fairly easy to tie, and catches fish! I have been fishing with Renegades since the early 1970's.

I have added the Utah Killer bug to a "must have along" as well. Living in the West, a couple of good grasshopper imitations are a must as well. Thanks to Chris, I have also added the "overhand worm" in my selection.

This winter I have been exploring the heavy weighted European nymphs.

The golden ribbed hare's ear nymph is always in my box. I also have some streamers in the box as well.

To be totally candid, I am using up many patterns and continue to pare down the number of flies I fish with. This spring and summer, I would like to fish more kebari style flies. I have three reasons for making the switch. First, they work very well on the pressured waters of Japan. They are not often seen by the fish where I fish, so when I have used them, I have had great success. Third, they are easy to tie.

Last, but not least, I really like fishing with worms and find Red Wigglers to be very effective! So when I am fishing where bait is allowed, I often switch to Red Wigglers quickly if I can't entice them with a fly. Oh, I can't leave out the "fly spoons." The .4 gram Vega Spoons are a blast to catch fish on! When a trout slams a fly spoon, there is no doubt about the take!

Jan 10, 2019
One Fly?
by: David Noll

I'm known as "Da Worm" guy. I fish bead heads most of the time because while fish may be feeding either on or near the top there are always fish on the bottom. In fact, when fishing with a good friend, he quite often fishes on top and I follow with a nymph and we both catch fish in the same places. Lately I have been using nymphs from "Barbless Flies" in the UK. I can highly recommend them. The flies I use the most are his nymphs, a SRW, Pink Squirrel and Coulee Killers Bugs.

Jan 10, 2019
Worm guy?
by: Chris Stewart

Us guys who fish real worms call you Dave. (But we still like you anyway.)

Jan 10, 2019
How Many Flies Are Enough or Too Many?
by: Karl Klavon

When I took up Tenkara I had been fly fishing for many years, so I already had a stock of fly patterns that worked really well for me and I saw no reason to abandon them. So I did not run head long into fishing Kebari fly patterns.

I fish high mountain lakes as much as I can in addition to fishing small streams. Lakes harbor different trout food forms than streams do, requiring additional fly patterns to imitate those fish food resources. Or at least that is what I once believed. Now, I am not so sure.

For a period of years now, I have fished a fly pattern until it caught 10 fish, unless it is a complete failure, there is no point in beating a dead horse. Then I would change to a different pattern and repeat for another 10 fish, going through 10 or more fly patterns on a really good day. Obviously, if you can do that, one good catching fly would have worked just as well as the 10 flies did I used on that day.

I tie my own flies and enjoy tying and testing them, seeing if I can make changes that will pull fish from greater distances and with more speed. While fishing with a single pattern can be highly effective, I would find the lack of verity numbing at the tying vise and on the water.

The last few years I have been testing Phil Rabideau's Color Technology To Catch More Fish, from his book - The Master Angler, which involves water temperature, light levels, water conditions and water colors, and lure size, to pick or create patterns that have high contrast with the back-grounds and the water colors the fish will view them against, often using pattern platforms that have no resemblance to anything to be found in nature, and it has been working out rely well for me so far.

For the most part trout food forms are colored and marked to provide camouflaging to perpetuate the species. The ones who get eaten do not get to breed. And yet lure makers and match-the-hatch-types do everything they can to make lures that look exactly like the naturals the fish eat, which can be and often is counter productive.

Trout under water do not see things the same way they look to us above the water. Last fall I lost my lake fly box. I didn't have much time to fill a new one before a scheduled backpacking trip departure. I did not retie the flies I had been carrying and not fished in years, so I am getting by with much less now and enjoying it just as much. I am also fishing flies and color combinations that I would never have thought to try if I had not read Rabideau's book.

Jan 10, 2019
Intentional Fly Fishing
by: Les Albjerg

Karl - I bought and read Phil Rabideau's book after you talked about it before. I did learn several things from the book, but did find it to be a long advertisement for Mepp's.

At lunch today I was with John, one of my co-workers, who is just getting into fly fishing. Since he has already invested in rods, and such, I didn't want to confuse him too much with Tenkara. What came from the conversation is learning limits. Poor John wants (1) the magic fly and (2) a whole selection of flies so he has "the right fly!" I like John Evan's intention in this article. It is really up to the fisherman to determine the answer to the three questions in the title!

I would add the following question too. What are you fishing for? A few of us are heading to the South Fork of the Boise in a couple of weeks and our targeted species is Mountain Whitefish, not trout. I'll be fishing small nymphs and the overhand worm as well as a couple of egg patterns. Rising trout or whitefish aren't going to be happening this time of year on the South Fork! It is artificial bait only. This is where the value of Phil Rabideau's book was helpful to me. Think like the fish you are trying to catch. Poor John, my co-worker, is looking for the magic do it all fly, but doesn't want to not have at least two dozen patterns in at least 6 different sizes, just in case! I do believe that size and presentation are more important that the actual fly.

If your not reading "Tenkara Angler" you are missing out on a great free magazine online. The Fall issue has a great write-up of the "Overhand Worm" by Chris Stewart. It also has an unexpectedly good (I should say awesome!) article by Brad Trambo titled "Idaho Gold." It isn't unexpectedly good because it is about my home state, but because he really unpacks the advantages of Tenkara angling. I actually figured out from the pictures and description where he was fishing, even though he doesn't mention it in the article. It is some of the most pressured waters in Idaho. He did well! It is a place I wouldn't fish. I am glad he enjoyed himself. If you fish pressured waters I think it is a must read. If you don't you will still gain valuable insights. Just the pictures alone in "Tenkara Angler" makes it worth taking a look. Wow did I get a bit off topic. Not really. Check out the overhand worm!

Jan 10, 2019
Thank You Les For The Great Information
by: Karl Klavon

I took a look and read several articles including Chris's. Thanks a bunch. And you are right the book is an extensive Mepps advertisement but, I will take useful information from wherever I can find it.

I have a friend named John also, who is always searching for the magic bullet of fly patterns. There are no magic fly patterns. If there is any magic, it is in the magic presentations. Thanks, again....Karl.

Jan 11, 2019
Some Working Flies
by: Herb S.

My number one fly for both fly and fixed line fishing is a #8 Muddler Minnow followed closely by Woolly Buggers in Black and Olive in #8 bead head and unweighted #10. These have been good for panfish, bass and trout. I don’t leave home without them. Followed closely are #10, 14 & 16 Bead Head Fox Squirrel Nymphs (substituted for hare’s ear, I blend a little beaver fur in with a coffee bean grinder for binding). Being a longtime fan of wet flies I’ve settled on #10 to 14 March Brown Spiders (also tied with fox squirrel), #12, 14 & 16 Pheasant Tail soft hackles and #10, 14 & 16 Brown Hackle Peacock soft hackles as the standbys in that category. Dry flies: A #12 Humpy (tied without a tail Joe Humphreys style) has long been my #1 searching fly for small trout streams. Size 16 Renegade is my small fly go-to for hatches of tiny insects; even though it’s "too big" it often works. Elk Hair Caddis Light in # 14 and Dark #14 & 16 fished dry or sunk have been remarkably successful even when they don’t match the hatch, something I’ve wondered about until reading Bob Wyatt’s "What Trout Want". Wyatt only uses his Deer Hair Sedge and Emerger patterns for dry fly fishing in sizes to match the hatch. These are no-hackle patterns with only the deer hair wings treated with floatant letting the bodies sink. From my limited experience with them I think he’s on to something.

Since finding I’ve added Killer Buggers, Utah Killer Bugs and Kebari flies to the "regulars" list. It goes on. Fly tying and fishing are constant fields for experimentation. What fun! And the addition of keiryu and seiryu rods are not only delightful but open up learning opportunities unavailable to standard fly fishing tackle.

Happy fishing,

Jan 11, 2019
Terrestrial Fly Patterns Near Top Of Heap
by: Karl Klavon

I have found that foam ants (16&12), foam beetles (18&12), foam high country hoppers (#12) and a terrestrial foam spider pattern in (#13) to be highly successful patterns to use in the afternoons, after the wind has come up, on both lakes and streams.

The ants and beetles are tied with Two-Tone Foam, which is one sheet of 0.5mm and a sheet of 1mm black and tan Razor Foam sheets glued together, with 3M #77 spray adhesive. The foam is tied in with the black side up, so when it is pulled over into a shell-back, the tan side ends up on top, giving the fish maximum visibility against the sky from below with the black foam, and the angler maximum visibility while looking down on the fly from above the water with the tan side up.

The ants have Madam-X style legs of 0.5mm diameter black Stretch Magic Bead & Jewelry Cord, @ 10m (32 Ft.) per spool. And the fish do not seem to care that there are only 4 legs instead of 6. On the big ants, the body segments are tied with MIRAGE TINSEL, instead of using the bleached and died black peacock herl that the #16 ant uses, creating an iridescent chameleon effect that covers well for the silver air bubbles that water boatmen and back swimmers, and ants are known to carry, eliminating the need to carry those two extra patterns for lakes.

With the beetle patterns, the #12s get 6 Knotted Black Pheasant Tail Legs that the fish really go crazy for, while the #18s get a 6 or so fiber chevron pieces of Starling, tied in on the point stem of each chevron only, over the bleached, died black peacock herl body before the shell-back is pulled over and tied down at the same place as the leg tie in to form the beetle's head.

The spider and hopper patterns are tied with Cream colored 2mm thick foam for good angler visibility. The body on the hopper is black Jameson's Shetland Wool, with a low in the water float and great visibility for the fish against the sky, with no legs at all included on this one and it catches fish just fine, and a wing of Dark Coastal Deer Hair tied in under where the head flap will go. The head is an extension of the shell-back of cream colored foam, pulled over and around a length of 1/8" DIA. black foam parachute post, to form a blunt head and 2 black hopper eyes.

The Foam Spider is tied on a TMC 212 TR Special Emerger Hook, - 1x fine, 4x short, 5x wide gap that hangs down low in the water similar to the Klinkhamer style hooks and flies. The body is natural dyed orange peacock herl. The parachute post is made in an hourglass shape piece of 2mm thick cream colored foam. The parachute hackle is gray Partridge, stripped off on the inside, tied in by the tip, concave side facing up, and wrapped around the foam post 1.5 times. Then, it is whip finished down in between the foam fore and aft projections. On this pattern the hackle is for leg simulation only and contributes nothing to the flotation. The odd hook size is because the fish took the #14s too deeply and the #12s were too big, often putting the fish off.

The vast majority of the fly patterns most anglers carry and use simulate aquatic insects, at least to some extent with Tenkara flies also included in the aquatic insect family. While, out of the total insect species found on earth the aquatic insects only account for 5 percent in actual numbers and species. I believe, as anglers, we ought to give the other 95 percent of terrestrial insects the pattern representation they properly deserve.

Jan 11, 2019
Preoccupied With Beetle Patterns
by: Karl Klavon

It may seem strange to most anglers here for me to be so preoccupied with beetle patterns. After all, are not Tenkara fishermen supposed to be fishing with more traditional Japanese Kebari patterns?

Well, the Forrest Service determined that we have lost 140,000,000 pines in Sierra National Forest, due to the drought conditions and Pine Bark Beetle infestation to this point, with considerably more trees to follow here shortly.

In Sequoia National Forest, just to the Southeast of where I live and go up to fish, 40 % of the trees have died for the same reasons. Driving up to go fishing, the whole forest looks like a wasteland of dead and dying trees.

How many beetles does it take to kill a pine tree? I have no idea. A thousand beetles? Two-thousand beetles? However many it takes, there has to be a whole lot of beetles out there for the trout to eat, and beetle patterns work exceedingly well here, whether you are fishing in lakes or streams.

Added to that I see about 1,000 big black Carpenter Ants for every beetle that I see, and they are also highly effective fly patterns to use here.

Terrestrial Spider Patterns also produce quite well, especially on streams, with Hopper Patterns also doing very well where the terrain is right for hopper populations to do well.

Due to the drought conditions, many of our small streams that previously held trout have gone completely dry. And those that did not dry up became so warm that the trout in them also died, with the brook trout going first, then the rainbows, and eventually even the browns as well.

The mayflies have pretty much completely disappeared, with the caddis and stonefly populations pretty much following suit, and so the terrestrials are about all that is left for the fish to eat besides the midges. The streams that have lakes at their headwaters will eventually re-seed their fish populations if their fish populations also survive. But here and now, and for the foreseeable future, terrestrial fly patterns are about the most productive flies that you can fish. That's why I have put so much time and effort into researching the most effective beetle patterns I can develop lately....Karl.

Jan 13, 2019
A contrarian view
by: J Hopkins

I’ll be the first to go the other direction.
Given that I’m fishing the streams of the Sierra Nevadas for trout only, I’ve become a believer in bringing just two flies. Both are sakasa kebaris, one light colored for when the sky is bright, one dark colored for when it’s dark (early morning, late afternoon, or very cloudy).
The light one is a partridge and orange, the dark one is starling and brown.
It’s not because I think these are better than others, just that they’re demonstrably no worse. This simplification allows me to focus my mind on the water, where the fish are, and the optimal way to present my fly to them.
(Plus, I don’t really enjoy tying, and I’m not especially gifted at it, so by sheer repetition I’m very good at these two!)
Correspondingly I almost never vary my line length, tippet length, or tippet diameter. Same reasoning. I spend all my precious day of fishing actually fishing, rather than changing things.
Works very well for me… but that’s just me.

Jan 13, 2019
Best reasons for one (few) fly policy
by: Chris Stewart

In my opinion, those are the two best reasons for adopting a one (or few) fly policy:
1. Works as well as anything else
2. Don't really enjoy tying.

Jan 13, 2019
Hard to work backwards
by: Les Albjerg

I remember when the only fly I could tie was the Wooly Worm. I caught a lot of fish on that fly. Then dozens of fly tying books latter and lots of seminars and theories later, I now find myself moving quickly back to a more minimal fishing lifestyle.

One way I do that is to take a minimal amount of terminal tackle with me when I leave. For example, yesterday I only took my Lure Wallet with .4 gram Vega Fly-Spoons and I had a banner day of fishing. I caught several brown trout, rainbow trout, and mountain whitefish using the TenkaraBum 40 and the Fine Power 56.

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