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by Karl K
(Fresno, California)

Just what on earth is Commando Tenkara fly Fishing? A Tenkara Commando is an angler who fishes the very smallest of tight, brushy streams, where the casting distances are very short if a real cast can be made at all, and with the bow-and-arrow cast becoming the most often used casting technique. The trout are also usually as small as the streams they live in, but every now and again some big fish are hooked and, hopefully, landed and released. Commando anglers usually take no prisoners.

Commando Tenkara Fishing Rods:
This kind of angling usually involves using the shortest and lightest of fixed line rods. The Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18 & 24 rods, at 5' 10" and 7' 10" in length and 0.6 to 1 ounces in weight respectively are my current favorites. These rods have relatively fast actions and considerable backbone that's needed to stop fish quickly from running in tight quarters with lots of snags, and to adequately handle those big surprises that come along from time to time.

Tenkara Commando Lines:
The tight, brushy little streams we are talking about here fish best with light lines that are a match for the short rods being used in their length. The rods should be about as long as the stream's average width. The lines I am presently using are 5, 6, 8, 11 & 13 feet in length, excluding the tippet. The two longest lines are reserved for longer rods, used on more open streams with fewer to no overhead branches.

Commando Tenkara Fly Patterns:
Because these kinds of streams are usually quite shallow and the fish are looking up after the snow runoff has subsided, the only fly patterns listed here are dry flies, which are also the easiest kinds of flies to fish on these kinds of streams.

I carry only one small fly box (the C&F Design Light Weight model), with the lid carrying 8 of #17 Halloween down wings, 8 of #13 Green Butt down wings, 8 of #11 Orange Down Wings, 8 of #12 High Country Hopper patterns and 8 of #15 Pink Butt down wing fly patterns.

The bottom of the fly box carries only Terrestrial fly patterns in its foam slits, which are made up of the following: 8 of #18 Two-Toned Foam Beetle patterns, 6 of #12 Two-Toned Foam Beetle patterns, 6 of #13 Well Hung Foam Spider patterns, 8 of #12 Two-Toned X-Rated Ant patterns and 8 of #16 Two-Toned X-Rated Ant patterns patterns.

Commando Tenkara Tackle Packing:
Both of the rods are carried in their rod socks in the K-model Ebira rod quiver, which is only about 16 and 1/2 inches or so long, to which I have added two light lengths of nylon cord - one length on the shoulder strap so I now have two shoulder straps, and the other to the plastic tab opposite the bottom shoulder strap attachment point, at the bottom of the rod quiver to form an adjustable waist strap, with an added snap/hook/clamp to clip into the existing snap/hook. There is a small attached zippered pouch on the back of the K-model Ebira, and it holds the rod Sock for the rod being fished, my forceps while in transit, my Flip Focus Magnifiers, and a small bottle of insect repellent.

A BW Sports Tippet Fly Pouch carries all the rest of my Commando fly fishing tackle, which includes my fly box, my fly floatant puck, my nippers and a Hackle Grabber knot tying aid, attached to a Gear Keeper Zinger, hung from the D-ring for the neck strap attachment on the chest pack, which I find to be more comfortable when it is use as an over the shoulder pouch instead of being used as a chest pack.

The fly box has its own dedicated compartment, right up front on the Tippet Pouch chest pack's front, with the lines being carried inside of the pouch in their own attached Zip-Lock plastic bags, in a bellows fold out compartment work station, with the tippet spool and a Tip-Grip Pad going into an internal pocket, all held in place and closed by a Velcro strap that can be tucked in behind the line holding Zip-Lock bags to keep it out of the way while you are doing other things. There are also a couple of external pockets on the back of the pouch as well, in one of which the floatant goes when I pack things up to travel. The zinger and attached tools go inside of the bellows compartment for transport so they can't get hung up on stuff.

I added a hat clip clamp and a short length of nylon cord through the tunnel space below the bellows storage compartment, so I can clip the shoulder strap in place for transport and to keep the pouch from moving and swinging around and swinging out while climbing, hiking and fishing. I carry the pouch behind my back most of the time when its not needed, then I swing it around to the front when I need to get into it. The pouch only measures about 6.25 X 5.25 X 2 inches fully loaded with all the lines and the fly box in place. Its really light weight, compact and comfortable to wear. Its really all you need for carrying all the fishing tackle you will need while fighting your way through the riparian jungles to be found along these little creeks.

Commando Tenkara Fly Fishing Conclusions:
Commando Tenkara anglers usually fish with fixed line rods that most Tenkara anglers would not consider to be "true Tenkara rods". Be that as it may, the rewards of doing this kind of fishing are all out of proportion to the size of the tackle being used, and the size of the fish usually being caught, and sometimes with big surprises thrown in for good measure. And one of the best things about all this is that you will usually have these little streams and their fish all to yourself because the more traditional Tenkara anglers would find it impossible to fish these tiny creeks with their longer more traditional tackle.


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Mar 27, 2015
Nice Post
by: Alan Luecke

Karl, thank you for a great post. It is obvious you've worked hard to get all the details figured out. I love small streams but have never messed with dry flies. Your logic is persuasive. It may be time for the next step.

Mar 27, 2015
Dries are very important for small streams
by: Chris Stewart

I remember seeing a post Karl made somewhere that said a huge percentage of a small freestone stream trout's diet is made up of terrestrials - which are largely imitated with dry flies. Essentially, small stream trout are always looking up.

Mar 28, 2015
dries for small streams
by: Adam

Two dries I find particularly productive for these kinds of streams are the Ausable Bomber and the Usual. Fran Betters patterns. The Bomber looks like a stimulator and imitates a number of terrestrial and winged-insects. The Usual works as a sub for the caddis and at the same time can be fished as an emerger or a nymph like a Killer Bug. If I could choose only two two flies to have for small streams, it would be those. And most often that's what you'll find next to my kebari, in tiny 3 x 2.5 x 1 mini fly box.

Mar 28, 2015
More Dries On Small Streams Info
by: Karl K.

Other than the down wings imitating caddis and stoneflies, no attempt at imitation was made with my down wing fly patterns. The goal was to develop 4 patterns that would be visible to the angler under any and all lighting conditions. All of them, and the hopper pattern as well, are butt series patterns, having butts of various colors of FL-Uni-Stretch thread, for a Hot Spot located at the business end of the hook for the fish to target.

The Halloween's colors are a black wing with a FL-orange butt, and a mixed orange and UV-treated natural appearing peacock herl body. A black wing is most visible under back-light dawn & dusk and overcast conditions, when a light colored wing would just get lost in the light reflecting up off of the water.

The Green Butt has a FL-chartreuse green butt and a light pink wing, with a mixed UV-golden stone & regular golden stone peacock herl body. This is good pattern when green light is filtering through a broad leaf canopy and fall yellow light.

The Orange Down Wing has an orange wing, a FL-Chinese Red butt, and a mixed black and UV-peacock herl body. Good in orange sunsets and when October Caddis are about.

The High Country Hopper Also has a FL-orange Butt.

The Pink Butt has a white wing, a FL-pink butt, a UV-Red & dyed red mixed peacock herl body.

Mar 28, 2015
Terrestrial Pattern Info
by: Karl K.

The "Two-Toned Foam" gets us around a big problem in fishing ant and beetle patterns - the lack of visibility for the angler when these patterns are tied with black closed cell foam.

Two-Toned Foam is made by buying 2 packs of Razor Foam, one in Tan and the other in Black, which come 2 sheets of 0.5 and 2 sheet of 1.0 mm foam to a package. 3M, No.77 spray adhesive is used to glue a 0.5 mm of one color of sheet of foam to a 1.0 mm thick sheet of the other color of foam together to make a 1.5mm thick Two-Tone Foam sheet.

The black side is tied in face up and when the foam is pulled over the under body to form the shell back for the ant's body segments or the beetle's body, you have the light colored foam on top of the fly for good angler visibility of the fly in the water.

The X-Rated in the Two-Toned Foam X-Rated Ant patterns relates to the Madam-X style of tying in of rubber legs, which I am now using "Stretch Magic" brand, a 0.5mm/0.019" diameter bead & jewelry cord for in stead of using fly tying rubber leg type materials.

To tie in the X-legs after the barbell shaped abdomen and head ant body segments are completed and the thread is hanging from the bobbin in the center of the hook. Cut a length of rubber cord a little more than twice as long as the legs need to be. Doubling it over, grasp each end and slide it up under the tying thread until it is resting on top of the hook, and release the leg material. The tension of the weight of the bobbin will hold the leg material in place. Make 3 light wraps of thread around the legs, cut the loop end in two and pull the leg material down on each side until the legs are on the sides of the hook. make two tight wraps, whip finish, trim the thread and legs for length, and cement. Your ant pattern is done

If I had to choose one fly pattern do do all of my fly fishing with, it would be an ant pattern. Ants are the most frequently encountered insects that small stream trout come in contact with, everywhere.

Mar 28, 2015
The Well Hung Spider Pattern
by: Karl K.

This spider pattern is tied on TMC's 212Y hook -
(the Y stands for Yameme), which is a dry fly/emerger hook, that is 4X short in shank length, with a 5X wide gape, in a forged, black-nickle finish, which is kind of like a Klinkhamer hook in that most of the hook sits a long ways below the water line.

In fishing the fly I was getting a lot of short strikes and long distance wet releases with this style of hook, which I didn't get with other styles of hooks I have used in the past, so I decided to try to turn this hooking liability into an asset by putting an attractive under water body on the hook to convince the fish to take it more readily and to hold on to it longer.

I did this by wrapping orange thread well down and around the hook bend, close to the barb end of the hook. Tying in a died orange peacock herl strand and a fine copper rib, and wrapping the body and ribbing back up to the mid point on the level part of the hook shank and trimming away the excess rib material.

Next, a partridge hackle is prepared by stripping off all hackle fivers on the away side of the feather with the concave side facing up, then tied in by the tip. The herl was then wrapped up to the eye and back to the waiting thread on the hook and the excess trimmed away.

A 2 mm thick piece of Lt-Cahill colored foam was doubled and cut with a wing cutter so that it had two pointed ends, and tied in at the thread so one pointed end stuck out beyond the hook eye. Then the foam was doubled over and the other end was tied down, forming a thread post for the hackle to be wrapped around, between the foam body and the herl wrapped hook shank, then whip finished over the hackle butt to hold it in place, with super glue applied to the thread before the knot is tied.

The fly looks like a terrestrial spider holding a midge pupa underneath it, and it is catching fish a lot better now. A 5X hook gape has a lot of hook holding power, and the body under the water has great pulling appeal. It floats well and is easy to see on the water. The parachute hackle also allows it to land with more delicacy than the ant and beetle patterns do, although it is harder to cast into a good wind.

Jan 04, 2016
Killer Bugs!
by: Tim S.

The very small streams (some, you can literally step across and not get your shoes wet) I fish in Central Pa. produce very well with a Killer Bug pattern. I tie it with a #16 nymph hook, 6 turns of 0.15 lead, pink thread head (no bead) and copper ribbing.
They hit almost immediately! The smallest Native Brookie I landed last year was just over 1 inch in length.

Nov 05, 2016
Well Hung Spider Tying Update
by: Karl Klavon

I have come up with a change that makes the well Hung Spider pattern faster and easier to tie with out compromising its floating and fishing abilities.

The Spider's Foam Body is now tied out of a 3/8" wide Foam Disc, cut out of a 2mm thick foam sheet with a 3/8" hole punch. The thread is wrapped around the disc twice loosely in the middle, and then pulled down tight to the hook shank. Making 3 or so horizontal thread wraps around the thread hackle post between the foam disc and the Peacock Herl under-body gives a nice firm surface to wrap the Parachute Partridge Hackle around, then whip finish vertically to finish the fly off.

Using Natural Peacock Herl Dyed Orange and a Bird Dubbing Hook to form a Peacock Chenille eliminates the need for a wire rib on this pattern's under-body and seems to be durable enough.

Feb 01, 2018
Two-Toned X-Rated Ant
by: Jay

Looking for a High Sierra ant pattern, I stumbled on to this one. The pattern and the discussion are fascinating. I am ready to acquire the materials and give this a go at the vise. One question:

It appears from the written instructions (unless I am mis-reading) that before you tie the fly you must bend the hook down to some extent. Am I correct about this? If so, where do you bend the hook and how far down.

I am wondering if there is a photo available to give me a clearer picture of this, or of the final result. Or perhaps the flies can be purchased somewhere?

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“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

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

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