Kebari & Fly Tying Tenkara

Fly Tying: The Catgut Kebari

Tutorial by Robb Chunco

Like many people who tie flies, I enjoy exploring the possibilities of new tying materials. It’s part of the fun of fly tying.

I had seen the use of catgut by Czech nymphers and was immediately intrigued by its possible use in tying a kebari pattern. When a catgut fly is submerged it swells slightly and gains a very lifelike and buggy segmented appearance.

Catgut Kebari Wet

To be clear, catgut is not made from any part of a cat.

cat·gut /ˈkatˌɡət/

a material used for the strings of some musical instruments, made of the dried twisted intestines of sheep or horses (but not cats).

This is one of a few patterns I’ve tried with catgut. There are several sizes and colors available. Have some fun trying a few of them out!


  • Hook: Fulling Mill Czech Nymph, size 12
  • Thread: UTC 140 denier “Olive Green”
  • Hackle: Metz #1 Hen neck “Grizzly”
  • Dubbing: Dark Hare’s Mask & Pine Squirrel
  • Body: Troutline Catgut Biothread “Caddis Green”, size Medium (available through Trout Legend)

Tying Instructions

First, fill a small glass or bowl with water. The catgut is stiff and dry right out of the package and must be soaked for several minutes to become workable. I only soak a few inches at a time, but you can certainly soak the entire length if you’d like.

Mount a hook in your vise and start the thread at the eye and make about 10 turns back.

Choose a feather a bit smaller than you would normally use for a sakasa kebari. You don’t want to “overpower” the appearance of the fly. Tie in the prepared feather and trim the excess.  Make turns back, stopping at the feather base.

Very lightly dub the thread with dark hare’s mask, and form a small head. 5-6 wraps should be enough. As with most dubbing situations, less is more.

Now bring the bare thread behind the hackle and makes 3-4 wraps.

Wrap the hackle using your fingers to gently sweep the fibers forward as you go. It doesn’t need to be swept forward in an exaggerated fashion, just enough to stand out perpendicularly to the hook.

Tie off the hackle and trim the stem.

Wrap the thread back slightly into the bend, and begin to build some bulk for an underbody. It’s best to make it slightly plump in the middle and tapered off at both ends.  This helps create some room by the hackle when it comes time to tie off the catgut.

By now, the catgut should be nice and soft and ready to wrap. I’ve found that it’s best to leave the length intact in order to not waste any of it. It’s a bit trickier to tie this way, but you will end up saving a substantial amount of material.

Tie in the catgut about 3/16″ behind the hackle, and with nice tight wraps make your way to the end of your thread underbody and then back toward the hackle. It’s important to keep the catgut on top of the hook in order to have a nice, even appearance in the finished fly.

Start wrapping the catgut with touching turns toward the hackle and tie it off just past where you tied it in. I usually use a drop of CA glue on the thread just for a bit of insurance.

Dub the thread with more of the dark hare’s mask mixed with a bit of pine squirrel for a nice spiky effect. Being careful not to crowd the hackle, wrap the dubbing noodle to and whip finish directly behind the thorax you just created. Again, I usually apply a bit of CA glue to the thread before I whip finish to help ensure the integrity of the knot.

Completed Catgut Kebari

Fishing the Catgut Kebari

This fly sinks nicely without being too heavy for a softer action rod. I’ve used it with my Oni Type I without any casting issues. I fish it with a simple “down and across” presentation. Throw in a few gentle pulses and let it hang in the current for a bit before you pick up to cast again.

Good luck and have fun!

Robb Chunco is a husband, father, and an angler that’s pretty passionate about tying flies of all kinds. He is the proprietor of Creekside Kebari, where anglers can find a great assortment of wet flies, nymphs, and Japanese-style kebari. Stay tuned with his latest updates on Instagram @creeksidekebari

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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