Kebari & Fly Tying Tenkara

Jason Sparks’ Gnarly Fly

Every creek and stream I’ve fished in the Appalachian Mountains chasing trout has seen this fly. It produced in South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and in my home state of North Carolina. This fly and I have logged hundreds of hours and miles of water getting to know each other during “one fly” sessions in every month of the year. This is my “go-to” fly. How did I get to this and why does it work so well for me?

Jason Sparks Gnarly Fly

It isn’t any part of original that I have ever claimed. Often, I have attributed it’s creation and inspiration to the Shotaro kebari. You know the one that looks haphazard and like a half squished bug? That is what I kept envisioning in my head when I started working on this pattern. As it is with most things we see in life, they are rarely virgin creations and are usually adaptations of something already existing. The other parts of this would need to go credited to Chris Stewart of Tenkara Bum for his fly known as the “Killer Kebari” and the genesis of that fly to both Frank Sawyer’s “Killer Bug” and the Tenkara Guides (Rob, John and ERiK) own modernized “Utah Killer Bug”. See how it doesn’t seem to be so much of an original light bulb for me when I can trace those tracks back to clearly. I guess it may just as well be a lazy tier’s version of “all-of-the-above”. I guess I have developed my own variant in the blend of these flies. Since I am mostly self taught in my flycraft, I will say that the steps I’m using, right or wrong, are steps I refined.

In many things I do, I strive for efficiency of motion, reduction of materials, re-use where applicable and simplicity in design. Most likely all that can be traced back to years in the US Navy and months at sea on a Nuclear Submarine trying to conserve on every little thing. I try to get three flies from one hen feather. I can tie 20 flies from a long rooster hackle. I reduce wasted yarn by calculating lengths needs for 18 wraps. I also start in my thread so tight in my fingertips that often I do have any tag to clip away, it just gets wrapped to the shaft. All that to say that these steps are my own.

Jason Sparks Gnarly Fly - 2

How do I fish it? As you can see I typically tie it up unweighted, although there are bead-head version in my Altoids tin. I think it does amazing things in a dead drift. It is all kind of alive in the micro currents. The wool yarn body gives it some heft for a nice sink rate. It swims around in eddies with the best of them. It dances nicely on the surface of the water when you put a little tap action on your rod. This thing looks like a mid-Summer bug trying to get out of the water. I have some tied up in #10 and down into the #18’s, but the #12 and #14 is a sweet size the the wild trout I was chasing in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The best presentation that I know of for this fly is to get it wet.


  • Hook: Allen D102BL Scud #12
  • Thread: Danville’s 140 Waxed Flymaster +Plus+
  • Yarn: Jamison’s Shetland Spindrift (wren, bracken, rye, oyster, black)
  • Feather: Indian Hen or Indian Rooster (natural, gray or black)

Tying Instructions

  1. Fully wrap the hook shaft in thread and down into the bend a bit.  This prevents the yarn from sliding around on the metal.  I like to do two full layers across the shaft and four layers at the eye and the bend.  I do this because I want the color used to stand up when it gets wet and not get transparent and fade away.
  2. Add in the yarn about one quarter of the shaft away from the eye.  I tie on the yarn at the front because I like two layers for a fatter body.
  3. Make turns with your yarn keeping the natural twist in it as you move toward the bend in the hook.  I like to stop the yarn at the top of the bend as it starts to make the “body curve”.  Recall that we tied the thread a bit deeper.  That offers a big of a color signature of thread sticking out from beneath the yarn.
  4. Wrap that second layer of thread snug against the first and walk it back to where you started.
  5. Now a few wraps of thread over the yarn right as it falls off the front of that first layer.  So when you are cinching that second wrap directly the the hookshaft.
Jason Sparks Gnarly Fly - Step 5
  1. Snip off the yarn and makes some wraps to clean up the head of the fly, finishing your turns right up against the yarn body.
  2. Tie in your feather (I tie in tip first) and make one wrap around the fly body.  Twist the feather one half turn and make a second wrap.
Jason Sparks Gnarly Fly - Step 7
  1. Make three wraps of thread right over the feather cinching it in place.  At this point you should have some feather forward and some aft of that centerline. 
Jason Sparks Gnarly Fly - Step 8
  1. Whip finish (or your choice of closure) and you are done.  I do a double whip to tie off.
Jason Sparks Gnarly Fly - Complete

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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