Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Kebari & Fly Tying Techniques Tenkara

Downstream Tenkara Rod Angling

Article by Jim Wright

Fly fishing downstream for trout in small tributaries was the first angling method that I practiced as a wide-eyed youngster. Weekends and summer vacations would find me flailing my coarsely tied fly at eager little rainbows. It has become my method of choice wherever I can practically employ it. And most happily on little blue-line tributaries where the tactic really shines, and may likely be the only reasonable plan of attack.

I have found that I can get my kebari just as deep as in upstream presentations, but with better control and (I feel) a more natural drift. The method that I am presenting here seems to work best in pocket type water on shallow streams, small pools and in tight spaces.

The gear couldn’t be simpler. I prefer a rod between 8 and 11 feet for any fishing on my tight headwaters. This seems a practical length depending upon bank cover. I haven’t used one, but a zoom rod should be ideal. Line length should ideally be short in brushy stretches and longer in more open water.

Ideal Kebari for the Tactic Might Include: 

  1. The venerable Doctor Ishigaki style in black/brown, red/brown, gray/grizzly and all black. Sometimes purple/grizzly.
  2. Any wool body sakasa soft hackles or killer bugs, buggers and they’re related kin
  3. Sakasa kebari plus a midge as a dropper off the bend of the top fly hook
  4. And most importantly, whatever works for you. This is often a very personal call!
Jim Wright - Downstream Tenkara Rod Angling - Ishigaki Kebari
Dr. Ishigaki style kebari

My own favorites include the above plus: sunken ants, Partridge and Peacock sakasa soft hackles, black Killer Buggers, Sawyer style Killer Bugs with a wool tail and unweighted Killer Worms.

NOTE: All the above should be selected in a few different colors, for use depending upon lighting conditions. Also, selected to fish at different water depths. The method is straight forward. Just steer the fly into the fish’s mouth. Well, almost. Let’s see how it would work.

Facing downstream you see a 12-foot-wide stretch of water with rocks, cobbles and branches, relatively shallow but with obvious holding spots. The bank side vegetation makes it difficult to exit the water, except for (sometimes) narrow beaches and the occasional deer trail.

The tree canopy is fairly clear above, so you have chosen a longer rod and line for today’s angling. You will need it to keep some distance from feeding fish. The broken water ahead will hide your movement if you: A. go slowly, B. avoid kicking up much sand or silt and C. keep your posture fairly low.

But these are wild fish and the response to any shadow above will be automatic and swift! Enter our longish rod and line.

Simply drop your kebari into the stream near you. Let it drift away from you as you maintain line control, but not tightly as your kebari must penetrate the water surface and sink if that is desired. This can require a wee bit of slack. As the kebari proceeds, drop your rod tip in sync with the water speed until your rod is horizontal and the kebari comes close to hanging in the current below. This is a hot spot for strikes so be alert.

Just as it comes back up to the water surface, be ready and lift it free of the surface film. Now lift your rod, swinging the kebari through the air toward you and letting it drop again into the water near you, but in a slightly different spot. And that is really all there is to the process. Simple yes? I love simple.

As you slowly progress downstream, you will find that you need to adjust your approach. Moving slower or faster, avoiding obstacles or temporarily stepping onto the bank. But your main objective will be to spot a productive looking current lane flowing past, between and around rocks, logs or next to undercut banks. Now drift that kebari to cover as much water as reasonably possible.

Jim Wright - Downstream Tenkara Rod Angling - Stream

Getting your kebari to the correct depth is vital to success in many, but not all situations. Occasional slower and clearer water will allow a fish to spot your offering and move appropriately to intercept it. However, fish in moving water must avoid swimming against current for food that doesn’t replace the energy expended to catch it. They will also need to make that a snap decision as most often the water flow is fast enough that little time is available for the decision. Wild fish are very good at this.

So, to repeat an important point, getting your kebari to the correct depth is important. Remember when we talked about choosing kebari for different depths? Whatever you tie on should have the ability to fish a somewhat varied but specific depth range, depending upon the aquatic environment.

The Dr. Ishigaki kebari is a great choice. It begins its maiden voyage on top and then sinks to cover the top third of the stream depth (more or less). Likewise, the wool body kebari soaks up water making it penetrate the surface film and sink quite nicely to mid depth. A heavy hook helps here.

The added copper wire under body of killer bugs and buggers ensure that the lower water layer is covered as well, without unduly handicapping a tenkara rod. And, with those three or four kebari styles you can get that fly in front of the nearest (and hopefully largest) fish in fine angler fashion.

This technique is most useful when a cast is impossible in an upstream direction. I once used it in a shallow tributary of a small stream, where the willows grew out into the water, which was full of wild brookies. After carefully threading my way through the multitude of small trunks and positioning myself upstream, I waited to be sure that I had not spooked the pod.

By letting the killer bugger float down the current, I could take two trout before putting the others down. This is often how angling in a tiny stream progresses. It’s a patience game but, the downstream drift is an excellent way of presentation when the going gets tough. And, may give you a leg up at any other time when conditions allow you to pull it off.

Jim Wright, the owner of, has pursued trout, studied stream entomology and tied trout flies since 1967. He retired his Western fly gear, taking up tenkara in 2012.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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