Kebari & Fly Tying

A Top to Bottom Tenkara Fly Box

I’m not a “match the hatch” angler. Instead of mimicking the exact meal that a trout may be looking for, I’m looking to put “something tasty” into whatever water column depth the fish is paying attention to. The idea behind this box was to create a broad capability that can target all levels of the water column in a reasonably buggy way.

You won’t see any kebari in this box. It’s not a snub to kebari patterns… I selected all these flies from a vendor who’s modest offering of kebari was out of stock when I placed the order. I don’t feel that I lost much capability in selecting western patterns. The sole concession is that it left me unable to fish the sakasa pulse technique. All the unweighted patterns are perfectly suited for traditional tenkara manipulations and technique otherwise. I’ve never noticed a difference in catch rates between sakasa (forward sweep) or jun (rearward sweep) hackles, so to me they are interchangeable. What is not interchangeable is the utility of the futsu (neutral) stiff hackles for working the film.

This box is an attempt to create a balanced mix of opposites – colors that are light/dark/natural/loud, visual profiles that are slim, medium, or large, with weighted or unweighted options. In many cases, I chose the pattern because it is basic, and be adjusted by stripping or clipping parts of it away to change its look. I can also quickly apply color to a fly with Sharpie markers, allowing me to darken the pattern or add an attention-grabbing hotspot.

<strong>1. Orange and Partridge #14</strong>
1. Orange and Partridge #14

A slim profile with an almost natural color. I consider it to be a “medium light” shade and can darken the body or hackle with a Sharpie if needed. Riding the film in a dead drift or skittered across the top with some action, I’m usually fishing it within the upper 6 inches of the water column, and rarely deeper than a few feet. I’d throw this fly where the fish are oriented upwards in slow to moderate currents and relatively clear water. The hackle can be stripped away to result in a very simple nymph/midge. Its smaller profile and natural colors make it easier to lose in very fast or dark water.

<strong>2. Shakey Bakey #14</strong>
2. Shakey Bakey #14

A similar profile with louder colors. It gets fished the same way as the O&P, but the high visibility tones are useful in fast water or on overcast days. The pattern can be adjusted down to a nymph/midge by clipping the tail or hackle. These could be darkened as needed, but I’ve never encountered a situation where that seemed necessary.

<strong>3. Adams Trude #14</strong>
3. Adams Trude #14

This dark natural with a Jun hackle is all about fishing the surface in faster water. The stiffer collar keeps it riding high. The white wing helps keep it in sight but can be easily removed or darkened if needed. Like the soft hackles above, it can be trimmed down to a simple bug.

<strong>4. Blonder Wulf #14</strong>
4. Blonder Wulf #14

A light natural that makes an excellent stand in for the ubiquitous caddis. Almost always fished in the film or broken water. I’ll sometimes prune it up for a slimmer profile, or add a hotspot with a Sharpie, but most often I throw it just as it is.

<strong>5. Pass Lake #14</strong>
5. Pass Lake #14

Jack of all trades, this classic can do just about anything the four other wet patterns can do. Adding a bright Sharpie hotspot to the tail is good way to add color, and it could always be deconstructed if needed. I like to start it with a dead drift and move into increasingly dynamic presentations, focusing on the top 12 inches of water. I’m yet to find a stream where trout won’t take this fly. If I could only fish one pattern for the rest of my life, it would be an orange, red, or neon green tailed version of the Pass Lake.

<strong>6. Euro Hare’s Ear #14</strong>
6. Euro Hare’s Ear #14

Slim, dark or light natural, and tungsten. Nothing to adjust. Fished like any nymph in just about any water. Boring and reliable.

<strong>7. Bread and Butter #14</strong>
7. Bread and Butter #14

Same as above… Nothing to adjust. Fished like any nymph in just about any water. Boring and reliable.

<strong>8. Blowtorch #14</strong>
8. Blowtorch #14

Medium profile, loud color. You can clip the tail to tone it down a bit, which leaves you with a peacock hurl thorax soft hackled beadhead with a hotspot collar. I’ll typically choose this in fast or stained streams. It’s probably too much on sunny days in clear water.

<strong>9. Big Ugly #10</strong>
9. Big Ugly #10

Larger profile, natural. I’ve really come to depend on larger nymphs for “searching patterns”. It’s not quite a streamer but big enough to be easily seen. Whether on a tight line drift or fished aggressively, I typically move larger fish in mediocre conditions when I offer them a meal worth moving for. This pattern has a larger profile but keeps the overall size and weight within a package easily manageable by most fixed line rods. I usually go as large as #8 when filling this role.

<strong>10. Baby Bugger #10</strong>
10. Baby Bugger #10

Larger profile, natural with flash. When looking for a productive searching pattern, you can’t go wrong with a good old Woolly Bugger. A scaled down version in black and crystal flash is perfect for the down and across swing, or fast strips across angry water. This version isn’t tungsten, so its well suited for fishing the top of faster water and down into middle depths.

<strong>11. The Capability Gap...</strong>
11. The Capability Gap…

I’m on the hunt for a pattern to fill a gap in this plan – it needs something larger, natural, and squirmy; this box needs a micro leech! The Baby Bugger imitates bait fish very well but doesn’t have a lot of natural motion to it. I’ll feel that the box is fully rounded out once this gap is addressed.

So far, the box has been productive, but Id like to spend the rest of the season testing out the contents. Ideally, I’ll stick to the same patterns the full year and push this concept as far as it can go. Other than a handful of extremely picky fisheries, this box should do the work on just about any trout, in any water, top to bottom!


Matt purchased all of the flies in this article from (and images were provided by) Big Y Fly Company.

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13 comments

  1. Solid observation. I certainly fish specfic terrestrial patterns; usually foam beetles or hoppers or hippie stompers – but they are more of a “nice to have” vs a “need to have” IMO. If the fish are oriented upwards, looking for food on the surface, in my experience, they will take a food like item presented in said zone. In late summer (terrestrial/foam season), any hearty meal presented on the surface will typically draw a strike whether hopper or wooly bugger, so I can meet that requirement what Ive got loaded in this box. My 2 cents, your mileage may vary.

  2. Great selection Matt. A few patterns that I hadn’t thought of. I think size 14 is a good all around size for the Driftless. Some might argue 16. But for non hatch matching patterns I have found 14 to be golden. Of course there is that one fly that you swear by. Ha!

  3. Looks to me more like a traditional fly box with a nod to Tenkara. Of course you can fish any kind of fly you want on a Tenkara line but Sakasa Kebari (reverse hackle) are a key Tenkara fly and a serious Tenkara fisherman should learn to use them as a major item in the fly box. They are easy to tie and fun to fish and, more important, they catch fish. Of the approximately 1000 trout I’ve caught using Tenkara in the last 3 years, easily half of them were caught with reverse hackle flies.

    1. Congrats on your 1,000 fish! You mention great points about sakasa hackles, but it Sounds like the fish are indifferent, an even 50/50 split. You’ll see that I addressed kebari’s absence from this box in the article. If you read more of my articles, You’ll see that I fish them regularly, sometimes even randomly. Ive simply not found the sakasa hackle pulse technique to be overwhelming productive beyond any other particular pattern. The same pulse technique used with any number of patterns typically produce the same results. The sakasa hackle is not what makes tenkara “tenkara”.

  4. Sure, part of the joy of Tenkara is that it works and can be personalized in any way desired. I know a Tenkara fisher or two that are so “into” traditional flyfishing that they ONLY use their Tenkara rod to fish Traditional flies. I just wanted to stress that the Sakasa (reverse hackle) Kebari are an integral part of MY Tenkara fishing and work very well in the smaller waters that I fish including a trip for Golden Trout last season. All those goldens would eat were my reverse hackles.

    1. Man, small water golden trout sounds like a blast! Wish we could interview the fish – “what about this fly seemed like a good bite to you?” lol! Always a mystery what they are truly focused on. I’d wager that personal confidence with a pattern goes a long way, too. We get used to catching fish on a pattern, we get better at catching fish on that pattern, we keep fishing it because its catching. Whatever you are doing seems to be working, so keep it up!

  5. Hey Matt, I think the Milwaukee Leech or the Regular or Mini Itty Meaty Thing might fit fill the pattern you’re looking to add.

      1. One other option came to mind also, Rich Osthoff’s Soft Hackle Woolly Worm in a size 10? I’ve never fished it, so I don’t know if it’s got the flow your looking for. But with soft hackles it would have movement. It’s on his website. Most of his flies (some are for high altitude lakes) are well tested in the Driftless.

  6. Great selection Matt,
    As far as something with that extra bit of action and after quite a bit of recent practice, I’d advocate for a small articulated fly like a mini-dungeon, game changer, lunch money, double zonker, slump buster, or sculpin pattern.(my vote is an olive or pine squirrel mini-dungeon) There’s something to be said about the action of a blockish fore-end with a more streamlined but counter weighted back end. It’s just so… snaky.

    1. Those are interesting possibilities, Ive not looked hard at small/articulated, cool idea!

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