One Fly

One Fly

by various authors

Confidence, discipline, knowledge and patience all are common denominators of anglers that practice what has come to be known as “one fly” in Tenkara.

But if you examine fly fishing, you will see that other disciplines in fishing practice it. In the Western United States, the fly fishing community has been having competitions, contests on the practice

Jason Klass asked me to write an article for his new e-zine and there I will open up on why I do it and what I have found. He asked me to write an article while I was waiting for the other contributors to send in their contributions. On my walk this morning, I promised myself that I would look at the core reasons for practicing one fly and to be able to do it in five minutes.

I have two minutes left.

Yuzo Sebata does it.

Hisao Ishigaki does it.

Katsutoshi Amano does it.

So do my friends here.

It is Tenkara and it is what we do.


one heart, one gal, one fly.

By TJ Ferreira

About 30 years ago I met my wife at college. My heart fell for her. Little over 26 years ago we were married. She is now my one-gal. I am a bit old-school when it comes to vows and promises. Until death do us part – One-Fly.

I guess this mentality has trickled down to my tenkara also. I have found I prefer simple in my fly fishing and had adopted the one-fly approach very early on. After a couple designs of what my one-fly would be, I finally found it, and thus it was named Salt & Pepper Sakasa Kebari or S&P for short.

The idea came to me when I started tying my own kebari and for my aging eyes, I could see white much better under water from a distance than black. But, at the same time, knew trout seem to go after dark flies too, so needed to figure out the best remedy for that.

Therefore, my one-fly must be black and white. This way if trout are harping on light or white bugs, the white will be present, or if dark bugs, the black is also present. So I started tinkering and decided two threads would be used, white and black. Decided to tie the white thread in first and would be the color at the eye of the hook. This way as I pulse the fly towards me or the surface of the water, I may have a good chance on seeing it under water. The butt became the black thread. So ½ and ½ white and black body. With the hackle, I opted towards tying two feathers onto my hook at the same time. A tad more complicated but I liked the looks of this method more. One white and one black feather tied in at the same time gives it a nice appealing look, to this human at least. The trout probably do not care though. Therefore if I am in a rush, I may cheat and use a black and white grizzly hackle and tie in one feather, but they just don't look as gourmet to me, so since I am a foodie kind of dude, I like the double feather approach.

That is it. Hook, white and black thread, and two feathers, one white and one black. No dubbing. Just plain Salt & Pepper goodness. 

It has been a very effective kebari for me. This self imposed limitation of one-fly is not for everyone. For me it offers a challenge I find intriguing. Makes me hone in on my presentation instead of immediately swapping to a new fly. I carry 2 to 3 sizes of this same one-fly in my box, and that is all I have. Been doing this for years. Like marriage, for better or for worse, it can be challenging some days, but I knew from the start I would have to work at this to make things great, and happy to say I have been able to have great fishing days thus far.

I don't know many one-fly guys. Few names that come to mind are Ishigaki-san, Amano-san, and that guy we all know Galhardo-san, but sure there a few others. Trahan-san I understand is going one-fly again and I applaud him on that. 

I do one-fly out of fun and it also helps instill in me to keep at things, for better or for worse. I find it stressful always 2nd guessing what I may do in certain situations and now I only have to choose size 8,12, or 16. Most the time I tie on a 12 and ride it until I lose it. 

Time to fish….. I may now kiss the tenkara bride.


My one fly philosophy 

Rob Lepczyk

One fly philosophy can change. To most it seems to be a static thing where the angler chooses one sole pattern and adheres to that. To others, we may have a pattern that we change the colors of, but the hackle stays the same. Or maybe the hook changes but the rest of the fly doesn’t. See where I’m going? It the whole Ten Colors thing.

Now for my color. I like green bodied flies and red bodied flies, Diablo Verde and Diablo Rojo. My hook choice doesn’t matter, but I like heavy hooks. Heavy hooks help me get my fly down into the water column, particularly in swift flows. The hackle doesn’t matter, the body color really doesn’t matter either, but I like these two colors.

One Fly experience

Christophe Laurent

At the end of my first year of tenkara fishing I had decided to experience the « one fly » theory. It was logical to me as my simplification process in my fly fishing had begun several years before I started with tenkara. The « one fly » theory is not a Japanese tradition in tenkara fishing but it is a challenge for tenkara anglers who want to experience a totally different perspective on fly fishing than the traditional western « match the hatch » perspective.

Fishing with only one fly made me improve my technique a lot and made me realize that a fly pattern could do much more than matching the hatch and have a particular function. Being a longtime wet fly fisher I did realize that a soft hackle wet and a stiff hackle wet pattern had different functions but the best discovery for me was that I could use any pattern in many different ways. Having studied a lot the techniques developed by Japanese tenkara masters I know that they had already discovered this decades ago. Ishigaki sensei ties his famous « Ishigaki kebari » in many different ways, something with dense hackle and then with sparse hackle; Masami shishou does not care at all about the aesthetic details of his ties as only the function of the pattern matters in his technique. Since I have experienced the « one fly » style of tenkara there is no doubt for me that my technical skills have really improved, I am a far better angler than I was when I was changing my fly many times during the same fishing outing.

For myself I like fishing with unweighted ties that I can make dive or keep drifting a few inches under the water surface only for the pleasure to see a trout rush from its shelter to bite it. It is my tenkara game. I personally think that as a sport fishing technique tenkara is more interesting if trying to constantly and consistently improve my technique than relying on gear and accessories.

The one fly concept appealed to me personally due to its inherent simplicity, and my lack of desire for a complicated life.

What initially got me interested in fly-fishing were the flies. The idea of wrapping thread and feather around a hook and having a lure was intriguing. One day I had a tackle box in my bedroom and noticed a down feather had popped out of my pillow. I took some thread and wrapped that feather around a blank bait hook. I don’t think I ever caught a fish with that fly, but it was the first. After that, my flies started taking more shape. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was creating lures with feathers and that’s all that mattered.

As time went on, my flies became more complex. I don’t think they ever really became any simpler. Until my discovery of tenkara, I never bothered to simplify them. I always added more wraps, worked with more difficult materials, with more materials. I made them more realistic.

Complexity showed in my fishing too. I was fidgeting, changing flies, second guessing fly choices, adding more patterns to my box, and then boxes.

Eventually that bubble of increasing complexity would have to burst. Luckily, tenkara came into my life right as it was about to burst.

A few months after discovering the existence of tenkara, and still learning all the basics, I met Dr. Ishigaki. In that event, he told myself and an audience of 30 or so people that he had only used one fly for the ten previous years. We all gasped in disbelief. Over the next few days I fished with him and saw he wasn’t lying.

“Tenkara anglers focus on their technique, not on the fly. The fly can be very simple and it will still catch fish. Any fly is okay.” He told me through my interpreting wife.

At that point my journey toward using fewer flies began. Perhaps one day it would be only one fly.

Contrary to what some may believe, it was not the sense of tradition of “using one fly” that appealed to me. It was the idea that I could use any fly, and could perhaps just use one fly. It was the fact that now my fly-fishing could become even simpler, which meant less time agonizing over the decision of what fly to tie. The belief that any fly could work didn’t come easy, but the prospect of using fewer flies certainly appealed to my personality.

Over the last 5 years I have been using four variations of one fly pattern with great success. I have fished with some of the most experienced anglers in the country in a variety of water that includes lakes, spring creeks and mountain streams and have caught sufficient numbers to keep me happy. If I have fished alongside someone, for at least 99% of the time there have been no differences in the numbers of size of our catch. I have been happy with the less cluttered fly box, and to me that’s all that matters.

Daniel Galhardo

One Fly Method

Jesse Spears

When I started fishing Tenkara I heard about the one fly method that accompanied the style of fishing. I did not try it right away due to the large amount of flies I already had in my fly box. I started to tie my own Kebari so I could always have some on me when I went fishing and I could experiment with the style of fly. I mainly just dead drifted it like I was used to always doing for so many years with all my other flies and fly fishing habits, but little did I know that I would discover how versatile this style of fly is.

The run off was still pretty high but slowing down in June 2015. One of my favorite places to fish is an inlet to a reservoir near where I live in Broomfield Colorado. The hike back to the inlet is about 1 ½ miles so it's usually not very crowded. This day when I got back to the inlet I discovered the water was still too high and the current was too strong for me to cross the creek which limited my area of fishing. I only had about 100 yards to work with on this particular day. There was also some overcast and wind that came in while I was there. While fishing a prince nymph, the wind blew my line up off the water and made my fly drag across the top of the water up stream. To my surprise I watched a rainbow trout chase it upstream and come out of the water to grab it. I then started doing it on purpose and that for some reason was the reaction that was causing the fish to strike in that area on that day. I threw on a parachute adams and began doing the same thing and the fish went wild for that too. On this day I discovered that the way I fished the fly was creating a strike reaction from the fish and the pattern really wasn't being paid attention to. I began to study more videos and literature on different ways to manipulate a fly with a Tenkara rod after I got home that evening. This is the reason I wanted to try the one fly method with a Kebari.

Once I decided to try the one fly method the ultimate question came, “What do I want my one fly to look like? What materials do I want to use to tie it? What color or colors do I want to use?” Luckily I had been experimenting with some patterns and had an idea. One of my old go to flies was the soft hackle bead head hares ear nymph. I had a lot of success with that fly in the past so I decided I wanted something similar for my Kebari. I also decided to give myself a time frame to really do this, so I concluded on doing this for a month. I wasn't working much at the time so I was able to fish 3-4 days a week. I tied a dozen of my pattern, kept only those on me and away I went to really try the one fly method. I also only carried 5x tippet and level line with me along with my nippers and forceps. Completely minimized!

From watching videos and really searching online for some tips and tactics I learned how to use the fly in more ways than my accidental discovery and old habits. I found Tenkara USA videos of Daniel Galhardo teaching and explaining how to correctly and effectively use the Kebari. I had never met Daniel or seen him fish in person but watching those videos sent me in a good direction. I just had to get out there and play! A Kebari can be skated across the top of the water to make it look like a living bug. Skating the fly is a tactic I had seen before with Elk hair caddis flies. This can be done with a Kebari but you can skate the fly across stream, upstream and down stream. Casting above a small water fall or into dropping water will sink your fly so you can fish it subsurface. And there is another tactic that is swinging the Kebari underwater which can make fish go crazy for it when the fly is on its upswing. This method I had used before with nymphs and emergers and had success. 

Another move is hanging the fly, which you literally just hang the Kebari in front of a fishes face trying to create what my friend calls “annoyance bites.” It's like the equivalent of pointing your finger about an inch from someone's face and repeatedly telling them you aren't touching them over and over again! You can make a fish mad enough to strike. You can also get the Kebari subsurface and swim it upstream like a streamer. So with my dozen flies I practiced these methods and played with fish. I went to the tail waters of Gross Reservoir and began to catch a lot of fish. The better I got the bigger the fish got too. Once I felt I had a good grip I hiked to the inlet. The water was down and I now had about 2 miles to fish instead of 100 yards and I was catching fish. The trout would react to different methods in each hole. They might not like skating the fly on top water so I would try the swing or dead drift to create strikes. If none of that was working I would hang the fly and create some “annoyance bites.” I went further upstream to a different part of South Boulder Creek to Pinecliffe and fished this section for an entire week with the same fly on and caught probably a hundred fish with it until the tippet broke while I was netting a fish. Didn't change the fly for a week until I lost it in the water. I went further upstream around Rollinsville to try it and had success again. It was time to try different water on week 3. I went to Rocky Mountain National park for a week to fish various parts of the Big Thompson River and down the canyon from Estes Park to Loveland. The methods were all working awesome as I got better at perfecting each move. It was time for new water on week 4 so I went north to Poudre Canyon and had good success. Next was south to 11 mile Canyon and the South Platte River. These fish were more selective but very rewarding to catch. Then I finished up at the Taylor River and they were rewarding as well.

Before I knew it my month was up and my conclusion was made. This method can be done and it's really amazing as well as fun too! As the winter months came I had to resort more to Czech nymphing but I only blame my lack of success in the colder months on my lack of knowledge and skill to get fish to strike a Kebari during this time of year. I know that by challenging myself to test the one fly method it helped make me a better angler. Life is about tests and you will never get anywhere in life if you don't challenge yourself to get better at whatever the task may be. Athletes and soldiers aren't born they are made, and it's no different for an angler. You can't run a marathon if you can't run a mile so it takes self dedication and personal challenges in life to make yourself better and accomplish goals. I set out to learn how to become a better angler and I will always be learning. Become a student of your game to master your craft. Challenge yourself. 

One fly tenkara is a philosophy where the angler choses a single pattern, many times a sakasa kebari in a particular color and fishes that one fly almost exclusively. I say almost, because if it’s the dead of winter and your typical one fly is a size 6 or 8 neon green kebari with purple hackle, you obviously would adjust size and perhaps even color. The point is while being a true one fly practitioner forces the tenkara angler to adjust everything from his approach, cast and presentation, thus gaining the confidence in this fly to produce on a consistent basis.

I myself have fished one fly for many different stretches in my tenkara career. I won’t lie; I first decided to take up one fly tenkara as a way of saving money, as finances were extremely tight. Then as I gained more skill and knowledge, I began to enjoy this technique, because it freed me from the “what if “ thoughts, that many fly fisherman experience. You know the pressure to find a fly that the fish will find appealing enough that you may bring a few to net. As I have stated I have fished one fly tenkara for most of the time I’ve had a tenkara rod in my hand. A few honest exceptions were when I wanted to see if I could handle a big brown on my mouse pattern via my amago, I swung mini clousers to white bass, and of course when I got bored tying one fly pattern and tried to match kebari to actual insects found on my local waters. In the end however I’ve always come back to the simplistic ways of one fly tenkara. When I say simplistic, I obviously don’t mean that fishing one fly is an easy choice and you’ll always catch a ton of fish, but it a very simple and dare I say rhythmic way of fishing.

I think the greatest thing about one fly tenkara is that each anglers one fly is similar, but yet completely different. Let’s say I am on a river fishing my mean green kebari and another tenkara fisher is fishing the exactly same fly. I may land two to every one of his fish, because the technique I impart on the fly is one that draws a greater number of strikes. So adjusting his approach and or technique of manipulation would increase takes. This little mini chest match is what truly get’s me excited about one fly tenkara. It is gaining the ability to know what type of action to impart on the kebari via the tenkara rod, that’s truly exciting. It’s too easy to just cut off a fly after a few passes and tie on another, but perhaps it is easier to keep the kebari you’re already using and just change the angle of your rod, manipulation of the fly, and figure the puzzle that is the river out. If the fish don’t’ bite, move on down to another likely looking spot.

I hope you have found something in my writing informative. I truly hope you will give one fly tenkara a try, if not for good, at least for a season, or even just a trip. You might find that you gain some valuable insight that will make you a better tenkara angler, no matter the fly you have tied on.

Brian Cornelius