Making the World's Best Kebari Range: And How to Use Them?

22 CommentsFriday, 7 July 2017  |  PG

OK, so that was the ridiculous goal, you can let me know in the comments if we got close or not!

Even if you think we missed our target, you might be interested in the reasons I also wanted to call this blog post “Why Close Copy Fly Tying Really Misses the Point for Fly Fishing”…Now, before you get the wrong idea – I think close copy tiers are awesome (and I even enjoy tying more intricate stuff from time to time)...

Discover Tenkara Kebari Set


But in terms of FISHING, I believe it is actually a fairly crude “shotgun” approach.

What I mean is, it makes the mistake of believing that the features of a fly that we humans use to say “that looks like a mayfly” are necessarily the same cues that fish use to tell “food” from “debris”.

I call it a shotgun approach because it is a case of including as many details and features as possible – in the hope that the right triggers and cues to get a fish to eat are in that mix somewhere. Instead, in 2014 I started to try to make and teach a way to design and then use particular flies, in the right sizes and using the right presentations to give the best chance of success.

These are the decisions that excellent, successful anglers seem to make automatically all the time.

Whether it is modern competition anglers, the old professional North Country Wet Fly fishers (who needed to get a profitable catch onto the goods train to market before it left the station) or professional tenkara anglers, fishing for survival; all of them rely on great choices in the use of simple, impressionistic fly patterns.

Futsu Kebari from Discover Tenkara

Now all of those “schools” of fly fishing practitioners have a couple of major things in common:

  • They all need to catch fish effectively as a bottom line result (having a bit of sport and tales of the one that get away wouldn’t cut it)
  • They all use impressionistic, highly FUNCTIONAL flies

Thankfully, now that we have the luxury of making fly fishing our hobby, Catch & Release dominates the ethics of the best fly fishers in most parts of the world today. That transition to a hobby is also especially fascinating to me in terms of tenkara. It is a brilliant model because it begins from the idea that the way you use your fly is equally/more important than trying to design different fly patterns to produce different imitations. I reckon that is both different from most anglers’ idea of “matching the hatch” and also probably a big clue to how the best anglers achieve their success.

So I wanted to use what I know about the biology of fish - and other visual-predators’ – behaviour to understand the choices that great anglers make. I also wanted to make a successful system that is easy for anyone to pick up and learn too. Overall, I am ESPECIALLY interested in the link between the physical characteristics of simple flies and how they can be matched to brilliant presentation methods (This was the central idea behind the “Discovering Kebari” e-book that I wrote and JP did amazing photos and materials documentation for).

Boulder Current Eddy

Here, again, tenkara is a brilliant method to study; because of the rich range of presentation tactics (often with specific names) based around unweighted, fairly scruffy, impressionistic flies and a deep understanding of river current features.

Through researching that book (soon to become a physical print version…watch this space) and annual visits to Japan, JP and I were approached to design a commercially-available set of kebari (flies) that could be picked up and matched to the different, distinctive tactics of Japanese tenkara.

John took the lead on tying up some beautiful samples based on the range of physical characteristics that we’d identified through our experiences and research – and that I could directly match to the presentation tactics detailed in the book.

The difficulty (and the power) is always found in simplicity – so don’t be fooled by the modest selection of patterns that make up the Discover Tenkara Kebari range (tied on Fulling Mill hooks to exacting standards). Each one is designed to fit neatly into its “sweet spot” presentation tactic and the simple colour range lets each pattern cover a wide range of conditions, contrast and imitation functions.

There are even some tweaks to the names for our range that we have been able to add following our most recent trip to Japan. Here’s a quick introduction to the range, with more detail coming soon.

These are all primarily Wet Flies (even the stiff-hackled patterns) and come in three body options; Black, Cream and Peacock:

Futsū Kebari: “Regular” rooster hackled kebari, feather barbs generally standing perpendicular to the hook shank)

Cream Futsu kebari

Jun Kebari: “Normal, Backward-angled” soft hackled kebari

Black Jun Kebari

Cream Bodied Jun Kebari


Sakasa Kebari: “Reverse-angled” soft hackled kebari (note, some tiers only class more extreme "funnel" shaped hackles as true "sakasa" style...)

Black sakasa kebari

Cream Sakasa Kebari

Peacock Sakasa Kebari

The weighted patterns we have termed “Honryu” simply because they tend to be more appropriate to the larger, deeper and faster honryu (main) sections of Japanese rivers:

Black Honryu Kebari

Peacock Sakasa Honryu Kebari

Red and peacock Honryu Kebari

More details on the characteristics of these kebari and how you can fish them (as well as how you can order them) are coming soon,

In the meantime, let me know what you think of this selection and also the idea of concentrating much more on the Function of flies than making photo-realistic copies of insects...


And if you know people who would want to see this; just share it using the buttons below.





Neil McGhee
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  10:42

I've had great success with the DT Futsu & Honryn flies, looking forward to learning where to use the Sakasa style. Tx

Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  16:45

Awesome Neil, a little bird told me that you romped away with club 'top rod ' on a recent fun day on your waters using what you've been learning with JP?

Joe Witte
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  13:58

Wondering with all this angst about how the fly looks in dry air, perhaps the "look" in actual moving water from the fish's point of view might be critical?

Paul Gaskell
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  16:49

Oh it absolutely is how it looks 'in use' Joe, you are right. I'm also fascinated by how the materials actually 'work' in the water too. Do they go translucent? Are they very mobile? Do they lock into current seams and let you 'anchor' your fly in place? All very addictive stuff to play with.

Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  15:01

Great pics! Good selection of flies

Paul Gaskell
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  16:53

Thank you Bob! That's really kind of you to say. JP's photos of this commercially tied range and the examples given to us by anglers in Japan are absolutely lush. He even managed to make a few that I tied look presentable :)

Mike Gregory
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  18:59

Can't wait for these to become available, they look really good. Thanks for all the tips and info you give, they're really helpful, especially for a relative novice like myself.

Paul Gaskell
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  19:04

Cheers Mike, I think you will really like our upcoming free youtube content on these styles of flies.


Eberhard Scheibe
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  19:00

I did read about your (this) collection some times ago and I can agree totally. The tying style of this kind of flies is that what I use too. I like to use wool-bodies in grey, oyster and black. Sometimes I add a tag on my kebaries. A grey or black body with a white or cream tag is not as anticamouflage as a hot red or lime green one. This works good for me.

Paul Gaskell
Saturday, 8 July 2017  |  20:09

Awesome, thanks Eberhard - love the idea of a tag that highlights without spooking too much. Nice application of the anticamouflage slider concept outlined in the book :) :) :)

Bob Male
Sunday, 9 July 2017  |  9:39

I agree very strongly with your thesis about imitation. I have been using a lot of Jeremy Lucas' "Plume tip" dry flies over the last few seasons, and these minimalist little bugs, well presented, are very effective. Same idea, I think.

Paul Gaskell
Sunday, 9 July 2017  |  21:47

Many people confuse complexity with powerful thinking, in reality the power (and difficulty) is found in simplicity. If you can find the one big idea that explains everything...then you are really onto something. E=mc2 :)

Stan Mimms
Sunday, 9 July 2017  |  12:03

Great articles, very interesting and thought provoking. This last discussion goes back to the old adage 'size and presentation to suit the conditions'.

Paul Gaskell
Sunday, 9 July 2017  |  21:50

Thank you Stan, it really feels good to think that what spills out of my head might actually be useful to you from time to time.

Wayne Emery
Sunday, 9 July 2017  |  16:37

I've become very interested in how fish "see" flies or forage. While we don't know a lot of detail about how fish see, we do know it is different for different species, especially open water slat varieties vs fresh. Here's what intrigues me and hasn't been addressed directly, apparently: Color is always both absorbed and attenuated in water, clear or not. Any thing red will appear black more than 8-10 feet awat by simple absorption of the red part of the spectrum, so a red fly looks black 8-10 feet away. Not so for blue or green. Lots to think about there. Also, any particulate matter in the water intensifies this effect. Next thing is UV. Fish can see colors in UV that humans cannot. Which ones? Who knows? Many of the materials and/or the dyes used in fly tying materials have strong UV reflectancy and probably domiante in fish vision while remaining invisible to us. Insects see primarily, if not exclusively, by UV and it is those UV colors that draw bees, for instance, to a particular type of flower. So, what color does thew fish really see when we used various materials to tie flies? Polarization of light is another subject. Humans can't see polarized vs non-polarized light, but fish do! This increases contrast, for sure, so should we paying attention to the polarization and UV capabilities of our materials? I think so, but don't know how. Certainly, many of the synthetic bling materials are strong polarizers, but how do we use this, if at all? Would it be useful to create a catalog of images of the UV reflectance colors of various materials? I can do this, if there's an interest (I have cameras that can record in UV), but, again, how to utilize the information? Lots of areas of study still available. And precious little time to fish.

Paul Gaskell
Sunday, 9 July 2017  |  22:05

What a brilliant contribution Wayne. I have long been fascinated by UV perception since seeing photos of male birds (where females choose males based on visual cues) under human visible wavelengths and then Ultra Violet spectrum wavelengths that the birds can see. Quite extraordinary to see the patterns of plumage we can't see, but the prospective mates can. I guess my particular interest in fly patterns and fish as visual predators is particularly focused on what fundamental factors of dimensions, movement and profile actually indicate 'food' instead of 'irrelevant particle' to a fish. As a second layer, what factors make a fish pick out one fly out of the cloud of natural food items are also of real interest. Anything that contributes some understanding of those two critical areas is gold dust to fly fishers. The wonderful thing is that this information is as likely to be found through practical fishing experience as it is to be found through formal science.

Monday, 10 July 2017  |  21:42

Is it the case that if they don't look to complicated, are more simply made with the right key features, they have the freedom to move in more complicated ways ? That attract the fish's attention?

To paraphrase the old Billy Crystal character in reverse - It's not how you look, it's how you move, and you move marvelous.

Paul Gaskell
Tuesday, 18 July 2017  |  20:23

Hi David, I think that is a lot of it yes - but beyond that it is also how different physical characteristics can help you make your fly perform. So for instance, using a stiff hackle to deliberately catch the current and allow you to position the fly where the fish is by "sailing" it into position. Or, depending on which way the hackle is sloping - it will pulsate more on the pull or on the pause/sink part of a manipulated presentation.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017  |  12:13

Great teaser for the end of Season 1. Have really enjoyed following you and your guests this past year! Curious if your flies will be multiple copies of same patterns as it looks to be in the photo, or if you will offer the same pattern in a few different sizes?

Looking forward to Season 2.


Paul Gaskell
Tuesday, 18 July 2017  |  20:27

Hi Michael, the flies will be sold in two sizes for each pattern variant. The main categories of backward-sloping soft hackle, perpendicular stiff hackle and forward-facing soft hackle will each have 3 body-material variations of pale, black and then irridescent peacock. The weighted Honryu patterns have their own unique variants. The size variants are 12s and 14s in terms of hook size - though the length of the hackle between different patterns also provides another significant layer of variation in size of the overall outline of each fly.

We'll be fishing these patterns extensively to show their versatility in upcoming YouTube content.

Watch this space,


Graham Stevens
Tuesday, 25 July 2017  |  14:11

Hi Paul what are the Fulling mill hooks used in your Kebari range?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017  |  21:13

Hi Graham - the straight-shank patterns are on a FM "Grab gape" hook whereas the curved ones are on the FM Cz Nymph hooks :)