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Sakasa Kebari... Not the No.1 Tenkara Fly?

Masami SakakibaraNo one can argue that the long soft hackled sakasa kebari style has become the icon of tenkara flies in the west. These flies are so different from what we recognise as a conventional western fly that it’s no wonder they captured the imagination of fledgling tenkara anglers exploring this new and exotic fishing experience.

Before we go any further I’d just like to get one thing straight... what follows here is in no way an attempt to spoil anyone’s fun or to tell you how you should be fishing or tying your tenkara flies. The purpose of this post is to share some interesting facts about the flies of tenkara and hopefully get people exploring the rich tapestry of patterns that can be found in Japan.

Like many people new to tenkara both myself (and Paul) spent our early days exploring reverse hackle patterns both in traditional Japanese patterns such as the Takayama style (or the less well known Okumikawa style) and initially with a few adapted western patterns too. In those early days of tenkara’s spread outside Japan source information in English was difficult to find and Yoshikazu Fujioka’s website My Best Streams was (and still is) a great source of information for anyone interested in traditional regional tenkara patterns.

In 2014 we decided to visit the mountain streams of Japan to begin our own research into the attitudes of tenkara anglers to their flies for our Vol.2 DVD. What we discovered has drawn us back to Japan every year since and has become the subject matter for 2 DVDs and our 418 page Discovering Kebari eBook (UK /EU link hereUSA link here). 

In all of our research and in interviewing some of the best tenkara practitioners in Japan we started to realize that the iconic fly of tenkara, the “sakasa kebari”, was not the no.1 fly choice of for a great number of tenkara anglers. This is not to say that the sakasa style has no place... quite the opposite in fact; almost everyone we interviewed had some sakasa kebari patterns in their fly box but they are normally reserved for specific scenarios as opposed to being the go-to pattern for all round fishing duties.

So, what is the No.1 fly choice when it comes to Japanese kebari?

The most frequent kebari style we’ve observed in our studies use stiff rooster hackles which look very much like western dry fly hackles. The examples below are just a few of the go-to patterns shared with us by anglers in Japan. 

The hackle style is often referred to as “jun” which translates to normal or regular (in direct contrast to “sakasa” meaning reversed). Jun can also be used to describe soft hackles in the normal orientation i.e. swept back like a North Country wet fly. It doesn’t seem to matter which side of a stiff feather faces forward as long as the hackle is more or less straight up and down it would be called a jun/normal hackle.

These stiff hackle kebari are not unheard of in the west but they are often not recognised or fully appreciated for what they are... we’ve seen several instances where well known and respected western angling writers have mistakenly referred to jun kebari styles as “tenkara dry flies”. While they could be fished dry their main function is as a wet fly pattern.

So, what’s so good about these kebari?

A stiff hackled kebari/wet fly can offer significant physical or mechanical advantages over soft hackled sakasa patterns; a few of which include,

-  maintaining profile in strong flows

-  improved aerodynamics for more accurate casting

-  the ability to “anchor” the fly in opposing current

-  increased vibration/disturbance when manipulated

If you’ve never experimented with stiff hackled wets I would strongly urge you to give them a try. It’s no coincidence that they are the No.1 choice for so many Japanese tenkara anglers... they reward anglers ability; for example, allowing skilled casters to achieve pinpoint presentation or light line users to keep their fly in the same spot for longer. 

A typical Japanese anglerís fly box featuring a majority of stiff hackles

A typical Japanese angler’s fly box featuring a majority of stiff hackles 

Want a second opinion?

It’s hard to argue with the facts... in addition to the extensive research Paul and I have carried out in Japan, Yoshikazu Fujioka has done extensive studies on Japanese kebari styles. In this PDF Fujioka san plotted the frequency of various hackle styles. The numbers reflect that normal stiff hackled kebari are the most popular in Japan by a long way.

Some figures from Fujioka san’s results,
Frequency of long/soft/reverse hackle (the “classic” sakasa style) – 11.7%
Frequency of short/stiff/normal hackle – 38.5%

If you’re looking for some tried and tested stiff hackled patterns check out our new range of kebari sets here.