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Tenkara Flies: Conservative, Moderate, Liberal

Tenkara Flies: Conservative, Moderate, Liberal
Written by Daniel

No, this blog is not about to become political.

After going through the highly turbulent political times of the election campaigns – phew, so glad that is over – and after months of being bombarded by highly divisive politics, the image above came to me today (and, yes, I recognize it would have been more timely a few days ago!).

For years I have noticed some themes when it comes to tenkara flies: there are three types of perceptions about tenkara flies, and there are three types of personalities when it comes to choosing the flies. These could be described as: conservative, moderate, and liberal.

A very common question we receive is: “do all tenkara flies have the hackle facing forward?” The answer is no. Some tenkara flies’ hackle is brushed back against the body of the fly as a soft-hackle wet fly. Some will have a hackle that sticks out. And, some will have a very pronounced forward hackle. Most people coming from a western fly-fishing background to tenkara will perceive the reverse hackle as a bit weird. The conservative option will have the hackle in a more standard posture. With a little explanation the hackle facing forward a bit can be understood as the “moderate” option. But, don’t make it too big with the hackle drastically forward-facing!

Most folks versed in western fly-fishing tradition will think of small flies are an important part of their arsenal. If the fish are rejecting a fly, switch to a smaller size. If the fish are not biting, try something smaller.  Thus, from a western angler’s perspective the more “conservative” option will be the smallest fly with hackle that is not as pronouncedly reversed.  A size 12 fly for trout is an acceptable, “moderate” size. A size 8, with reverse hackle? You have to be brave, progressive, “liberal” to try that!

The fly box of an angler may well demonstrate which camp he will fall into: there are those who dip their toes in tenkara in a more conservative fashion – using only western flies and changing flies regularly. There will be some people who embrace many of the concepts in a moderate way, keeping their western flies and floatant, “just in case”. And others who are very liberal when it comes to adopting tenkara into their lives and go all the way.

All I may suggest here is, don’t be afraid of changing your stance a bit. Get outside your comfort zone sometimes. If you think all the fish are interested in are tiny flies, consider that I have been fishing size 12 or 8 flies almost exclusively for the last 2 years throughout the country, and whether the state was red or blue, the flies worked. In my opinion, if the fish are coming to check out my fly and refusing it at the last second, the fly is working fine, my presentation not so much – I don’t go for a smaller size fly in these cases. I am pretty liberal when it comes to flies, and really enjoy starting my day with a large fly to see what is working. If the fish start coming to that right away I’m golden for the rest of the day. I also enjoy using the flies with a hackle that drastically faces forward as I can give them lots of action. But, if the fish are trying to take my fly and not getting hooked, maybe there is something else at play then, and I may go a bit conservative with a small fly.

Of course, these are all just broad generalizations. Anyone willing to give tenkara a try has already demonstrated a very open-mind and the willingness to try something new. And, unlike in politics, here we can all be friends and get along and share insights and experiences and learn from each other. There is absolutely no right or wrong – just perspectives and interests.

What has been your perspective?

Although this post was inspired by the political discussions of previous weeks, it is important to note that the terms “conservative” and “liberal” here have nothing to do with “social”, nor “fiscal” conservatism, and they have no other political connotations. At its root, the term “conservative” denotes someone who desires to keep things the way they are/were. These are dictionary definitions – not wikipedia definitions. Further, they are applied here from a western perspective – using the larger size flies with reverse hackle will be the most common and thus more “conservative” approach by tenkara anglers in Japan.