Dry Fly Tenkara Fishing

Dry fly Tenkara isn’t talked about much here. Many T-Anglers feel that only wet flies can and should be used in “True Tenkara”, despite the fact that unweighted kebari have a tendency to float on their own until they absorb enough water to make them sink. If tenkara anglers of old had the technologies needed that would have allowed their flies to float, they would have fished dry. Here is a video showing some of the ins and outs of fishing dry flies with Tenkara Tackle.

Absolutely Tiny Spring-Fed Creek, Fishing Big Dries and Dodging Rainstorms for Decent Fish (Tenkara)


It continues to distress me (mildly, but there nonetheless) about what is or is not possible with Tenkara based upon what occurs in Japan. As with any activity, in this case Tenkara, people create an activity based upon time, place, needs, resources available. Tenkara developed based upon The Who, what, where, when, why and how of THEIR day. Whatever was available that fit their needs. No one creates a fishing technique thinking what it will be like, or how it will be viewed 50, 100 or more years in the future. I am even reluctant to say, “yes, they would use our flies today,” if time-machined back to them. I don’t know that. I appreciate those that say, “do Tenkara your own way.” You seem to be one. Thank you.


A couple of years ago I had a guided day with a very experienced tenkara angler in the UK. He had been to Japan several times and had fished with many of the Japanese tenkara masters.
He told me that nearly every Japanese tenkara angler he fished with had at least one elk hair caddis in their fly box…


As sort of a modern tenkara traditionalist, I hear what you’re saying… although I think there’s much less of that “purist” sentiment these days. (And who knows if there ever was in Japan in the first place, feels like an western invention/justification).

That said, if they had Mepps spinners and sweet little spinning reels back however long ago, they probably would have used them… at least if it was truly about catching fish and not confining yourself within the parameters of a sport.

Just don’t put those micro spinners or spoons on the end of my tenkara line… BLASPHEMY! LOL!


Since, to a large extent, most of us here are talking about Pet Peeves, I would like to voice a few of my own: Most fly fishermen’s fly boxes contain, and Kebari patterns also fall into this category as well, 95% aquatic insect imitations. If you look at all the insects found on earth, the aquatics only make up about 5% of that total number of insects.

On small streams in particular, because they are not very wide and trees and brush often hang out over the water and inter twine above it, land based insects are especially important on free stone streams, making up 70 or more percent of what the trout have available to them to eat through the summer and fall months.

On the pattern testing I did back in 2010, over 21 trips, fishing 22 lakes I hadn’t fished before and streams as well, releasing a total of 1,339 trout, I caught 452 trout fishing both lakes and streams on Dry Flies. 431 of those 452 fish were caught on Terrestrial Fly Patterns. Ants: 285; Hoppers: 81; Beetles: 10; Spiders: 55; Down Wing Pink Butt: 55; Green Butt: 4 and a floating Water Boatman Pattern for 20 fish.

Seeing the millions upon millions of dead trees Climate Change, prolonged droughts, and Pine Bark Beetle infestations have caused, I fish beetle patterns a lot more now than I did back then, with high levels of success enjoyed using them now. How many beetles does it take to kill a pine tree? One hundred, 500, 6,000? I do not know. But I see about 1,000 Carpenter Ants for every beetle that I see.

Due to climate change, lower stream flows and warmer water temperatures, I am not seeing mayflies on lakes or streams that I once did. Caddisflies are also almost nonexistent on the waters I fish, and it is much the same with the stoneflies. So, terrestrial insects are far more important as a fish food source on my fishing than in the past. And, I Believe, Tenkara Anglers need to pay more attention to fishing with dry terrestrial patterns in the present and in the future…Karl.


In this video Tom Davis (Teton Tenkara Blog) fishes an assortment of his tenkara wet fly patterns. Toward the end of the outing, he puts on a Dry Ant Pattern and gets an increase in productivity. While he expresses a preference for fishing wet tenkara patterns, that is a personal angling choice that does not reflect how productive fishing dry flies on tenkara tackle can be. Take a look and see what you think.

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As a general note, I believe everything goes and is valid when it comes to fishing. Especially if it works well. I come from fishing in so many disciplines and they all feed into what I do and don’t do on the water. This includes tenkara.

Karl, I am responding to your quote but this total response is for all.

Tenkara purists

Regarding Tenkara purists. Frankly, they do not exist and probably never existed. I know some of the guys who were marked as purists. I feel they are wildly misunderstood and just got swept up in conversations with people who just want to be contrary. Most of their suggestion was to learn true tenkara techniques as those techniques are what will really open the doors to maximize productivity using fixed line. Funny, most just received so much resistance they just gave up trying. It is also ironic that when the discover tenkara group presents the exact same material, people seem to listen. Perhaps some of the concepts needed to be spoon fed or people needed to pay for it.

A hoe and a pick axe have overlap in functionality but each one is engineered to do some things better. There are many things you can do with a fixed line rod that are absolutely impossible with a traditional fly rod and reel. Ignoring these differences and related techniques do not make one an innovator, it just makes one ignorant. Using a hoe to pry stumps or using a pick axe to mend a garden can be done but just not as efficiently.

My suggestion to all in this forum. Be a sponge. Try it all and enjoy the journey. You will be amazed in what you will learn. It is true, there is no right or wrong way, but in order to get the most of the tools we are using, it is best to educate yourself in all potential usage of your chosen tool . When I fish tenkara I am milking every ounce of utility from its engineering. When I fish a flyrod and reel, I am milking every ounce of its utility. My two applications have very little overlap in how and where I use them. Same goes with spinning gear.

Kebari Misunderstanding:
To me, the tenkara kebari is not a literal object or form, but a concept where we use one form to convert a willing fish through skill. The skill is fishing any fly we choose. Skill will allow us to fish it anywhere in the water column and change how we present it to convert a fish. This is about using what you have on your line to convert fish. I can say for a fact that I find incredible satisfaction in this, and I have been able to replicate the same success using saltwater fishing lures with spinning gear. For me, The best tenkara principle is the pleasure of doing more with less.

One fly:
So this is where we part ways stylistically. As we mature as anglers we all develop forms we have trust in. Those forms will be different for each of us. It evolves and we all go through phases of what our confidence fly is. To me it is the one fly I would pick if on a deserted island. Today for me, it would be a stiff hackle futsu style in a size 14. The simple reason is because of the utility I can get out of that fly. I can fish it anywhere in the water column including on the surface.

So, This is my winded way of saying topwater is not limited to drys and there are plenty of topwater tenkara techniques. Without changing my fly, I can also fish subsurface and deep. This is incredibly powerful and not something we will read in any western flyfishing book. I believe, finding versatility in what you put on your line makes one a better angler. It requires skill and creativity in presentation. The more time we can have lines in the water and less time changing flies, the more fish we can catch. This is a fork in the road where philosophies branch, one is clearly a tenkara philosophy and path and the other is a western flyfishing path.

It is not literally one fly, but the one fly that you have on your line. If you can learn to fish a single fly in the whole column, you have replaced the dry, the wet, and the beadhead. If you learn to impart motion on a fly in different ways you can convert fish that are not actively feeding or key in on motion of what they are feeding on. These fish have poor sight, so why all the subtle variations of flies? Tenkara is all about technique over which fly. If you listen to most masters tenkara anglers we often hear them state this.

Could we carry and cycle through more fly patterns? Sure.
If you could carry less and be as or more effective would you do it? Well, I believe I am.

dry flies:
I do not carry specifically designed dry fly forms because they often do not sink, and I can only fish them on top. This limits their versatility. If i thought I could benefit I would carry them, but I also feel most of the time top presentation is niche and I can use my futsu on top when I need to. To put things in perspective, I carry floatant in my bag since I started tenkara, I can say for certainty I have not used it at all in the last 5 seasons and probably should remove it from my pack.



Yes, the dry ant did well in that particular spot on the stream, but I didn’t see increased productivity over subsurface kebari. What you can’t see in my videos is all the other fish that I edit out of the final cut. I have to choose which shots to keep and which ones to delete or the video would be too long, and even more boring. On this day, the subsurface kebari easily out fished the dry ant 2 or 3:1. That’s editing for you. Still, it was fun to throw the foam ant and get the response I did, if only for 10 minutes.



Tom, thank you for informing us about your editing processes. As viewers, there is a tendency for us to believe what we are seeing is the truth of the angling experience you are having. Evidently, not necessarily so.

And G, every angler is free to fish in what ever way gives him or her the most pleasure, that’s your Personal choice and right, and what I assume most people do. And as Tenkara is largely portrayed and advertised as being wet fly fishing and there is so little talk about dry fly fishing in the Tenkara community, I can only assume very little dry fly fishing on Tenkara tackle has or is being done. Which I feel is unfortunate because Tenkara tackle does a much better job of presenting dry flies to trout in mountain streams than western fly fishing tackle does and can.

Tom, when I was thinking of someone to send my Well-Hung Foam Spider pattern to for Tenkara testing, you were at the top of my list but, you had stated your aversion to dry fly patterns and dry fly fishing so strongly in the past that I dropped you from consideration as I did not feel the flies would even get fished by you because of your stated antagonism to dry fly fishing on Tenkara tackle.

As it turns out, Tristan did not prove to be a much better choice. I did not know he had never fished, fly fished, or fished with dry flies before I sent him the patterns. After he had the flies for a month, I asked him if he had fished them? He had not, and it took another month before he did try the flies. Because the spiders, as I tie them, have considerably more wind resistance than most Kebari patterns do, I also sent a 9 Ft, # 3.5 Hi-Viz Orange Level Line with the flies, complete with a tapered 2 Ft. 3 In. Stealth Transition Section, and 3 Ft. of Trout Hunter FC. 6X Tippet to better cast these wind resistant patterns with. He had not cast the line either and informed me he had never cast with a tapered line because he did not think tapered lines were “Traditional” Tenkara. To the best of my knowledge, to this day, he has not cast that line or any tapered lines.

For stream fishing, I also prefer to use Level Lines but I started out with traditional tapered Tenkara lines in the beginning and moved to the level lines for the advantages they offer me. Having a point of comparison and experience is the only real way to learn and truly experience our fly fishing options. And with dry flies and dry fly fishing with no experience, the Tenkara community (largely) seems to be biased against dry fly fishing. To which the arguments I am getting here are a perfect example. Please correct me if I am wrong…Karl.


I agree and to be fair it could be that I too could be missing or not understanding major aspects of dry fly fishing that you have dialed in. That said, I think the Oz series notes that a trout’s diet is mostly on aquatic forms of insects.

Much of my understanding of dry fly occupation for anglers is in the thrill and challenge of a top water strike. Some Fly fishermen will turn their nose on the concept of throwing a wet. Consider it too easy or unsporting. I dont have those hang ups and am mostly interested in just fishing and converting what I can in the most efficient way I can.

I will float a fly on top. Usually it takes a few drifts for it to sink, so on a fresh fly I do present like a dry. I also skate flies a ton. I find I take more flies on skate or subsurface than I do dead drift on top. I rarely find fish feeding on top and when I do I rarely find it is their only preference. Surface feeding trout usually will take anything, but not always.

Most traditional fly anglers I have only seen dead drift and swing techniques with dries. In tenkara, I will use those but also skate, dap, and surface pulse. I will also use a surface skate and sink. Some of these techniques will only work without floatant and materials that will sink. So when you speak of dries, I visualize floating forms. Like you note a foam ant or an elk hair caddis.

In terms of classification. I am sure I could fish an Adams with equal effectiveness as a futsu as the form and material is nearly the same, just the application intent is different. I do not believe the tail or the wing addition in an Adams makes any difference, just more steps and less economy at the vice.


Futsu The color is not the same but the general pattern and materials are a near match.


Wow, Karl, I’m sorry to be such a disappointment to you. Looks like I need to take a break from this forum for a while.
-Tom, signing off.

I have been thinking about this thread a bit.

Most of what I said relates to why I dont fish dries. That is 100% about my personal fishing style and an attempt to explain why some tenkara anglers like myself may not speak about dries. For me tenkara is embracing the tools, the target, and the philosophy. I feel they all factor into the engineering of tenkara. For others, tenkara might be more about just using the tools, target any species, and use any form of fly and in some cases spinners.

My choice in fishing style is a totally separate from whether anglers should fish dries. If an angler enjoys fishing dry fly patterns they absolutely should fish them. We do this for recreation and fun. If it is fun, lets do it! I know a ton of anglers who enjoy fishing top water and in western flyfishing some anglers just dry fly fish and that is it. There is nothing wrong with it. We should do what we like in this world and fishing is all about freedom. Dont let anyone dictate what we do on the water.



G, I believe the most quoted statement is that trout take 90% of their food from under water, which you will shortly see is something of a myth.

Before Gary La Fontaine wrote his bookThe Dry Fly, he and a group of volunteers did a lot observation and research on trout and their feeding habits all over the country. They used SCUBA gear to make underwater observations, pole blinds to watch the fish so they could not be seen by the fish, and electronic transmitters that provided data on how long individual trout stayed in their holding lies, at what time they moved to their feeding stations, how long they fed, and when they returned to resting lies, and how much time was spent at each activity or lack thereof.

Here is what they learned about how the trout’s feeding time was spent:

Surface Feeding - 10%
Just below the surface feeding another 10%, or near surface feeding for a total of 20% of their feeding time.

Drift level feeding - 60%

Bottom level feeding - 15%

And Random level feeding came in at 5% of hours of feeding time recorded over the study periods.

However, ln the interest of science, some trout were kept and eaten so their that their stomach continents could be analyzed and counted by items consumed, which showed that what the trout were feeding on most efficiently were adult insects and emerges, on or very near to the surface of the water, which made up between 35 to 50% of what was found to in the trout’s stomachs. Why would this be the case?

The reason trout spend more time feeding subsurface is because sub surface feeding is less efficient for them because of the way their eyes are situated on the sides of their heads, restricted eye and head movement, significant blind areas below, behind and a very narrow area of binocular vision to be overcome, the reduced light levels that water absorbs, and the particulate matter the water carries down stream and holds, all making their vision much more short range than than ours is in the air. I believe the un-weighted Kebari patterns are highly effective because they drift close to the surface, where the trout can see them much better against the sky, so much better than they can see flies at drift level or along the bottom, so weighted Kebari and bead head nymphs, in reality, may not be as effective as is commonly believed that they are.

Tom, I am sorry if I hurt your feelings; that was not my intention and I am sure I can speak for everyone here in saying that no one wants you to go away. My disappointment was not in you but in what you have said and you are certainly entitled to any and all opinions you choose to hold. I really do not understand why some American T-anglers are so insecure and defensive about the fact that under some conditions and in some situations dry fly patterns can and will out perform wet flies. This is not an Either Or Situation - you do not have to choose one over the other and stick with that choice 100% of the time. I fish both as much as I can. Which one I fish depends on what the fish are eating and what They Want. As anglers, our job is to give the fish what they want to eat. Style, tradition and Tenkara dogma have nothing to do with catching fish from the fish’s point of view. And the fish’s point of view is what counts the most, not yours or mine…K.

Oookay?!? So in other words: sorry, not sorry. I think it’s time to sign off for a bit too (unlike Karl I’m not here just to air my pet peeves)


I hope you do not see my notes as being defensive. I am just sharing an opposing view. I believe there is a difference. I am not discounting the possibility that I may be wrong, but more a sharing about how I fish and my observations.

If you knew me better and knew my fishing style and even the window I fish, then it may become clearer why my approach and perspective may be different than yours. I fish 90% of my tenkara late fall through early spring. My recent Fishing Style post touches on some of these aspects. If you consider my window many common adult insect forms just are not forage.

This is the problem with books, studies, and personal opinion regarding fishing or any topic. With Fishing, how and where we fish is complex and not all that is written or label scientific is 100% truth.

I would say 90% of my fishing including my tenkara journey I lean more on observation than what I read in a book. If you and I were to fish together, I have no doubt I would learn a lot as clearly your style is different than my own. I am more of a hands on learner and believer. Often the devil is in the details and not in the written word or report. What Tom Davis revealed about his footage vs what happened during that outing is a good …case in point.

Regarding the below quote. I like you Karl and like what you contribute to this forum, but having too strong of an opinion on topics or others can be counterproductive to your intent. I know this because I struggle with it myself. I find the more open I am, the more I learn, and the more others may be receptive to what I have to say.

It is good we have different opinions and different paths, and i believe it is good to recognize and embrace this sort of diversity of approach. Sometimes it can cause us to reflect and fortify our personal path and sometimes it can have influence to change our path.

G, by and large I have no problems with anything you have said to me and others. I do not always agree with what you say, but that’s not because I think it is wrong or not true. This is where fishing style and personal preference comes into it, and we are all here, I believe, to have fun in our fishing. I enjoy fishing so much that I also enjoy reading a lot about it, especially when the season is closed and I can’t fish. I do not accept everything I read as the truth, but my reading has given me an awful llot of things to test, and I do a lot of testing. And I enjoy the testing just as much as I do the catching.

I fish dry flies because I enjoy the visual aspects of it, but I enjoy catching fish more than not catching them and I am not a dry fly snob, contrary to what some here may think. I think we are all in this for the Grab, pretty much any way we can get it. What I have tried to do is spread the joy of fish around and share information. I am not far from the end of my life. There were kind anglers who helped me, unasked, when I was learning, and I’m still learning. I feel we all have an obligation to help the younger generation a long. I hope I am leaving a legacy behind for the people who are interested.in fishing. I do not post just to hear myself talk, get read or receive comments. What I put up are things I believe to be interesting and that contribute information to the fishing community. I hope others find my posts to be interesting and food for thought, helpful and, to some degree, enjoyable. Most of what I post is not written by me. And for sure, some posts stimulate disagreement and debate. Fortunately, no one has to read my posts, like me or what I put up. Take what you can use and forget the rest…Karl.


Any more personal attacks and I will shut this thread down. Disagreements are fine. There is a zero tolerance policy for being rude and disrespectful of others on this forum.


In this video, Flicky does not just fish with dry flies but uses a streamer and a stonefly nymph as well. All with outstanding results on fixed line tackle. I sure wish I could have places like that to fish; take a look.

Here is a video Tenkara Addict recently put up, where he fishes with a Idaho Killer Kebari wet fly until he looses his last one. Then he goes to a weighted Brown Soft Hackle wet fly but feels it is inappropriate for the tiny stream he is fishing. As a last resort, he puts on a Dry Elk Hair Caddis pattern, which he bought and did not tie, and is rewarded with much better fishing success than he got with the wet flies that he did tie. Tristan considers wet kebari patterns to be traditional tenkara fly fishing. And I believe he sees the dry fly’s success in this case to be something of a personal embarrassment for him and contrary to tradition. A better way to look at this experience would be to consider it to be a learning opportunity. Trying new and different techniques is a way to grow and improve on our fishing knowledge to get better at what we do. Take a look and see what you think.

Sight-Fishing for Wild NATIVE Trout in a Tiny Creek! (Tenkara Fly …