Fly hackle?

Hi everyone,
I am a novice fly tier, with most experience with Western nymph and wet fly patterns.
I recently moved into tying Tenkara flies with okay success. I am finding the hackle to be more of the challenge than I had anticipated.
What type of hackle do you typically use? I have been using grizzly hackle, but the hackle fibres seem so thin. I am hoping to find hackle with thicker, fuller fibres. I attached a pic of a fly that appears to have thick, full fibres. Wondering if anyone might know the type of hackle used in this pic.

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I think the fly shown is hackled with hen pheasant hackle.


I would partially agree with @diamante. I agree it is pheasant, but I think it’s pheasant cock.

@Jason_Seaward Remember to not buy into the misinformation. Sakasa kebari are not THE tenkara fly. They are one type of tenkara fly and they generally only make up 5-15% of all flies used in tenkara - in Japan. The US and other countries may skew this data because of the misinformation that exists and people only using that one type of fly.

There are also Jun kebari (what westerners call “regular” hackle).

This is an example of one I tied.

There are also Futsu kebari. These are stiff hackle wet flies. Such as this one that I tied recently.

The latter two styles make up the majority of tenkara flies. Depending on what region of Japan you go to, you will usually find a preference for either Jun or Futsu kebari.

The type of hackle that you use really depends on a lot of factors that you are trying to accomplish. One type may not have all the properties you are looking for. You can also combine hackle types too.


@Jason_Seaward, if you have the resources I would highly recommend the Discover Tenkara’s Complete Kebari Collection.

It is a fantastic introduction to Japanese kebari. Very informative. Here is a review written by Peder:

Thanks everyone. A lot of good information.
I think a big part of it will probably be plain old practice. Winding and tying down hackle has to be my least favourite part of tying flies.

Jason, in numerous places, from different people, I have heard this thumb rule.
When fishing fast water use kebari with thicker hackle. When fishing slow water or streams with a lot of of fishing pressure use kebari with thinner or sparser hackle. I think your thin hackle tenkara flies will work fine in the right conditions.

Since Discover Tenkara information has been referenced already. I recall seeing more than once, Paul Gaskell mentioning when fishing with Dr Ishigaki, and maybe some other Japanese tenkara anglers, seeing then chewing off or snipping off some of the hackle, to make it thinner, as they moved into fishing slower water sections of a stream or sections of stream with heavier fishing pressure, where fish have so many flies tossed at them, a more ratty looking thinner hackle fly might be more attractive to the fish and less likely to spook them.

I guess one could say, if you tie all flies with thick hackle it’s easy to make the hackle thinner when you think it might be more attractive to fish, but you can not add hackle to a fly on the stream.

If you are not familiar with Yoshikazu Fujioka-san’s kebari studies, you might find them helpful.
He divides kebari into 6 basic types.

With the 5th category, stiff/short/normal hackle accounting for 38.5% of all fundamental kebari types. With the second most popular being the 1st category; soft/long/normal hackle accounting for 17.4%, about half as popular or commonly found in his survey vs category 5.

However, there is no accounting for which type catches the most fish. :roll_eyes: Who knows maybe the 5th category only catches the most tenkara anglers. :thinking:

Though perhaps it isn’t a rigorous scientific survey of kebari types used in different areas of Japan, it is clearly a survey he has spend years making, So pretty valid for distribution or popularity of soft or stiff hackle, short or long hackle. Reverse or normal hackle.

He seems to not make a distinction between jun or futsū hackle orientation, { and it seems fairly common in Japan to not make much distinction between jun or futsū kebari, using the names interchangeably} calling both ‘normal’ as contrasted with and distinct from sakasa (reverse, forward facing hackle)

You may notice on the second page of the pdf document the table and the polar graphs show the highest number of kebari, by a large margin, have - short, stiff, normal hackle. iow not long soft sakasa kebari.

And on the first page of the pdf document you will see in the kebari sketches, under the short stiff hackle column on the right side - the Futsū-kebari and Sakasa-kebari, are both tied with neck hackle. The Jun-kebari uses an alula feather, the so-called ken-bane (sword feather) that was recently posted in a different forum thread.

You might find the following web page interesting - a webpage I just happened to be looking at last evening. To understand the different kebari hackle types & names used by the Japanese. Futsū kebari, jun kebari, & sakasa kebari. Though I must admit, the author’s examples are all of the long, soft hackle type, but they could be tied with short, stiff hackle too. Scroll down the page about 40% down from the top to see pictures of the 3 types of kebari.

Top to bottom:
Futsū kebari , 普通毛鉤, Ordinary kebari, hackle ~ right angle to hook shank
Jun kebari, 順毛鉤, Normal kebari, - hackle angles toward hook bend
Sakasa kebari, 逆さ毛鉤, Hackle is angled, reverse or inverted from hackle angle of Normal, Jun kebari. Hackle faces forward toward hook eye.

Lastly, front cover of a kebari tying instruction booklet sold in an Angle tying kit.
Left to right : Futsū , Jun, Sakasa kebari. The hackle is pretty thin in their example kebari - with only the Jun kebari having thicker hackle.

Anyway, I’d tie with the feathers you have. If you want thicker, with experience you can do more wraps and keep the wraps close together, not spreading to far over the hook shank. Or to tie kebari to match your example picture, find some pheasant feathers.

Doh, here’s a video someone uploaded to YT about a month ago, Feb 4, 2020, comparing all 3 hackle types. Twitching them underwater in the order listed.

Use for Tenkara fishing comparison of “Sakasa kebari”, "Futsū kebari " and “Jun kebari” [Underwater video]

Opening picture
Bottom left Sakasa kebari - 逆さ毛鉤
Top right Futsū kebari - 普通毛鉤
Bottom right Jun kebari - 順毛鉤

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In the case of I

Use female pheasant wing feather

“Sakasa-Kebari” by “Hiromiti Fuji”

“Sakasa-Kebari” introduced in Japan in the early 1950s

“Sakasa-Kebari” in Hida reproduced by Mr. Migita

Coq de Leon Sakasa-Kebari :wink:


Thank you for the wonderful commentary

In Japanese


Thanks! I instantly felt better knowing there are places where these thinly hackled flies will work.
I will work my way through all this material tomorrow. Thanks so much!!

That, I think, would fit into the Tenkara proverbs. :smiley:


Oh, the previous video was uploaded by the 釣りホリック動画部 Fishing holic video department, YouTube Channel.
釣りホリック / Fishing holic is a group organized in 2018 with the goal to encourage fishing of all types.

They also posted a 6 minute video on how to tie a sakasa kebari. With an associated blog post that includes additional videos, made by others, that show additional details of the process. It’s pretty basic stuff, and only one way of tying it among other methods.

The take away point is, as others have mentioned, they used in step 3 a メス キジの羽を [mesu kiji no hane o] Hen pheasant wing feather. [Google manages to make a mess of the translation in the blog post, in one place translating it as “Mesquite wings” and in another place as “Squid wings” ] :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Easy 6 minutes! Simple method of making an inverted fly ( sakasa kebari) for tenkara fishing

Digital translation


I am not sure if this is good advise, and hopefully others will comment.

I like grizzly dry fly hackle. It has both light and dark fibers so can read different ways in different water. 5 or 6 wraps. Stiff hackle has the utility of more footprint in water displacement…vibration and drag, which I feel is a more effective trigger than just a visual footprint. I also fish other dry fly hackles and will seek out the ones that have two tones. Not just grizzly but also ones that are light on the underside and darker on the back of the hackle. I really like duo tones.

Sometimes the mimic of what people consider a tenkara fly like your picture is not always the best route. There are threads on the topic, but messier flies will get you more action than a manicured, perfectly tied one. Lucky for me, it is not a skill I need to unlearn. Most of my flies are really funky.

I have found that there is more versatility in dry fly hackle that @Peder has in his Futsu illustration . It is not that I do not tie soft hackle flies but have started to only tie jun style flies with soft…or as peder notes a back pointed hackle.

The soft hackled…sakasa that you have illustrated at the head of this thread has nearly disappeared from my flybox. They definitely are not the first fly I grab streamside… and I will get into why below.

Dry fly hackle. Greater vibration signature. More drag. It offers a larger presence in the water and if placed in current correctly the water will grab it and sink it faster than a beadhead. Unlike a bead it will not find bottom buy will be given loft like a kite and fly through obstacles. The current loves stiff hackle wets. For me it is better when manipulated and has so much water pressure i can feel it and its position at all times. It anchors in the water in a way that soft hackle or other forms just do not. So it is good in wind and if you fish a heavier line. Tight lines == converted fish.

It is not to say a soft hackled sakasa kebari is not effective. Sakasa is great and I have caught a ton of fish with it. It is more that I feel that i can do more with a dryfly hackle.


@Jason_Seaward, trout and other fish are not Oxford or Cambridge graduates, so don’t worry so much just get out there and fish. The fish will let you know if they do not like your flies. I think many different members here use all types of feathers and hackle for their kebari. Last summer I found a blue jay feather and tied it around an empty hook.(nothing else added) I used just enough thread to tie down the feather and to to tie it off, I still caught fish. Look at the kebari flies posted on this site and you will see many beautiful flies you can copy for your fly tying. Most of all, enjoy the process and have fun. With practice and time it will all fall into place my friend. My flies look horrible but they still catch fish.

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As Mike notes specific materials are not that important but understanding the utility and purpose can help.

This is one of my favorite illustrations of the philosophy. Stream side tied up with the master, Yuzo Sebata. rubber tape, panty hose, and hackle.


@Gressak, awesome.

So true.

Okay. Makes more and more sense.
I am realizing that 1) I have the supplies that make effective flies and just need to learn to tie them properly and 2) I need to practice tying hackle so it’s no longer my least favourite aspect of fly tying.

I think a good hackle plier can be the difference between frustrating and fun. Not sure what you use but I use these after tom’s review…and for 6 bucks it is worth a try.


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I agree with @Gressak that the Stonfo are cheap and well loved by many.

However, I personally find the part that grips the feather (or other material) is rotated 90 degrees in the wrong direction. I find these to be best for tying biots and other similar material that you want to keep flat on the hook shank. But are less effective for tying things like feathers that you generally want to keep perpendicular to the shank of the hook.

My personal favorites are the C&F Design hackle pliers. By far the best I’ve ever used in 34 years of tying flies. But note, they are very expensive. The few places you can find them in North America they usually cost about $50 US. However, if you’re either lucky and find them on sale (as a friend of mine did a few weeks ago) or buy them direct from Japan, you can find them as cheap as $25. However, along with my bobbin and my scissors, they are a tool that I use every single time I sit to tie flies. And since they are so nice to use, they are worth it to me.

Platt in Japan has them for about the $25 US price and shipping was about $7 US (when I got mine there four years ago) and I got mine in about 5 days - the same amount of time the Post Office usually takes to deliver something to me locally. :thinking:

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Looking about the blog Peder posted in another thread,
How’s this for a sparse hackle fly?

Go here to see what it caught and where :wink:

I don’t think the funny rod he used, with the round thingy on the bottom end, accounted for his success. :roll_eyes:


Remember that in general, it’s believed that too sparse is better than too much.