Need some help minimizing my fly selection

Hi all. I’m new to tenkara fishing this year, but have fished western gear a bit.

I’ve also picked up fly tying too, which has been pretty fun. After going overboard a bit buying materials, the strong minimalist in me is looking to simplify my tying and fishing. I’ve already narrowed my selection a bit, but I can’t help but think I could go with wayyy less, especially as far as sizes go.

I’m fishing in Boise Idaho, so mostly our big urban tailwater, with limited trips into the mountains to freestone rivers and smaller freestone creeks.

So far I’ve been tying the following (numbers are the size range I’ve been tying in):

Griffiths Gnat 18-20
Elk Hair Caddis: 18-14
Adams: 20-14
Rio Grande Trude 8-16
Wooly and killer buggers 8-12
Takayama Sakasa Kebaris, light and dark 10-16
Ishigaki kebaris, 10-16
Pheasant Tail soft hackle 12-16
Red San Juan Worm 14
Beadhead Pheasant Tail Nymphs 12-20
killer bugs 12-16
Zebra Midge 16-20

Yikes. The minimalist in me sees few patterns, but way too much overlap and too many sizes.

Any thoughts? I know tailwaters require more refined fly choice, but I’d still like to narrow down to 2-4 patterns, or maybe a couple to cycle in and out for each season.


Hi Carl, I like this because it’s precisely the struggle I’ve been through, and precisely the reason why I have drifted towards what is probably best described as “functional fly tying”.

The basic idea is this: tie a fly/choose a fly for the way it behaves in the water, choose the colour/size based the the level of background noise in the environment.

I have a busy job and 3 kids so being able to refine down my fishing decisions has taken some if the “decision fatigue” out of my life :smile:

Taken to its extreme this is the idea behind the “one fly”… Which possibly misses the point though. I’ve ended up with 3 patterns (stiff hackle, soft hackle, weighted) I tie in 3 sizes and 3/4 colours (black, white, red, crazy bright).

I’ve learnt all this by reading the Discover Tenkara book, it’s deeply researched and intelligently presented.
Definitely worth the investment to simplify your flies…

I found that, for me at least, having too complex a set of flies was due to a lack of confidence in my ability to read the water and present the flies to the fish. It took a bit bit of a leap of faith to just give it a go. In my case I fish a small chalk stream in the UK; not exactly typical tenkara water. But with a couple of adjustments it all worked.

The other thing about feeling the need to have lots of different flies, is feeling the need to try to cover every possible situation… Every possible hatch or fussy fish. Personally, I had to get myself to a place where I’d be content to move on if a particular fish wasn’t interested in the presentation/size/colour I was putting on front of it. It’s no slight on me, perhaps it’s OK for the fish to “win” occasionally.


I like your current list…and unfortunately see utility in a lot of it. We are both screwed.

The fact there are so many Japanese kebari patterns documented does not help either…I want to try them all…but understand it is a trap.

I must admit I am at the same stage. My initial new to fly fishing and tenkara experimentation sort of over, and now would like to refine my flybox.

The funny thing is that I bought one of those tacky tubes and all my favorites fit in there…and can dry properly…so it acts as my real fly box…with just the confidence flies. I have a small fly box and its loaded with a bunch of different flies that I have bought but rarely use. The only time I open it is to replace a missing critter from the tacky tube.

I am ready to start approaching a minimal pattern flybox, but may still lug around the small security blanket.

The best way to think about it is to consolidate and remove similar patterns…then overlap patterns by purpose and size. Fish only your high confidence flies…and see how far it takes you. Keep good notes if you dig outside of those confidence flies…if they work or not. This might help identify if the others can be permanently culled.

I am getting close to changing.

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Thanks for your reply @russfx. I totally agree about making things more complicated than they need to be and decision fatigue. I’ve been researching and tying everything under the sun that local shops and anglers have been suggesting. And as it turns out, I have a feeling that these folks are suggesting their confidence patterns, and one is probably just as good another.

Three patterns sounds about ideal to me. Tying in different colors would be more than enough to keep tying exciting for me.

Russ, may I ask what pattern your three are based on? I know my western U.S. tailwater and your UK chalkstream are going to have totally different insect life, but I like to hear people’s minimalist rigs anyways!

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Size 20 Griffiths Gnat
Size 14 Elk Hair Caddis
Size 12 Killer Bug
Size 12 Takayama Sakasa Kebari if you insist.

Done deal.


Glad to hear in not alone! Good luck trimming down your box.

I’m excited for the fishing to pick up around here so I can merely gain some confidence in flys to begin with…

I like it @CM_Stewart. I’ve not used killer bugs very much around here, but they’re an easy tie and hopefully the fish like them. Lots of folks round here recommend a hares ear nymph, and I can help but see a close resemblance between the KB and a hares ear.

And I probably would insist on a Takayama Kebari. I enjoy swinging soft hackles through runs and ruffles far too much!

How long have you been fishing fixed line?

Just got my tenkara rod for Christmas. Been fly fishing off and on (with definitely more time off…) since I was a kid.

Welcome and have some fun!!!

That context makes a big difference. I would just get out there and not worry about tuning you flybox just yet. Try it all. What works for angler A may not for B…too many variables.

Feel free to tie a hare’s ear instead of the killer bug. Either one will work.

I’m not very good at using dubbing yet. Yarn is much easier to work with as a fly tying noob. Easier to rough up and get real fuzzy and buggy looking too.

@Gressak I’d agree, when I made the transition to fixed line I did the same thing! I put it down to a confidence thing…

@SSmtb Carl, honestly I suspect we’d both be surprised by how similar the insect life is. For me, if I do a careful kick sample I’ll see scuds/fresh water shrimp, upwing insect lava and nymph and the odd huge mayfly nymph. But in shape / colour /size I imagine they are similar to insects you’re familiar with.

And that’s just the point, fish don’t read books on entomology. The academic literature points to the idea that fish (and similar animals), look for triggers (fairly abstract ones) like the length to width ratio and the presence of something vaguely like legs (the hackle), some sort of movement perhaps, broad colour (dark, light, bright). Our job as anglers is to trigger the feeding response without scaring them and triggering the flight response. This is universal and I believe it’s why I’ve caught fish on the same flies on big turbulent rivers and small tranquil streams.

@CM_Stewart made an edit to your list which seems a great place to start. My tying is based on what I’ve learnt about “functional fly tying” in the Discover Tenkara books/dvd (I’m sure there is other stuff out there, I’ve just not found it) and my flies look a bit like the Kebari sets on their website. The adjustments I make reflect the fact that my stream is fairly slow, shallow and clear. So my flies are sometimes less hackled / subtle.

I know I keep banging on about DT and their stuff, but I have learnt a huge amount from their output. Whilst there is no doubt that time on the river is irreplaceable, I feel that what I’ve learnt has helped shortcut a lot of that and made the most of your time on the water.


Personally I think you guys are stressing too much.:grinning:
Tenkara or Fixed Line flyfishing is supposed to be one of the simplest forms of fishing. Just go with the flow.

Especially if you are new to fly tying then it is understandable that you feel the urge to tie everything and then decide that perhaps you could modify (modernise) some of those flies that have been around for a long time so perhaps you should carry a few of those too - just in case!

I have long since given up trying to be restrictive or worrying about how many flies I carry. The last time I was out for a short session I had approximately 500 flies in my rucksack, even so I only carried one rod and a spare line. If I recall correctly I used just 3 of those flies for the whole session! The fact that I had enough flies with me gave me confidence, which is what it’s all about.

However if you can achieve a minimalist fly status, like @CM_Stewart then that is good too.

So guys stop worrying and go and fish. :blush:

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I tend to start each season with more variety due to winter fly tying boredom, that said… They’re kind of grouped by purpose which is the step towards a minimalist selection.

Nymphs: Heavy, mid-weight size 12,16. I don’t bother with anything less than 2.5mm bead for nymphs since I tend to just start using a normal wet/kebari then.
Wets/Kebari: light, dark, stiff hackle, soft hackle, 12,14,16
Dry: 12s and 18s seem to be my goto… either fish are looking up and its for something that vaguely fits one of these sizes or I’m fishing subsurface with a wet fly / kebari most of the time.

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Just some discussion…no stress.

I think its fair to ask the audience to simply selection.

I bought Tenkara the Book by Daniel Galhardo, and have been slowly making my way through the chapters.

It may not be for everyone but the chapter on flies discusses the concept of fewer options being powerful has some merit. Spending time second guessing choice vs…only have one option can be the difference between catching and not. As we know confidence is often critical to success. It may not be the one pattern but rather the confidence, focus, and increased time fishing. I have been meditating on it a little.

I have so many flies that I tied or bought with intent to use …that probably will never see a drop of water.

There is nothing efficient in that, but its fair to say I had to do it to arrive where I am at now.


Those surplus flies do make their way into my fly box, if I’m having a great start to a day’s fishing and my confidence is up, I’ll often change to one of those “never use” flies and give it a go and see what the results are.

What’s that saying something along the lines of there are two types of fisherman, those that fish 100 different days and those that fish the same day 100 times?

Ive tied a few horrendous “should not work” patterns for that sake, just to gain different experience.

I’m sure we’ve all had those scenarios where you still catch with a fly where the hackle has in wound or half the thread is off the back of it.


@Gressak I thought that chapter was interesting too. I’m one of those people who likes to understand t why though, and I was curious why “fewer is more”. It was only when I made sense of the functional fly tying idea that it made sense for me. Its fun and interesting to tie close copy flies or just lots of different patterns, but I thought it was rather cool that it was only a few key features that were really turning the fish on… And the rest was perhaps mostly for my benefit as the tyer.

Interesting discussion, I like this forum!

I’ve been reading a bit on Discover Tenkara and see lots of sense in their philosophy on fly design and choice. Reading their thoughts on generalist designs vs close copy flies really reminds me of Bob Wyatt’s books.

He has an interesting philosophy on how fish behave as predators as well.
His thesis is that we erroneously label challenging trout as “educated” and “selective”. Instead he offers some interesting insights into their feeding behaviors and what things they key into.

Like DT, he is of the opinion that fly design needs only to satisfy a basic “prey image” to a trout. General shape and size are most important.

He relies heavily on only a few patterns, and three mainly, a deer hair sedge (kinda like a elk hair caddis, a deer hair emerged, and a smaller snowshoe hare emerger. He also places much emphasis on that its how you present and fish those flies, rather than the flies themsleves.

I guess it’ll just take me a little time to work out my top 3. @CM_Stewart s list is a good starting point tho. Although I’ll never give up my sz 12 wooly buggers…