To some extent, the One Fly Concept or theory is believed to be based on the tenants of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi.
Wabi implies a simplicity through which a person obtains a degree of harmony, balance, and understanding of their place in the universe, rooted in a sense of spareness and poverty, in which you find contentment in the most basic of possessions, with an acceptance of imperfection, and a sense of peace and authenticity.
Sabi is defined as the character of natural materials to show signs of the aging process, and the mark of time and the impermanence shown in all things.
Therefore, Tenkara fishing should be approached with simplicity, mindfulness, patience, and an appreciation for the natural environment and our place within it to embrace and demonstrate the Wabi Sabi Aesthetic.
Anthropocentrism is the belief that humans are the most important entity in the universe, and that man’s proper place in the universe is tame nature and make it serve his needs and desires.
As opposed to Western Fly Fishing Theory, which primarily focuses on fly patterns that bear some resemblance to natural insects the trout are known to eat, traditional Tenkara anglers focus more on presentation and technique as being more important than the pattern - that any fly is OK and will get the job done, if the angler only fishes it in the right way and gives the fly the proper action in the water to elicit a strike. What is lacking here is an appreciation for the natural environment and its natural impermanent life cycles of the food forms the fish eat and depend upon for their sustenance.
While the One Fly Concept certainly embraces simplicity to the point of poverty, and the anglers using the technique may find contentment in the most simple and basic of imperfect fly patterns, and believe they can stimulate the fish into striking any fly simply by pulsing the fly properly in the water, I believe they are showing a degree of contempt for the trout’s powers of observation and any degree of discretion in whether it will or will not take any fly, pulsed or not.
The One Fly Concept became a brilliant marketing too for Tenkara USA to establish and sell Tenkara tackle to hopeful anglers who found Western Fly Fishing to be too cluttered, complicated, difficult and gadget filled to deal with, but it short changes the appreciation for the natural environment and our place in it, not to mention the trout’s place in that environment. I have read comments to the effect that the One Fly Concept requires great discipline. Discipline, to do what? Doggedly fish one size, color, and style of a fly pattern in any, every, and in all places and water conditions? That’s just intellectually lazy, non-observant, dismissive of the fish’s environment and its and our place within it.
Fish are visual predators. To eat a fly, a fish needs to be able to see it. Water comes in different colors. Some fly material colors are more visible to the fish in certain water colors than other colors are. The farther away the fish can see your fly, the more stimulation it will get as the fly approaches, and the more likely the fish will be to take your pattern up to a point. Overly bright flies will turn the fish off, so you need enough but not too much stimulation.
In my fishing I listen to what the fish are saying; I let them tell me what they want, then I try to give what they want to them. That is a lot more productive than putting on a fly you like and telling the fish he can take it or leave it. How in tune with nature is that? Fish being who and what they are, they really want to eat something and will often take all most anything that looks like it could be food, so the One Fly Technique will usually catch enough fish to satisfy most anglers with low expectations that are new to fly fishing.
But an experienced and accomplished angler who gives the fish what they are looking for and want will catch many times more fish than a less discriminate angler. The question is, What kind of angler do you want to become? It’s your question to answer. Do you want it to be any fly or an acceptable fly pattern? Not all flies are created equal and that can make a hudge difference…Karl.
Well, I really appreciate your introspection.
I’m the kind of angler that’s devoured books on entomology for decades. I pumped fish stomachs. I chased match the hatch for a long time, I carried hundreds of flys and caught a lot and I focused my attention on creating my own split cane rods for small streams.
I’ve learned from many of the best around the world, became friends with and shared that with all of them for a long long time.
…and then a fellow bamboo fly rod maker told me about Tenkara USA and how I could get a tenkara rod. I already knew Yoshikazu Fujioka for 13 years, now I could get a tenkara rod that he mentioned. We are (I only do tenkara now) small streams fly fisherman friends, we chased the same thing.
I decided I wanted to learn tenkara.
I also knew if I wanted to learn it, I would have to stop fly fishing.
And I did.
And I bought old Japanese tenkara books and talked with old Japanese anglers about tenkara before it became so commercialized here. I bought more old books and wrote about it and the old Japanese guys could see what I was doing and they started to approach me!
I did a year of one fly and that was so amazing! I caught more fish than ever. It smashed match the hatch to pieces.
I went to Japan and left my proven little Wheatley fly box filled with years of knowledge and confidence. I caught Iwana, Amago and Yamame along with some Rainbow all on that one single pattern. I taught a Japanese gentleman “one fly” while I was there. I took pictures, lots of them and wrote about my trip.
I came home and continued to learn about tenkara. I learned that the fly didn’t matter and then I practiced accuracy.
I developed my own wrong kebari.
And I went back to Japan and caught more fish in very thin and spooky water. I actually caught well and was taught more by the best at it.
No, matching the hatch is no longer important.
Knowing where the fish are and being stealthy and placing the fly is far more important than “knowing what the fish want.”
I catch fish by not giving them a chance.
I put it where they want.
But, if you have ever pumped fish stomachs, everything is nearly dark brown and about a half inch long. Not a blanket statement, a generalization. My fly is black body, red head or tail depending on the cast, and brown soft hackle.
That does it most of the time now.
On those rare occasions, I might have to use a woolly bugger. Or, if I see a pool where fish are rising, I’ll put on a dry, you know, to change it up.
The Japanese taught that to me too.
You wouldn’t believe me how many places I’ve been and caught lots of fish on my one pattern. I’ve given that pattern to others when they were getting skunked and they caught, lots after that.
It’s my first choice now, every time and it isn’t because I’m lazy or a beginner, quite the opposite.
With all due respect, I don’t do it your way. It’s not my way, it’s your way.
I also learned that tenkara in Japan is quite diverse. Matching the hatch is not a general consideration, accuracy far outweighs entomology.
But that’s just my observation.
I really enjoyed reading yours and I respect that.
That’s what kind of tenkara angler I am.
…anyone reading should look at the first link to the TenkaraUSA site. It’s worth your time, Karl is obviously an experienced angler and a teacher that just wants to share what he knows.
I dig that.
Definitely masterclass fly fishing for sure.
Hi Adam. Thank you for the most interesting and detailed reply. I believe one of the more intriguing aspects of the One-Fly practice in Tenkara among its devotees is that most O-F anglers use different patterns, and each angler believes that He has the best, most productive fly. Obviously, there must be something else at work here to explain why so many different fly patterns work so well under the same conditions. Admittedly, Western fly fishing puts far too much importance on fly patterns and pays much too little attention to presentation. The O-F anglers are putting about 98% of their eggs in the presentation basket, and correctly so. I believe the Western dedication to patterns is primarily market/profit driven - If a fly shop can convince you that you need a different fly for every different species of aquatic insect there is out there to catch trout, look at all the flies and fly tying materials they are going to sell.
In the above Pattern Testing piece, fishing one fly until it had caught 10 fish and then changing to a different pattern for the next 10 fish, many times over the course of an angling day, more or less proves the same things as the O-F practice does, only it is comting at the same thing from the opposite direction - using many flies instead of only one to catch many fish. Either way, it proves that the fly pattern being used is not the critical factor.
But in some situations, possibly unique and not all that frequent ones to be sure, the right pattern presented in the right way can make an unbelievable and significant difference. And if the angler believes his O-F will catch any and all fish if he can only manipulate it correctly, he is not likely to pay enough attention to what is going on to solve the puzzle and catch those seemingly difficult fish. It is not that the fish who are all that difficult, if you have the pattern they want and you present it in the way they want it, they will eat it. But it is up to you to solve the problem. But first and foremost, the angler has to be able to realize that there is a problem. And the main indicator that there is a problem will be that your O-F is not catching those fish. And if you have only One-Fly to offer, you are not going to be able to solve the problem.
We are all free to fish in any way we please, and I 100% in courage you and all the other anglers here fish in what ever way pleases you and them the most, be it with One-Fly or many flies. Fish for fun and fish. Tight lines…Karl.
If tenkara were not so much fun…
As long as it’s fun, I’ll keep doing it.
I know you are having fun too.
Good words, much respect to you.
I hope you are well and take care.
There was a time when I believed I was living under some kind of an angling curse - I was not seeing any of the things the most respected and lauded angling literature was telling anglers to do - Match the Hatch. Where I fish, for the most part, there are no hatches to match! I do know and understand that matching the hatch can be highly effective and very successful in some places at some times, it just does not happen all that much where I fish. I could not say never, anything is always Possible, but I see it so rarely that I do not even bother to carry any Mayfly patterns any longer, which is The Aquatic Insect that the whole match the hatch thing is based on, and which occupies about 90% of the patterns that fill most Western angers fly boxes.
But in a very general way, I do believe an angler should go with the natural flow of things. For instance, I have seen a lot of nymph fishing indicator anglers continue to cast their indicator rigs on the water of a river where trout were literally stuffing themselves to the gills with caddisflies taken right off of the surface of the stream. I mean, you could see the bugs, and you could see the fish taking them! I have also, many times, seen anglers fishing streamer patterns under those same kinds of conditions, doing the same kinds of things. How much angling sense does doing a thing like that really make? I watched one indicator fisherman, fishing a $1,000,00 plus Winston fly rod, Orvis CFO reel, making beautiful, highly accurate casts, intently watching his indicator and waiting for it to dip. What he failed to do was look for trout, of which this particular stream located in Yosemite National Park has none. He was too busy watching his indicator to look to see any fish there. I look for a fish to cast to, it is a big waste of fishing time to put your fly in empty water - you want a fish to be there to eat your fly.
I mean, the fish will often show you where they are, you can see that they are feeding on the surface, and the bugs that are taking off from the surface of the stream and hitting you in the face as they fly away. Being a Tenkara One Fly angler, would you persist in casting your wet Sakasa Kebari in the face of such overwhelming evidence that a different approach could and probably would be much more successful?
I believe in giving the fish what they are looking for in a general kind of way. None of the fly patterns I fish are intended to be exact imitations of any kind of insect or match any kind of hatch. In nutrient poor fast flowing high gradient streams, the kind of water where Tenkara fly fishing originated in the first place, any fly that looks like it could be some kind of bug will get bit if it is well presented. And while Sakasa Kebari patterns can be fished as dry flies to some extent, even though the materials they are traditionally tied with really are not the best tools available for producing dry fly patterns. And to a large extent fishing dry is not very popular in the Tenkara Community today, even though it may often be the most productive angling method to use - it is not considered traditional, and not thought of as being a “True” Tenkara Angling method.
But I believe the people who developed Tenkara fly fishing might very well have embraced dry fly fishing if they had access to the technological hook advancements required and fly tying materials that would have allowed flies to be tied that would have floated well on the water, rather than just be fished in it. Anglers have always had wet flies to fish with from the first time a feather was tied on a hook. European anglers had to wait for the technological advances to develop that made floating dry flies possible, before they could fish with dry flies. Once that happened, wet fly fishing declined significantly until modern nymph fishing was discovered. In Japan, it was contact with Western Anglers that first introduced floating dry fly fishing to the Japanese anglers. Being a foreign invention and not traditional, I am sure there was resistance to the new techniques and materials possible for use back then, just as there is resistance today. And so we Now have a School of “Pure” Tenkara Fly Fishing, that only sees unweighted Sakasa Kebari as being the only proper way that “Real” Tenkara Anglers fish, every where that Tenkara Fly Fishing is practiced in the world.
I am not much interested in what is and what is not Pure Tenkara Fly Fishing. I’m most interested in catching as many fish as I can on a fixed-line rod (not necessarily a Tenkara rod). And I will use any line that gets the job done. Which includes Titanium Wire Lines for really windy conditions; PVC coated Floating Tenkara Fly Lines, for fishing on and in Stillwaters, and sinking Fluorocarbon, Level Tenkara Lines for keeping as much line as possible Up off of the water for fishing in streams. I fish both unweighted and weighted fly patterns, weighted with wire, Brass Beads, and Tungsten Slotted Beads, to reach the depths where my targeted fish can be caught. I dead drift flies where that works best, and manipulate and pulse fly patterns where those actions produce the best results.
I do not have any preconceived ideas about how fish should be caught. I started my fishing life as a bait fisherman, mover on to artificial lures and eventually gravitated to fly fishing. The water’s temperature tells me what size of fly the fish will probably go for. Is it sunny, overcast, and or raining? Which also indicates that certain colors of fly patterns will work better than others under different lighting conditions. The color of the water tells me which color of decorations on the fly pattern will show up best in that water color condition for maximum contrast - think Dark on Light, Light on Dark here. The time of day and season tells me what food forms will most likely be available for the fish to eat, and know what may be there and how they move through the water tells you how to present and manipulate the flies you are presenting. And the exhistance of thermal winds tells me that the fish will likely be looking for terrestrial insects to feed on in both lakes and streams. Is all of that complicated? Probably, to some extent. But learning about these things will often produce considerably better fishing than just blindly fishing with a favorite One-Fly Pattern, that takes none of these many and varied conditions into consideration and into account. If you are happy with catching as many fish as you catch on your One-Fly, fly pattern, more power to you. I wish you well, I really do. But, you could do better. We each get to march to the beat of our own personal drummer, and I would not deny anyone that freedom. Tight lines…Karl.
I think I’m out of words here.