A Tenkara Fly Code

A Tenkara Fly Code . . .

A tenkara fly code selection, including, row one: Light Cahill, Elk Hair Caddis; Deer Hair and White, Grey Wool and White; Amano Kebari, Royal Coachman; row two: E-Z Pheasant Tail Nymph, Pheasant and Orange; Muddler Minnow, Silver Tinsel Bucktail. (photo taken 04 30 2012)

One of the most influential artificial fly theorists of the last century was Vincent Marinaro. He was born, raised, and fly fished in the same western and central Pennsylvania region where I lived the first forty years of my own life. Limestone spring creeks and their rich insect hatches fascinated him and his approach, which he documented in two major works: A Modern Dry Fly Code (1950) and In the Ring of the Rise (1976).

Marinaro’s theory of the fly as related in his Code centered on two premises: the first was that small patterns were more effective; the second was the wing was the thing, the part of the fly that really mattered given the upward perspective of a feeding trout. What has risen from his opinion, as well as those of Halford and Skues, Flick and Meck, and a long line of others, is a cornucopia of patterns that imitate a world of fish food items that live somewhere within the water column and the calendar year.

Tenkara has come in recent years to the forward perspective of some western anglers, carrying with it a more simplified overall approach. This philosophy applies as well to the fly pattern. Imitation in the tenkara code goes only as far as tying a fly that matches the general silhouette of “insect” or, even more generically, “forage’ . . .  The rest of the game is the fishing process, placing and manipulating a pattern to provide it life-giving allure. Thus, it is not surprising to find a tenkara angler who carries just one pattern in the box. Different sizes of the fly, perhaps or for sure, but still only one pattern.

I have contemplated the western match-the-hatch tradition and the tenkara one-fly philosophy and have settled on my personal compromise: A Tenkara Fly Code.

The basics are simple: a fly pattern that imitates an insect can be large or small, floating or sinking, light or dark. That stated, my fly box will hold eight (8) flies to imitate insects plus an additional two (2), a large and a small streamer, to imitate minnows and crayfish. Here is the breakdown:

2 light floating (one large, size 12; one small, size 16)

2 light sinking (one large, size 12; one small, size 16)

2 dark floating (one large, size 12; one small, size 16)

2 dark sinking (one large, size 12; one small, size 16)

2 streamers (one large, size 8; one small, size 12)

This approach assembles a manageable assortment of ten (10) flies total, which can be realized in a single large and small example of five basic patterns, or ten separate patterns, each individual fitting into one of the ten specific slots in the size department. This second approach offers a little more variety, thus flexibility, especially in the streamer category, which has a wider range of organisms to cover. A trip to a freestone stream could include a large Muddler Minnow to imitate sculpin and crayfish; a small tinsel bucktail to imitate shiners and other silvery minnows. A trip to a pond might require a Black Woolly Bugger to represent a leech; a Gray Ghost to simulate a smelt.

That’s a whip finish for me, for now. The fun part, applied fly pattern theory practiced along a stream or around a pond, comes next.

– rPs 04 30 2012

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