the truth will set you free - switch to kebari and unmatch the hatch

It was hard writing this post. As I strike the keys I can already hear tumble weed rolling forlornly past, and somewhere in the far distance the faint howling of wolves,  punctuated only by the occasional tolling of a bell, rung not by human hand but by the icy and metaphysical wind that now gusts beneath my door. However, some things just need to be said and I say the things that follow not as a naysayer or even as a fly tier, but as someone who just wants to catch fish, so here it is:   

I don't believe fly fishers ever actually 'match the hatch.' This concept codified into a two hundred year old tradition of Victorian entomology-based fly fishing is merely a fly dresser's conceit, a harmless delusion that catches fish, but not for the reasons supposed. In fact as an approach it can actually work against the angler at times. There, I've said it and now there's no going back.. 

But wait! What's that scratching sound? Ahh.. it's just the quill scribing my arrest warrant for High Treason onto the Queen's parchment. 

In my defence I love and admire the craft of fly tying and the traditions of western fly fishing thought process. But I laugh inwardly at the the flipflaps that fly tiers may turn to justify the detail of fly patterns in terms of insect appearance and anatomy. It's an interesting irony that the more hyper-realistic a fly pattern becomes the more lifeless it looks in water, to my eyes at least. It's also true I think, that the absolute killer fly patterns that have really stood the test of time are, in imitative appearance, loosely suggestive at best but nevertheless posses other qualities that make them highly effective. A good example would be the damsel nymph pattern beloved of lake and small still water fishers. Many variants of this tried and trusted favourite look nothing at all like an actual damsel nymph but the sobriquet 'nymph' bestows the warm glow upon the fly fisher that they are actually matching a hatch. Actually they are pulling a lure.

This leads me on to the precise point in time of my road to Damascus conversion. For this we must step briefly out side of fly fishing and back to the day when I saw a lure fisherman tie a treble hook to a large carrot and cast it out into the river to successfully catch pike. Clearly no prey item was being imitated here but the carrot presented enough of a trigger to get eaten. In fact predator anglers, myself included, routinely use all manner of unnaturally coloured and shaped confections, as of course do salmon fly fishers and even euro nymph anglers at times in order to induce takes.  

I believe that all takes are in fact induced - a variety of factors can trigger 
(induce) the fish to take our fly - this may be a feeding response, aggression, curiosity or even competition.. but fooling our fish into believing our olive imitation is an actual real live olive isn't one of them. Faced with the choice between the natural insect and an imitation, it's just that for the most part our fish doesn't actually care. If our fly looks and behaves enough like food, then to the fish it probably is. And if that fish is not in a particularly discerning mood there's a good chance we'll get a take. 

If, on the other hand, our fish has become fixated on one type of food item then it may ignore an 'imitative' fly altogether. Western fly fishers sometimes describe this fish being 'keyed on', but ironically never see it as evidence that their imitative pattern never really looked to the fish like the natural food item in the first place. In fact in this scenario, fishing an imitative pattern may work against the angler because there is the obvious reference point of the natural insect which serves to highlight shortcomings of the fake fly next to it. But the angler may enjoy success at such times by showing the fish a fly that is totally different to the ensuing hatch. Subversive, maybe, but I love casting kebari into a hatch and catching fish with a fly that bears little relation to the natural food item of the moment, in size colour or movement. Sometimes when I'm fishing alongside western fly fishing friends I do it just to prove the point.

But why does matching the hatch work? (sometimes)

The first fundamental law of the universe is that you can't catch fish if they're not in front of you (although some anglers do spend quite a lot of time in the attempt). 

A hatch presents a feeding opportunity for the fish we seek to catch, so when we cast to a rising fish or one we see turning on a nymph, then we are putting our fly in the right place at the right time - we have a feeding fish in front of us and we are casting our fly into a window of opportunity.

Which is of course a large step towards achieving success. It's just that you don't really need any particular fly pattern to do it.  

The realisation that there is no need to match the hatch is liberating

Forget all those named flies and their local variations. Forget the need for a vast array of tying materials or an extensive library of flies. Think instead of your fly as a target that you are trying to tempt the fish to strike. Think how you might design or select your fly not as a copy of any particular insect but instead as a target the fish can find, a target you can see and track if needs be, and as a target that can be made to move and/or transmit light or vibration in the ways needed to induce a take. And nothing can do this better I think than a tenkara rod and kebari.

This move towards thinking of the fly as a 'target' for the fish is for me the true essence of tenkara. To fish tenkara with western style flies will of course catch fish, but it misses out on the huge benefits the tenkara & kebari  system represents. 

If you have already switched to kebari then I'm preaching to the converted. If you haven't yet made the switch have faith and give it a go!    

...and any one who would like to explore these ideas further might enjoy my post 'zen and the one fly'  from a couple of years back.. 



  1. You will get detractors to this post. Thanks for saying what I have been wanting to say but didn't have either the guts to or time to do the research.

    1. Thank you for your kind words of support Dennis

  2. Very interesting . I recall in the 1960s watching a series of programmes on Southern TV featuring Major Oliver Kite fishing on the waters keepered by Frank Sawyer in Hampshire. He was demonstrating the ‘induced take’ with Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail Nymph ALWAYS with success. He invariably finished his programme catching trout either with a small ball of copper wire wrapped around it, or even a bare hook! That made a huge impression on me.

    At the time I w


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