The One Fly Concept: Is It The Penicle of Tenkara Achievement or Selfdeluding Folly
The One Fly Concept is a bit of marketing genius that was designed to help sell Tenkara and Tenkara rods to the would be anglers seeking a more simplified form of fly fishing, which it has done very well. It gives aspiring T-anglers a sense of pride and separates them from their Western fly fishing, match the hatch type, brethren very effectively. It also greatly simplifies the number of fly patterns and sizes that a Tenkara retailer needs to stock and sell - half a dozen different fly patterns in 3 or so sizes instead of the hundreds of fly patterns in the many different sizes that Western fly shops customarily have to carry. The One Fly Concept fits right in with the simplicity of Tenkara fly fishing style; a rod, a line, and a fly, and relying on technique rather than on the Western fly fishing addiction to equipment and insect imitation. But is the One Fly Concept really all that it is cracked up to be?
To answer that question we have to take the fish into account. Where Tenkara was developed was on high the gradient, small mountain streams in Japan. The trout and charr in those streams almost never get enough to eat because such streams are very low in biomass - not many plants or minerals to be found in the water to support a prolific aquatic insect populations. So the fish readily take any object that looks like it could be a food form. And they have to be quick about it before the current sweeps the bug away forever or another fish beats them to the food morsel. These fish take in all kinds on non-insect related items every day; they just spit out the mistakes unless there is a sharp hook attached that catches in the fish's mouth. So it is not that a Sakasa Kebari or any other type of fly pattern that has any magical powers on its own, but the fact that the fish feed opportunistically and they can not afford to feed selectively is such a food poor environment that makes our successes possible regardless of the fly pattern or patterns that we are using. And the real issue is presentation here. Tenkara tackle gives a superior presentation if the angler does his part right.
Pulsing the fly works in some situations, but not in all situations, works because fish are hard wired to become excited by motion in a fly pattern and in the materials the fly is tied with because motion can be an indicator of life in nearly all prey species. And fish prefer to eat their prey alive when they can. I'm sure we have all heard the statement that trout eat 90 percent of their food subsurface, but that is not the whole story by a long shot. In the Postscript to THE DRY FLY, New Angles, by Gary LaFontaine, Gary Had this to say: "My own fishing includes nymph, wet fly, and streamer tactics. The thought of being a purist never appealed to me; instead, my philosophy embraces a preference, sometimes to the point of being illogical, for the dry fly. It recognizes when other methods may be superior....
My Observations in western rivers show roughly how much time trout spend feeding on insects at each level of a trout stream:
Surface - 10 percent (adult insects on top of the surface film)
Just below the surface - 10 percent (emergers or drowned adults hanging on the bottom of the film)
Drift level - 60 percent (nymphs swept along just above, in that mixing zone between the calm water among the rocks and the unobstructed currents above)
Bottom - 15 percent (nymphs crawling and swimming in the calm water among the rocks; trout "grub" these insects off the bottom)
Stray feeding at other, random levels - 5 percent
This is only the hours that trout spend feeding. They take insects imitated by dry flies or emergers 20 percent of the time, but stomach samplings reveal a different set of percentages - adult and emerging insects make up 35 to 50 percent of the actual diet by item. The discrepancy shows that trout feed more efficiently at the surface. When they can rise regularly, and with unerring accuracy, they take insects faster from the the roof of the stream.
This is the secret of the dry fly's effectiveness as a searcher. Trout prefer to rise even when nothing is happening on the surface, because they are naturally adept at it. Any fly on top is a temptation for them."
Now whether you fish a dry fly or an unweighted Kebari in the top few inches of the water, you are fishing a fly where the trout are programed to feed most efficiently and where they prefer to feed if they can in small streams. A lot of this has to do with where the visual cone and rod cells are placed in the trout's eyes, and the fact that it is easier for the fish to target a fly showing up in marked contrast to the light coming into its eyes from the sky.
A lot of the T-anglers who worship at the alter of the One Fly Concept, believing that they are overcoming Western fly fishing dogma by using only a single fly pattern and manipulating the fly to catch fish are fooling themselves even more than they are fooling the fish. It is the nature of the trout living in food poor environments that will allow almost any fly pattern to succeed at least some of the time, whether it is a Kebari type pattern or not. I have proved this many times over going in the opposite direction: I fish a pattern until it lands 10 fish, then I change patterns until that one catches its 10th fish, often going through 5 or more patterns over the course of a fishing day. For sure sometimes some patterns work better than others but, seldom does any fly pattern completely strike out on a small mountain stream. Fish only one fly or fish many different patterns as you please. It will not make any difference to the fish most of the time on prime Tenkara type streams....Golden.