DVD Review: Discovering Tenkara – Japanese Kebari: Patterns & Principles


Discovering Tenkara, Japanese Kebari: Patterns & Principles by John Pearson and Paul Gaskell of Discover Tenkara is avaialble in DVD and Blu-ray at the Fish On Productions Website

So Jason Klass beat me to the punch over at Tenkara Talk with his review – and I’ll refer you there to get his insights too. I actually spent quite a bit of time chatting with Jason last night about the DVD and I think the take away from that conversation is that we were both very pleasantly surprised.

I am always a bit hesitant to watch tenkara “how-to” videos. The reason being that I have been enjoying my tenkara journey on the slow road. Tenkara was a sort of starting over point for me – a chance to reset my fishing and rebuild it from the ground up. I have not been in any hurry.  I’ve spent a lot of time meandering about on stream banks trying things out, testing things, poking at the hornet’s nest, taking things apart and putting them back together. I’ve spent a lot of time re-inventing the wheel. I don’t want a “Tenkara Owners Manual”.  So I only watch tenkara “how-to’s” sparingly. And when I do, I want to be inspired, not spoon-fed.

So I put the disc in the player, and pressed play with trepidation and preconceptions.

And was very pleasantly surprised.

This is not a video that asks the viewer to sit and watch some guy tie flies for an hour. Rather than creating a dry “how-to” video, Paul Gaskell and John Pearson of Discover Tenkara have instead made what is more like a documentary. And that is a very good thing in my opinion. They take us to Japan with them and we get to meet Japanese anglers and listen to them talk about tenkara and about kebari. If you’ve been around tenkara for a while, you’ll recognize some faces like Dr. Hisao Ishigaki and Masami “Tenkara-no-Oni” Sakakibara.

Rather than dictating to us, John and Paul allow us to discover along with them. And discover I did. Much of what I picked up wasn’t strictly related to kebari tying techniques. The conversations with anglers helped to put tenkara and tenkara kebari in a better historical and contemporary context for me. It was the conversations that I really enjoyed.

There were some surprises too. I found myself revising some ideas – and I know John and Paul were as well. I won’t spoil those insights for you by mentioning anything specific here – it’s more fun to watch things unfold. It was pretty entertaining to see the western anglers, John and Paul, with a bit of an urge to codify and classify like we tend to do in western fly fishing (myself included) – bump up against a tenkara culture that comes at things quite differently.

But there is tying too of course. John and Paul tie flies as well as do the Japanese tenkara anglers. It is not an exhaustive how-to, but rather an introduction to some patterns and principles (as the title states). The tying instruction is a good jumping off point. Also, I was glad to see Yoshikazu Fujioka’s My Best Streams website mentioned. If you are tenkara angler, and a kebari tyer and are not yet familiar with the site you need to check it out. You’ll find loads of inspiration as you page through Fujioka-san’s large collection of regional tenkara kebari.

The production quality of the DVD is very good and the whole thing flows quite nicely as a story rather than just a “how-to” – it was entertaining, and I would encourage folks that aren’t fly tyers to not discount it. There is plenty for the non-tying tenkara angler to enjoy. My biggest complaint is the title – Japanese Kebari: Patterns and Principles. That title, though quite accurate, doesn’t really hint at the broader range of the content. I would also like to see an insert with notes, maybe some pics of the flies with names and tyers’ names.

Rather than just show me “the way” to do things, John and Paul do a good job of presenting the idea that tenkara, and kebari tying in Japan has many faces and is very far from homogeneous. I’m inspired in my personal journey. And I’m left wanting more videos like this one.

I also watched Discover Tenkara’s first tenkara DVD entitled An Introduction to Tenkara: Basics and Fundamentals – and was likewise impressed with it. I found it a nice tenkara introduction. It takes place in the UK though – not Japan. But still though, the streams they’re fishing in the UK have me itching to make a trip over there.




13 Comments on DVD Review: Discovering Tenkara – Japanese Kebari: Patterns & Principles

  1. I agree with your review that it is a very good DVD. Though from my view the emphasis was on revealing how people outside Japan think differently about Kebari than the Japanese do, and correcting some misconceptions about how they are tied in their region of origin. I did see some slight conflict between their conclusions about the effectiveness of kebari for fast water vs slower water as explained by Dr Ishigaki during his presentation to the DT group while in the UK two years ago. That is in fast water the fly has to be seen, in slower water it has to look more like food since the fish has more time to decide whether to take the fly. I’m sorry to break the news to you and Jason, but my review of DT Japanese Kebari was posted publicly three weeks ago. ; – 0 But I have more time to do such things and your reviews are better and seen by more people. D

    • Agreed – I think we’re seeing some of the same things there – that’s what I’m hinting at when I say “There were some surprises too. I found myself revising some ideas – and I know John and Paul were as well. I won’t spoil those insights for you by mentioning anything specific here – it’s more fun to watch things unfold. It was pretty entertaining to see the western anglers, John and Paul, with a bit of an urge to codify and classify like we tend to do in western fly fishing (myself included) – bump up against a tenkara culture that comes at things quite differently.”
      I’m not sure what you take is on the fast/slow water issue is. My personal feeling is that mtn stream fishing and kebari go together like peas and carrots.. however, slower water (or maybe just richer water) can sometimes call for less general patterns (but not always). I’ve watched those picky limestone stream fish drift and watch and drift and watch…
      Thanks for the thoughts David!
      p.s. give me the link to your review and I’ll get it linked in mine

  2. (“I’m not sure what you take is on the fast/slow water issue is.”) I do not doubt that precise duplicates of Japanese kebari fished in the faster water streams of Japan will catch fish here in generally slower water streams. What I am referring to is when I was at the Summit in Va in 2013 Misako Ishimura recommended that in slow water use flies that have sparser hackle than flies to be fished in faster water.

    Also in the video of Dr Ishigaki’s 2013 presentation to the DT group in the UK, between 12:00 – 15:00 minutes of the video, he discusses fish vision, and explains how Tenkara developed on the faster water of Japanese streams, which requires completely different thinking about flies vs the flies developed for western fly fishing that is generally in slower water than in Japan.

    He explained that on fast streams the fish must see the fly and make a quick decision to take the fly or perhaps miss a meal. Therefore in fast water size of the fly is most important. If it is not food the fish will quickly spit out the fly. But in slower water the fish has more time to make a decision whether the fly is food or not, and is therefore more selective. Thus while size of the fly is still of primary importance, shape and color of the fly increase in importance in the decision of the fish whether or not to take the fly.

    He concluded by saying that if you take a fish from a fast flowing Japanese stream and put it into a slower water stream in the UK it too would become more selective about taking the fly. Thus the take of the fly is dependent upon stream environment, more than species dependent. Therefore, my conclusion is for fishing my streams I might not want to exactly duplicate all Japanese kebari, but rather duplicate ones with more color contrast and perhaps tie them with sparser hackle.

    Here is a link to the video of Dr Ishigaki’s 2013 presentation in the UK.


  3. Hi Guys – Anthony, just to pick up on your point about the printed insert/fly details etc. We are planning to do a couple of things on that front. First up will be the accompanying e-book which will tie together this basic kebari/intro principles DVD with the next more advanced DVD which will link kebari traits with specific angling applications. Within that e-book we plan to house a link that will point to a page that we will keep continually updated. It will contain things like fly dressings and also sources for materials – and I like your idea of having tiers photos so I may talk to John about including those on that page.

    David – I think you will be particularly interested in the e-book (I’ve now finished the text and JP is doing the photos and layout whilst I doodle some diagrams). In it we lay out a road map that links Dr. Ishigaki’s main thought process to a framework that multiple-pattern anglers use (like Masami or Ajari or – actually the majority of tenkara anglers in Japan!). The two parts of the spectrum might seem irreconcilable at first glance, but it is really a lovely picture when you step back.

    One of the main points (which speaks to the degree of selectivity) we examine takes a behavioural/evolutionary ecology approach (look – we are science geeks OK!) to predator/prey interactions. The book looks at the idea of “prey image” and, without reproducing it all here, takes in observations that movement (as well as physical profile) contribute to that prey image. It also looks at differing environments and the mechanism by which “prey image” parameters might become more refined. However, we are always careful to try to tease out what the empirically important parameters are – not what we (as humans) would perceive as a “more realistic representation”.

    Close copy flies work – of course – they naturally tend to hit upon combinations of relevant dimensions/profiles. We would argue that this is more “by accident” though. It also ignores factors that can be more important (i.e. physical properties of materials that allow you to actually put the fly in front of a fish and for it to move in the right way – either actively or passively).

    To get to my main point (finally) – it is amazing even in English Chalk and Limestone streams (slow flowing, very clear) an out and out “impressionistic” pattern like one of Dr. Ishigaki’s scruffy kebari is often still absolutely devastatingly effective. The most important factors appear to be size and also how bushy/sparsely they are dressed. Of course, there are some very specific scenarios (a fall of tiny spent mayfly spinners for example) that will require a pretty specific fly. But way more of the time than is commonly appreciated, we concentrate on what the fish would perceive as unimportant (if they were sentient beings that is!).

    Some other thoughts that the book picks up on – a fly/kebari can be too good of a copy and reduce your catch and – given a short list of important factors; we lay out a guide on how to choose good combinations of factors (its all very well knowing that size, for instance, is important – but how do you choose a good size of fly to tie on to your tippet?)

    Peace and tenkara


    • Paul – Regarding rich streams and general kebari. I have had great success with peacock bodied, hen pheasant reverse-hackled, loop eyed flies (tied on #8 super yamame keiryu hooks) and red bodied takayama-style with hen pheasant hackle also on Japanese size 8 keiryu hooks or western size 12 grub hooks. I tie my Takayama style quite a bit differently though than what you show as the original style – I do a longer, thin-ish thread body and very sparse hackle. I’ve used this fly very successfully during hatches of tiny blue-wing olive mayflies, and as a general searching pattern on very rich limestone streams with no hatch activity. However I’ve seen it, and other general patterns perform pretty poorly during some strong hatches. I tend to think that on the rich streams, when fish don’t move much for food – that getting it to the fish is first on the list. So a sparse dressing, heavy hook and long tippet is often all that’s needed for that. I find that if I don’t get down – then I don’t get much luck – the fish just won’t move up to a fly. Unless they will… I like to say that fly doesn’t matter – unless it does… But I have seen that – especially during non-hatch periods, the general kebari have been pretty successful.

      I would also add that my takayam style developed partially out of functionality, sparse and thin just seemed to be a better match for the available food and also less buoyant – but also sheer aesthetics plays a big role – I just like the way they look and I like to tie them that way. After all it’s all about having fun – I’d rather fish a fly that I styled and like to tie…

      On another note – Ive been delving into a lot of old fly fishing books as well as Andrew Herd’s book, The Fly, and it’s pretty funny to see that the conversations about how many fly patterns an angler needs, and how realistic they ought to be seems to be as old as the written word – and probably older.

      Thanks for the comments Paul!

  4. Good points all round. Thanks Paul for the peak into the forth coming e-books and website. Picking up on earlier blog post or videos by Dr Ishigaki and Masami Sakakibara tying kebari wherein they both mention that the kebari should not be to neat, but look a little scruffy, and combining that with the chapter Ragtag and Rumbled – the mystery of the ratty fly, in Paul Schullery’s book, “Fly-fishing Secrets of the Ancients, I started experimenting last summer with intentionally tying chaotic looking kebari. While still trying to tie them well to be robust flies. No conclusions yet about whether they are better than neatly tied kebari. But they do catch fish at least as well. Maybe fish prefer Picasso over Rembrandt.

    Good point about getting the flies to the right place and moving in the right way to attract the attention of the fish. Which is probably why I often read that after learning to cast the most important skill to develop is the skill to cast accurately to a precise point. I don’t think fish are lazy. However, I do think they are very energy conscious. I think they won’t burn more calories to chase and eat a bug than they judge they will gain by chasing and eating the bug. However, I make no claim to being a skilled tenkara angler. D

  5. Well David, you certainly articulate a point like skilled tenkara angler :-) The economic decisions (using calories as currency) is another favourite theme of ours. Anthony, Ive seen a number of your kebari (including your Takayama variant) and they all look excellent both in aesthetics and efficacy.

    • Paul, David – have either of you read the papers that discuss boldness vs. shyness in trout? I read a paper a while back that discussed this issue – and ever since then I have wondered about it in regard to selectivity in trout. Is it possible that we catch a lot more of the bold trout than the cautious with our more generic patterns? I reckon in the end it doesn’t really matter – but it’s fun to ponder these ideas sometimes.

  6. Hi Anthony. No I’ve never read anything about that topic. A Google search with “bold aggressive behavior of trout” certainly turns up some interesting search results about studies of the bold or shy behavior of Brown or Rainbow Trout. In general I think in populations of wild critters from elephants to predator fish certain members will be more aggressive or more docile, the ones at the edge of the bell curve, ready to pass along the needed genes to the next generation to insure survival if the environment changes. But we’re not talking about barracuda. We’re talking about trout. Which I think better fits the old saying about pilots. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but not old bold pilots. It’s possible we more frequently catch the smaller bold fish. However, it could also be the bold fish becomes dominate in the stream controlling the best feeding lays, thereby growing faster, and if we are good readers of the stream, and cast to the best feeding spots we more often catch the bold fish.

    Anders Halverson’s ,” An Entirely Synthetic Fish – how the rainbow trout beguiled America and over ran the world” is an interesting read. Which applies twice over to our local fisheries Golden Trout, which if I recall correctly passed their 50th anniversary in 2013 of being stocked on local rivers. I’ve hooked two but never landed them. There seems to be a local myth that they are smarter and more difficult to catch that normal rainbow trout. But I think they are just easier to see and they have become leery from having so many lures thrown at them. I don’t recall the book writing about the behavior of rainbow trout, but mostly about their ability to adapt and survive transportation. But hatcheries exist to stock fish that people want to catch. If they can breed them for color, they could also breed them to be more aggressive, quicker to take our flies or lures, making happier anglers.

  7. Hi, I guess I would subscribe to a working theory that ‘boldness’ in trout may be more related to their propensity to not spook and also to inspect potential food. Both of which would make them more likely to bring them into contact with – and hence more often be caught by -someone using rod and line fishing methods. Conversely, in my experience the higher rate of rejections of flies tends to related to angling pressure and seems to apply to all (or at least most) individual fish across the board. That suggests to me that the refinement of what is recognized as prey is a trait acquired in response to exposure to particular conditions – rather than an individual, inherent predisposition for spooking. It could even be that by spooking easily might actually reduce opportunities for fish to ‘refine’ food recognition parameters.

  8. Paul, you might find this 10:42 video interesting. 秋山郷伝承毛針 (Akiyama Gō denshō kebari) Akiyama Village Traditional Kebari, being hand wound (手巻き) at an international fishing show in 2013. The guy tying the fly is not identified. Though I believe the kebari is being tied by Mr. Kenzo Hayashi ( 林謙三氏) , who is listed as the tier of the similar looking Okushiano Akiyama kebari on the Fujioka website. I found a video of him on some tv show, and he appeared to be the same guy, identified by what little I see of his face in the tying video. Wherein he is listed as the VP of the Iwana Preservation Society.


    Now I understand the white line going to the eye of the hook in the pictures. And I found it interesting that he ties the thread off with a square knot or overhand knots thereby negating the need to use head cement.


  9. David – another great bit of research and detective work. I really enjoyed watching the clip. I had heard that the paper “straws” were used to set the size of the loop for these patterns but I hadn’t watched a video of it in action until you put me onto that clip. Many thanks.

  10. Thanks Paul. I’m pleased you found the video entertaining. I hand success last summer with flies tied by clipping off the feather barbs over the body of the fly. I will try tying some flies using his two string and overhand knot method. Though I will still clamp the hook in a vise rather than tying it in hand. But I might also have a go at tying some in hand too.

what say you?