The One Fly Philosophy


The single greatest difference between  tenkara and Western fly fishing lies in their attitude towards flies. The whole “Where’d the reel go?” thing pales in comparison to the colossal rift between the Match the Hatch Philosophy of Western and the One Fly Philosophy of Tenkara. Whole civilizations crumble, monarchs are dethroned, mothers and fathers disown their children over less.


Well, maybe not.

But we know trout eat insects. We know we can tie flies that look like the insects trout eat. And we know that, with a study of entomology and some skill, we can mimic those insects with exceptional accuracy and precision. We have wrestled Nature into submission. The trout is doomed. Why consider anything else?

We learned on the History page that traditional Tenkara developed as a commercial endeavor where efficiency meant profit. Somewhere along with commercial fishing, the idea of fishing for fun came into being. People wanted to become skilled anglers purely for the sake of angling.

Thus the One Fly Philosophy was born. It presumes anything not absolutely necessary in fly fishing is, well, in the way. If I don’t have all those flies to tie, I spend more time on the water. If I don’t spend too much time studying insects on the water, rigging and re-rigging until I think I’ve found the one true fly, I spend more time putting a fly in front of trout. If I simplify my equipment and my rig, I spend more time actually fishing. Finally, if I’m fishing more, I will have more fun, and maybe become a better angler.

So far all this talk about efficiency and fun sounds pretty good to those of us in the West. Here’s where the concept might seem a bit foreign. Listen carefully.

You might not always catch as many fish with just one pattern.

What the hell? Then why only use one pattern?

Many people are successful with Tenkara their first time out. The setup is so simple. In comparison to most other forms of fly fishing, it’s quite a bit easier for a newbie to happen upon a good presentation. For those with a fly fishing background, it can be even easier. But at some point, all of us experience a day when the fish aren’t paying attention to that one pattern and our Tenkara technique just isn’t up to the task.

Tenkara techniques are very effective. In a variety of waters, and with a variety of fish. If you’re ever privileged to watch a true Tenkara master on the water, you’ll certainly be amazed at the number of strikes he coaxes out of the most unlikely situations with that one pattern.

If you ask that same Tenkara master for the basis of his skill, he will tell you the most important thing to tricking fish is presentation. He will say there are many facets to presentation, including an understanding of trout behavior, reading the water, a stealthy approach, precise casting, and even fly manipulation. He will say the best anglers have the best presentations.

He will also say the best anglers pay attention. Not just to how well their fly is tied, or how tight their casting loop might be. They pay attention to everything. The direction of the sun and wind, the way the shadow of a cast blends into the shadow of a tree on the water, the subtle movement of a line as it drifts downstream, the vibrations their steps create in the water, and beyond. Everything. And all at once.

Finally, he will tell you the best, most efficient way to learn presentation is by eliminating any distracting variables. That goes not only for flies, but for all your gear. Limit what is available to you, and force yourself to pay full attention to what is really going on. Simplify your fly fishing so your mistakes are evident and your weaknesses are clear.

Tenkara is a process. Whether you catch a bunch of fish or none, understand that as much profit lies in the process as in the end goal. In 380º South, Yvon Chouinard – founder of Patagonia, climber of rocks, surfer of waves, catcher of fish using an old fiberglass Tenkara rod, and all around a kind of inspiring guy – once declared to all those who want the easy path to great things:

“. . . if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out, and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

Once you’ve succumbed to this, you begin to realize that less can be more. Not only in fishing, but on those rare occasions when you’re not thinking about fishing, too.

That is the One Fly Philosophy.