Fly fishing rod

F&S Fly of the Week: Takayama Kebari

What happens when you tie the hackle of a wet fly backwards, i.e. leaning over the eye of the hook, rather than leaning in back towards the bend? You catch a bunch of trout, what is it.

The Takayama Kebari (kebari is the Japanese term for trout fly) is an example of a reverse camail fly. Wetting wet flies this way is a tradition in Japan and northern Italy, but I first encountered reverse hackles in Utica, New York. One of my fishing mentors, John Bianco, used reverse hackles on some of his wet flies to improve their action in the water.

The backward-leaning hackle fibers tend to collapse along the fly’s body when pulled through the water or against the current. Reverse hackles, on the other hand, resist bending; instead, they stay upright and wiggle vigorously when movement is applied to the fly, a trigger that trout often cannot resist.

The forward-leaning wet fly style is known as “sakasa” in Japan, while backward-leaning hackles are known as “jun”. A third style of wet fly, the “futsuu”, uses a rigid camail perpendicular to the rod, like a dry fly. The sakasa style came to be considered a tenkara fly, as most Americans first learned of it when tenkara style fly fishing was introduced to the United States in 2009.

The author tied these Takayama Kebari flies with red grouse camail. Morgan Lyle

You don’t need to use a tenkara rod to fish Takayama Kebari; it works just as well on a regular fly rod. As with the UK soft hackle drowned flies, they are attached without weights and usually fished near the surface, where they likely suggest an emerging aquatic insect or one that has been submerged. Light weight, slender body and wavy camail attract trout on all continents.

About the name: Japanese levels don’t usually give their flies names like western ones do, like Greenwell’s Glory or Game Changer. But they sometimes identify them by their origin. Takayama Kebari is named after the city located in a mountainous region in central Japan.

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The red thread body and peacock hackle inspired my friend Jason Klass, author of the excellent blog Tenkara Talk, to call the Takayama “the royal ticker of tenkara flies”. You can use any color yarn you like. Here I replaced the pheasant hack with the black grouse, because I like that kind of thing and have discovered that fish do too.

Here is a video of Tenkarabum founder Chris Stewart tying a Takayama. It’s an interesting construction method, which differs from the way we usually tie flies in the west.

Takayama Kebari Recipe

  • Hook: Fulling mill 50 05, size 10-14
  • Thread: Red, 70 denier (8/0)
  • Camail: Hen Pheasant, Hungarian Partridge, Red Grouse or your favorite soft hackle
  • Necklace: peacock herle