Not a match the hatch game, Tenkara is all about combining stream side technique with a few favorite fly patterns, and a thoughtful approach. Especially with flies that look like a lot of various food sources that the fish will be focusing on at the time. But most especially, flies that appear to move and breath life into your angling presentation. Begin your tenkara experience on small ponds and lakes fishing for sunfish or bass, and with some imported Tenkara flies. They are cheap, and you are going to loose them.
I want to tell a story of a young lady, call her Mary, who I helped outfit for a Tenkara trip to the high lakes of Colorado, and her subsequent experiences. I want to illustrate not only what she may have learned, but what I learned as well. Here is where the story picks up with fly choices...
"Summer fishing the Colorado lakes, you will want to have some midge imitations, hook size #16 to #20, some are up to size #12, but generally no larger than a #14 in black, red, green and cream colors. I like to use a glass bead-head midge in size #18.
Also some Callibaetis may fly nymphs, size #12 to #16. A pheasant tail kebari is a suitable, imitative pattern I have tied for some customers which has been quite successful. The olive wool body Skye's Bracken in size #14 is a good one for local emerging nymphs.
Also I would want a crayfish imitation that I could fish right on bottom. The size #10 or #12 olive or brown Killer Bugger (or a Wooly Bugger) does a pretty good job of imitating them when given a manipulation of tiny short jerks, or a slow crawl. And I mean really slow! It also has lots of added copper weight in order to get down deep.
The stream fishing here is very diverse, and depending upon the type of water, from high country to lower rivers like the Platte, somewhat different kebari (flies) will prove successful. Begin by thinking small flies for the high gradient water, larger flies for the lower rivers & streams.
Popular patterns like the Dr. Ishigaki & Ishigaki Grizzly are considered dual purpose, in that they are sparsely tied and start out floating and subsequently sink to fish deeper. They tend to be in colors that imitate a whole lot of insects, both aquatic or terrestrial. Alternately, flies like the Akiyamago & A. Hyashi are generally meant to float, but will also act to imitate terrestrials such as beetles, and as general attracting patterns.
I would generally recommend that you start out with the less expensive imitations as you will be loosing them fishing where the trout hide (in the snags; under trees, logs, rocks, etc.). My personal flies are tied to last, with an amazing amount of time put into them, but even I will often tie on a 49 cent fly when I am casting under willows, into a nest of roots or just plain prospecting in rough conditions. I save my good stuff for more relaxing waters with lots of space and/or fish.
I am a fan of the wool body flies for deep fishing in general, so am always recommending the Killer Bugs, Killer Kebari and Killer Buggers in a variety of sizes and colors. Some of these imitate Caddis, some various mayfly nymphs & things like damselflies & crayfish. But, they represent a good set to use deep for a variety of insects and bait fish.
Let's keep the dialogue going Mary, until we figure out exactly what type of water you will want to prepare for. Best Regards, Jim"
I sent M...:
#18 Midges, #14 & 16 Pheasant Tail Kebari, #12 Olive Kller Buggers & #12-16 Ishigakis'...
And received a nice reply..."Jim. I got the flies yesterday...they are amazing!!! I love them and can't wait to get to Colorado next week. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks again for all your help!"
But then I received this mail... " Well...I am not very good at fly fishing! I went out every morning at the lake where we stayed. Day 1 a fish broke my line. Day 2 my knot didn't hold. Days 3-5 nothing (it was 27 degrees!!). Finally on day 5 my friend took me to... (another lake). There is a lake there that they stocked with Grayling. You couldn't fish the river because they were spawning, but could fish the lake. I caught 7! It is much more fun to fish when you catch something. Thanks again for your help."
My response... "Oh! What a sad story! Well at least on Day 5 you caught enough for the rest of the days of your trip. Don't feel bad, everyone has trips like that. This is the very first time fly fishing for you? I think that you did fine. When I was a kid, it was years before I caught anything on a fly. I still caught fish with other types of equipment, but I never gave up on trying to fly fish. And finally I can say that if they can be caught at all, I can catch them. But there are many days when I go fishless. I say you did fine. Good Job Mary!"
Well, you know, her story made me think. New anglers that contact the old timers are the future of the sport, and it's important that everyone do the best we to help them succeed. We get so wrapped up chasing the next lovely trout that we sometimes forget where we came from and how long it took us to figure it out on our own. How much easier and more fun it would have been if we had someone to give us a bit of a hand from time to time.
To use this story to illustrate a few points in hindsight. What I should have said was, "go down to your local lake, pond or river where you can catch some sunfish, and learn to fly fish there. Then when you head out on your important trip, you will have a leg up. Also, if you have anyone nearby that has fly fished, even if it is not Tenkara, ask for some advice. And, if you have the option of hiring a guide service at least once, definitely do so, as it will save you years of trial and error and maybe frustration too." I thanked Mary for her story. And I vowed to do my best to take good advantage of it for the next person who comes here for help.
Signed, "Your friend Jim"
And finally her reply... "Jim, Thanks for your encouragement. I do admit that most Tenkara articles I read talk about how many more fish they catch than with regular (Western) fly rods. I didn't think I would be that successful, but expected to catch something! Also most information talked about fishing in streams, not lakes. I really didn't know what to do...there was no current! I am super thankful for the Grayling...there were hundreds of them and I was able to figure it out by watching a guy that had fished 50 yrs! Use my story.
Hope it helps the next newbie!!