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Your experiments and findings on tenkara fly-patterns and fly-tying.


Postby Karl Klavon » Sun Dec 04, 2011 10:52 pm

2010 Fly Pattern Testing Results

During the 2010 fishing season I made 21 separate fishing trips, fishing a number of streams and hike into lakes I typically fish nearly every year, and fishing another 22 hike into and backpacking lakes that I had never fished before, spending 31 angling days or parts there of trying to catch fish. Here are the pattern testing results from those fishing trips:

Midge Pupa Pattern Results: Lakes Only:

Pattern or Color…………………….Size……….Tone……..Number of Fish Released On:
Zebra Midge Pupa/ white………...#10…….....Light………62 Fish
Orange Midge Pupa..……………...#12…….....Medium…..95 Fish
Peacock Midge Pupa……………….#14…….....Dark.………54 Fish
Blond Midge Pupa/ Lt Cahill….....#16……......Light………20 Fish
Gray Striped Midge Pupa………....#10……......Medium….10 Fish (To be dropped)
Midge Pupa Pattern’s total for the 2010 season………..............241 Fish

Midge Emerger Pattern Results: Lakes Only:

Pattern or color………………………Size…….Tone……..Number of Fish Released On:
Black Midge Emerger……………….#14……..Dark………35 Fish
Blond Midge Emerger……………....#14……..Light……..57 Fish
Midge Emerger Pattern’s total for the 2010 season…………….....92 Fish

Sheeps Creek Pattern Results: Lakes Only:

Pattern or color……………………..Size………Tone…….Number of Fish Released On:
Black Sheeps Creek………………..#10……….Dark………195 Fish (Rev-Counter Shaded)
Orange Sheeps Creek……………..#12…..Medium………112 Fish (Counter Shaded)
Gray Sheeps Creek………………...#12……….Light………..80 Fish (Counter Shaded)
Peacock Sheeps Creek…………....#14……….Dark………173 Fish (Rev-Counter Shaded)
Sheeps Creek Pattern’s total for the 2010 season……………650 Fish

Dry Fly Fishing Pattern Results: Including for Both Lakes & Streams:

Pattern or color……………………Size………....Tone……..Number of Fish Released On:
Two-Toned X-Rated Ant…………#s16 & 12..Dark………..285 Fish
High Country Hopper……………...#11………..Light………..81 Fish
Two-Toned Beetle………………….#s18 & 12..Dark………...10 Fish
Foam Spider Pattern………………..#14………..Light………..55 Fish
Pink Butt Down Wing Pattern….....#15………..Light………..55 Fish
Green Butt Down Wing Pattern......#13………..Light………….4 Fish
2010 Dry Fly Pattern seasonal total:………………………………..452 Fish, of which 431 were caught on Dry Terrestrial Fly Patterns.

Other Miscellaneous Wet and Dry Patterns Fished in the 2010 Angling Season:

Pattern or Color…………………..Size……….Tone……..Number of Fish Released On:
Sp. Yarn Damselfly Nymph…...#12………...Light.……….5 Fish
H2O Boatman/Back Swim P.....#12………Lt/Dark............20 Fish
Miscellaneous Pattern totals for the 2010 season are:…25 Fish.

The total number of fish caught during the 2010 season pattern testing was: 1,339 fish.


I started keeping a fishing log about 1990, including daily guesstimates on the fish I caught and the patterns I was using, which were usually accurate to within 5 fish one way or the other. But I had never before kept an exact count on the fish I was catching or adding up all the fish caught during a single season to see how many total fish were caught. The reason for doing all of this was to prove or disprove Thomas Sholseth’s theory: That anglers would be better served by developing fly patterns that appeal to what fish are programmed to see and hard wired to respond to, as recommended in Tom’s book, HOW FISH WORK, Fish Biology & Angling, than by using only imitative fly patterns. Another reason for the testing was to check out the use of Fluorescent and UV-Reflective fly tying materials as recommended in Reed Curry’s book, THE NEW SCIENTIFIC ANGLING, Trout and Ultraviolet Vision.

The test vehicle patterns for this experiment was to be my Sheeps Creek Fly Patterns, which were adapted to include pattern tying materials where ever possible that were high in contrast on the materials themselves, and high in contrast between the fly patterns and the background space light of the waters the fish were living in. This research was conducted before I had discovered Tenkara fly fishing and the Sakasa Kebari fly patterns, but the Sheeps Creek patterns are also reverse hackle fly patterns that are sparse and easy to tie flies that bear a strong likeness to the Sakasa Kebari patterns. And like the SK flies , the SC patterns look like nothing in nature that trout eat, and catch fish very well in spite of not matching any particular kind of hatch or insect, just as the Sakasa Kebari flies seem to also do so well.

Catch and Release Fishing:

For the anglers who are rubbed the wrong way by large numbers of fish being caught and released, I know of no other way to prove or disprove a theory besides the compilation of a significant amounts of mathematical, statistical data. Do you? Since the driving times involved in getting from where I live to where I like to fish can range from between 1 to 4 hours, and the hike in times in can amount to an additional hour to as much as 2 days to get to the lakes and streams I love to fish the most, and if the fishing is really good you can catch a 5-fish limit in less than 5 minuets, what are you going to do after keeping your five fish, turn around and go home? I don’t think that would be very practical for you or me, do you? Catch and release fishing allows you to have your cake and eat it too, and it really helps you to become a much better fisherman – just look at all the extra practice you will get over what you would have gotten if you had to quit fishing after catching only 5 fish. And you can still keep some fish to eat at the end of the day if you want to get a meal out of your fishing.

My Pattern Testing Methodology:

Like most of you I am sure, in the past I always looked for a fly pattern that would catch the fish I was trying to catch. And once I had found that pattern, I would stick with it until I quit fishing for the day or until the fly quit working. Then, I would either go home or start looking for another fly pattern that the fish would take again. That practice runs up the catch rate on the fly pattern being used pretty quickly, but teaches us very little other than what fly happened to be working on the day we were fishing, which was not going to yield much meaningful information for testing of the theories I mentioned above. So what I decided to do with my pattern testing was to catch 10 fish and then change fly patterns, religiously, with all of the flies I was using, including my midge pupa patterns going from light to dark, and then back through the medium toned one again in full sun light if possible.

When the fish quit feeding on midges, it was time to put the Sheeps Creek Patterns on my line, going from dark to medium and light, fishing each pattern to its required 10 fish limit before changing to the next one. When I wanted to compare a new pattern alteration with the pattern performance of an older pattern, I would change only one element on the fly pattern at a time. Comparing the red butt to the FL-Orange butt for 5 fish each as an example, was what I did. So I would not exceed the total 10 fish limit in fishing two very similar flies but sometimes significantly different performing patterns. How fast the fish moved to take the fly, from how far away the fish could be pulled by the different colored materials to take the fly, to how quickly the fly achieved its full 5 or 10-fish limit, to how hard the fish would hit the pattern, and how deeply the fish was hooked by the pattern, all eventually told me which color combination worked out the best under the different water color conditions, different lighting conditions, weather conditions, and seasonal differences the testing was conducted under. Of course all of this had to take into consideration the fish density in the part of the lake I was fishing compared to the other parts of the lake I had already fished, and a good number of trials were also required before a tentative conclusion about which color combination was the one the fish wanted under any set of different environmental conditions for all the different water conditions encountered could be realized.

Then the next test series would be run comparing the winner of the last comparison with the challenging butt color for the next altered pattern to see if the fish preferred a FL-Pink over a FL-Orange butt, or a red butt over the previous model. As you can see this was an awful lot of work. I am glad that I did the work I accomplished during the testing in 2010, but I am not in any hurry to go through that exercise again. I like my fishing to be fun, care free and creative. Having to stick to such a rigid set of standards made the pattern testing seem like all too much work for me. However changing flies every 10 fish did make keeping track of the count accurately a whole lot easier, especially if you put all of your used flies on an unused side of your fly box. All you had to do at the end of the day was to count the patterns and multiply by 10 and you had the day's total catch figures.

What Constituted A Counted Fish:

Ninety-five percent of the fish caught and counted were brought to my hand, unhooked and released back into the water by me. But some of the other “counted fish” were not as easy to determine. If a fish was hooked, played and brought in to my feet in the water, and I touched the fish in trying to pick it up and unhook it, and the fish got off on its own, I still counted that as a caught trout. Like wise if I hooked, played and lifted a fish out of the water to unhook the fish, and it dropped off of the hook and fell into the water or on the bank, either getting back into the water all on its own or with some help from me, I also counted that as a caught fish as well, which I believe is fair enough. What did not count as caught fish were fish risen that I failed to hook, hooked fish that were played and got off out in the water of a lake or a stream some distance away from the shore before I could touch them – which is what we can call a wet release.

Counting Accuracy Accounted For:

I was 67 years of age at the time this experiment was carried out. My whole life I have had a tendency to daydream, wondering off and coming back to consciousness with out having much recollection of what transpired while I was away happens to me a lot. The lakes being fished were located at between 8,000 and 13,000 feet in elevation, often being fished after long, hard hikes, which didn’t help any with the record keeping accuracy at all. So when I realized that I had been spaced out for a while and didn’t know how many fish I had caught and released while on automatic pilot, I would restart my count from the last fish that I could positively remember catching and releasing. While my counts are probably not all that accurate from the standpoint of the absolute number of fish that were caught and released in total, I believe the counts do conservatively reflect the fact that the counts are not inflated beyond what was actually caught and released. I feel safe in saying that I probably caught even more fish on any given day than what the number given for that day in my fishing log actually states. For the backpacking where I was fishing a number of lakes in rapid succession, I took field notes at each lake, or at the end of the day if only one lake was fished, on a small note pad that I carried with me to trans-scribe into my fishing log at home. For day trips, I did my fishing logs in the evening at home, or the next day if I got home too late to do it that night.

Giving The Fish What They Want Is Still The Best Way To Go In My View:

I always strive to give the fish what they want to eat. If I go into a lake and the fish are feeding on midge pupa, I throw midge pupa patterns at them. When the midges quit emerging and the fish quit working to them, that’s the time when it is right to bring out the Sheeps Creek Fly Patterns. When the wind comes up later on in the day and terrestrial insects are being deposited on a lake or a stream, it is time to put on an ant, beetle, or hopper fly pattern. My terrestrial spider patterns works great in fishing small streams, but so far it has not proven to be a consistently effective lake fly fishing pattern. If there are damsel nymph shucks stuck all over the shore sedges around the lake you are fishing, and it is between 9 and noon between the 4th of July and early August or so, it is time to give a Damsel Fly nymph a good try.

Productive Retrieves for Lake Fly Fishing:

Most of the time dry flies will fish best with a dead drift presentation and casting into the wind, using a floating T-line. Occasional twitches of the fly pattern will also work well at times. But giving a short, one-inch-strip-retrieve to an ant or beetle patterns can convert them into very effective imitations of water boatmen and back swimmers, which dive into a lake from flight during their dispersing and mating flights when the aquatic beetles can not get below the water surface because of the lake’s surface tension is too high. I do carry separate dedicated water boatman and back swimmer fly patterns, but I have also done very well using dry terrestrial insect patterns instead of changing to the more specific aquatic beetle patterns out of lazyness. Hopper patterns will also work well when given this same kind of short retrieve at times. Ditto the damselfly nymphs, the Sheeps Creek Patterns, and the midge pupa patterns as well.


Midges make up 50 percent or more of what the trout are eating in productive stillwater lakes in the spring, and up to 22 percent of what the fish eat in the summer time on those same waters, and again 23 percent of what the trout’s food intake is in the fall of the year on the same lakes. Midges are the most important food form you can fish in lakes, period. In unproductive alpine lakes, midges make up an even bigger proportion of the trout’s diet over those same times of the year because sterile lakes do not have big enough populations of damsel and dragonfly nymphs, leaches, scuds, snails and mayflies to give the fish enough other alternatives to eat to get buy. The same one-inch-strip-retrieve, with pauses every few feet to allow the pupa to sink back down in the water column will also keep you in business with fishing midge pupa patterns.

For Stream Fishing The Dead Drift Approach Is Usually The Best Approach To Take, Especially While Fishing UP-Stream:

Fishing dry fly patterns in streams calls for fishing flies that you can easily see above all else. On mountain streams hatches are notably absent most of the time, so fly pattern selection is not usually a big deal with the stream fish. Caddisflies are largely nocturnal and there will almost always be some egg laying caddis around in the mornings from the previous evening, and caddis also return to the stream often to drink water after hatching, for as long as a month before they mate and finally die. They also return to lay the eggs to begin the next generation. So starting out your stream angling day with a down-wing caddis pattern as a prospecting fly is a good idea through out most of the summer stream fishing season.


As the wind comes up in the afternoons on the streams, change to a terrestrial fly pattern. Ants are the most prolific insects on this earth, so they are always a good bet to catch fish in streams or lakes. Thousands upon thousands of pine forests acres all a cross the west have been laid to waste by the Pine Bark Beetle, so big and small black beetle patterns will also be a good bet on streams or lakes, ditto a spider and or hopper patterns as well on the streams. More than 50 percent of what the trout eat in small streams is made up of terrestrial insect food forms.

Lake Midge Fishing Information Not Generally Known or Understood by Most Anglers:

The hook sizes quoted for my lake midge pupa patterns are much bigger than what most anglers feel is appropriate for midge patterns. There is a good reason for that. Running water midges are quite small, maturing in a few weeks to a few months, mostly from streams and rivers located below dams in the winter months. Lake midges emerge in the spring, summer and fall of the year out of lakes, and they are on a 2-year or longer life cycle. Lake midge larva migrate from deep water to shallow water in the spring before ice out, and back from shallow water into the deep water in the fall. Midge larva are not generally available for the fish to eat because they live in tunnels they make in the bottom sediment of the lakes. The midge larva are available for the trout to eat during the migrations and at night when they swim up out of the bottom debris to feed higher in the water column, and when they are dislodged from the sediment by wind and wave action. Lake midges cannot emerge from the frozen over, snow covered lakes in the winter, the way their ice free tailwater river relatives can so easily do in the winters, so emergence is put off out of necessity until the next spring or early summer months of the next year.

So there is nothing for the lake midges to do over the winters but keep on eating and growing. I have seen lake midge shucks in lakes at better than 11,400 feet that were a good size 8 in hook size. I have also seen the same midges in Alaska, coming out of a lake that was barely above sea level, in such numbers that you could not breath without in hailing and choking on them. My most productive lake fishing midge pupa patterns are tied on size 10 through size 16 Tiemco 2488 Emerger Hooks, with the size 16 hook size flies being the least use of all the sizes I tie. I also fish two midge emerger patterns, but only when I actually see fish taking midges with their bodies pulled part of the way out of their shucks, and the bodies and shucks are resting parallel to the surface film of the lake being fished. The least important stage of the midge to the trout and the angler is the adult phase, with the pupa being the real star of the midge fishing show. Because midge pupa stack up trying to break through the surface film to emerge, just under the surface of the lake is where most of the midge fishing action will be taking place with midge pupa. Most anglers confuse a midge emergence with a rise of fish to surface flies, and I believe most anglers think that the big lake midges are mosquitoes. Starting with the larva, each life stage of the midge is one hook size smaller than the preceding stage was. If the adult Blood Midge is a size 14, the pupa will be a size 12 and the larva will be a size to. Because the larva are largely unavailable and the adult is not very attractive to the fish, I do not bother tying, carrying and fishing midge larva and adult patterns.


It is my hope that the information presented here will be of interest and be helpful to fellow the Tenkara anglers on this board. As I have stated before I have not fished my Sheeps Creek Patterns in any running water situarions. I hope that the Tenkara anglers here will tie and try some of the Sheeps Creek Patterns in running waters as well as in lakes and give me some feedback on how well they are working for you. There are pattern listings and tying instructions given for these patterns on a link to one of Reed Curry’s web sights, given above on the Tenkara Fly Patterns board under the "POSSIBLE SAKASA KEBARI FLY PATTERN ALTERNATIVES - SHEEPS CREEK FLY PATTERNS.…Karl.
Last edited by Karl Klavon on Fri Apr 24, 2015 10:43 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Daniel @ Tenkara USA » Sun Dec 04, 2011 11:08 pm

Wow, Karl!
Not only is that a lot of fish, but quite a scientific report with good methodology it seems. Will read in more detail later. I don't have the discipline to do anything like that, but can appreciate it.
With so many years of experience, I'd love to know what would happened if you switched to using only one fly....well, I would probably agree it won't work so well on lakes however.

Thanks for posting such a detailed report, I'm sure some forum users will really like it.
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Postby blatt1970 » Mon Dec 05, 2011 2:48 am

Wow, wow, wow...
Man, you took the words "enjoy fly fishing" to the extreme!
Very happy someone did it cause i wouldn't :mrgreen:
Apreciate it very much, congatulations!
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Postby CM_Stewart » Mon Dec 05, 2011 6:06 am

Maybe not one pattern but you could certainly go to two patterns for lakes, the orange midge pupa until it stops working, and then switch to the black sheeps creek; and one for streams, the two tone ant. Given your methodology (even though it is clearly more rigorous than mine, or probably anybody else's) you can't know whether you could have caught just as many fish had you not changed flies (other than a switch from midge pupa to sheeps creek).

I don't fish alpine lakes, but I will pay a lot more attention to ant patterns next year!
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Postby erik.ostrander » Mon Dec 05, 2011 6:58 am

Will you post pics of your Sheep's Creek Patterns?
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Postby blatt1970 » Mon Dec 05, 2011 7:33 am

Erik, patterns here in Daniel's post:
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Postby Anthony » Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:17 am

that's a lot of fish, not sure if I've caught that many in my career...
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Postby Karl Klavon » Mon Dec 05, 2011 2:59 pm

Thank you for the responses; it means a great deal to me to be complimented by the people on this board that I admire, respect and look up to. Maybe someday, I will become as good a Tenkara angler as you all are.

Daniel and Chris are right about the fact that we do not know how many fish I could or would have caught with only a single fly on my line because I did not try that experiment. And I believe therein lies a warning to us all, which I believe Tenkara anglers are more likely than western fly fishers not to need because of Tenkara angling's single minded devotion to the Tenkara technique of fishing above everything else, fly patterns included.

I believe Charles Ritz, from A FLY FISHER'S LIFE, Revised Edition 1972, Reprinted by Robert Hale in 1996, said it best: "Perfection in imitation will not compensate for defective or imperfect presentation. But perfect presentation will compensate for imperfect imitation....Technique represents 85 per cent of success. Precise imitation 15 per cent only. The fish reacts above all to presentation and only in a minor degree to the fly. The fisherman succumbs more easily to the theory of the exact fly than does the fish."

So if you fish the Sheeps Creek Patterns and fail to do as well as I have done with them, do not loose heart. But keep working on improving your presentations and you will get there. I think Daniel and Chris are going down the right road with their devotion to proper Tenkara technique with only a single fly, or nearly so....Karl.
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Postby Jason Klass » Mon Dec 05, 2011 6:21 pm

Karl Klavon wrote:Thank you for the responses; it means a great deal to me to be complimented by the people on this board that I admire, respect and look up to. Maybe someday, I will become as good a Tenkara angler as you all are.

Karl, have you ever thought about starting your own blog? You seem to have a lot of knowledge to share and it would be nice to have it compiled into one place. Just throwing the idea out there.
My blog: Tenkara Talk

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A few more images for Karl

Postby Daniel @ Tenkara USA » Thu Dec 08, 2011 7:58 pm

Posting a few more pictures of Karl's flies at his request:
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