2017/3/27 Fly Fishing Style: Japanese Dry Fly

Different styles of fly fishing are developed (and continue to develop as we speak) to meet the specific fishing requirement and, in the case of Japanese mountain style, a fusion of 2 styles happened in 90-00’s: Tenkara and American Dry Fly.

1. Element 1: Tenkara

Tenkara’s line system uses slow taper or level casting line 10-12ft long with enough mass to bend the rod. This line is tied with long sensitive tippet to let fly drift naturally on surface or shortened to be able to make active presentation. Flies are scarcely dressed to represent the impression of small insects of the mountain stream, so not that air resistant.



Target fish are landlocked salmon in fast current who swim along drifting fly very carefully observing moving object from when it’s still in the air until the moment before it takes position to strike, and char who stays in deep slow spot over fast current or under overhang also inspecting object above his sight carefully. Tenkara system is fit to buy enough time keeping fly in staying one lane or one spot over the fast current in between that causes drag to ruin the presentation.


2. Element 2: American Dry Fly

American Dry Fly system uses fast action fly rod matched with fast tapered fly line producing maximum line speed and kinetic to cast over to the other side of river or in windy condition of mountains. Fast tapered leader in the same length as rod or shorter at 7-9ft is used to force air resistant dry fly turn over, and just diameter and length of tippet is used to match the fly size and to let fly drift naturally on surface for not too long. Flies are liberally dressed to stay visibly high float while causing more air drag.

Target fish are territorial trout and chars who are carefully inspecting what’s coming into their zone of feeding, but once determined they don’t reposition themselves before striking. American dry fly system is fit to cast the fly fast into the spot where feeding fish is.


3. Development in Japan

Anglers were originally using American Dry Fly tackle which provides rod short enough to provide good maneouverability in small stream, however, struggling to make effective presentation with leader-tippet system not designed for the target fish.

Then group of fly fishing anglers with knowledge of tenkara line system including Keiichiro Iwai noticed that small flies used in mountain streams don’t use up all the kinetic to turn over, so excessive power can be reallocated to turn over a fly with much longer tippet. Also, butt section of leader can be extended to work like level line to provide extra drag-free section in line system consuming the remaining power of cast.

This became possible by the introduction of progressive rod action and higher flex carbonfibre allowing rod tip to bend with the mass of leader system while producing more power in wide loop by the mid and butt section of fly rod.


4. Japanese Dry Fly

Medium action fly rod with matching tapered fly line is designed to produce enough kinetic within short casting range. Fast tapered leader with extended butt section to avoid drag in fast current closest to the bank. Long sensitive tippet 6-8ft to let fly drift naturally long enough to provoke strike from cherry salmon who often fall back on bubble lane from just below riffle to above run.

Illustration by Hideto Edward Yoshida

White-spotted Char, unlike cherry salmon, prefer to hide by the rock which often is surrounded by swirling current. Long tippet can buy time while taper section is mended over and over while giving longer moment for white-spotted char to strike the fly.

Illustration by Hideto Edward Yoshida

One thing to remember is that casting loop needs to be somewhere between wide loop in fly casting and tenkara casting. You ought to use your wrist to make snappy backcast then snap it forward into tight grip. Not like regular fly casting with tight parallel which won’t bend medium action rod deep enough to produce enough power.

Is Japanese mountain style applicable in other part of the world? Absolutely. If you want to make the best out of alpine river with complex flow using not big dry fly.