Fly Recipe: Shunji's Kabuki Fly

In the 1600s a new form of dance theater emerged in the dusty streets of Kyoto, Japan. The men and women who performed in these gritty, impromptu plays depicted "ordinary life" in 17th Century Japan and they did so with a new, avant-garde, and sexually charged style that became known as "Kabuki."

Here is an image of an early Kabuki performer, Izumo no Okuni (from Okuni Kabuki-zu Byōbu, a six-panel screen, a collection of Kyoto National Museum).The suggestive nature of these early performances (and their loose association with prostitution) quickly drew attention from all corners of Japanese society and the movement developed at a fevered pace. Soon, Kabuki performers were gracing not only the stages of Kyoto's crowded and narrow streets, but the guilded halls of the Japanese Imperial Court as well. This tradition continues today, and although it's changed a great deal over the centuries, the obsessively stylized and edgy spirit of Kabuki remains.

It's with this same spirit that Shunji, a San Francisco, CA-based angler and fly tyer, developed his Kabuki Fly.

In Shunji's aesthetic contemplation of the fly, color and shape are clearly important. Also, proportion and exactitude shine through in the design. According to Shunji, "I wanted to have a small body profile while keeping enough volume to be a good snack size for trout and steelhead. At the same time, I wannted to give the fly a longer profile for a good swimming action."

He went on to say, "I think these flies are very useful in many conditions; they'll fish well in fast water or calm, pool-like water. I prefer the faster water. They could be used from Russian river to the Smith I hope!"
Shunji's Kabuki Fly demonstrates the value of precision, thoughtfullness, and experimentation in the world of fly tying.

Scholars believe the word "kabuki" is derived from the Japanese verb "kabuku," which means "to lean" or "to be out of the ordinary." Loosely translated into English, kabuki means "avant-garde."

Whatever you want to call them, Shunji's Kabuki Flies are certainly out of the ordinary. Modern fly designers, take note.

Shunji's Kabuki Fly >>

Hook >> Gamakatsu Octupus size 6, and 7999 size 8
Thread >> Danville 6/0 red for some of them, black for some of them
Wing >> Black bucktail
Hackle >> Schlappen, color is varied
Rib >> Medium silver flat tinsel
Body >> Wool dubbing or Angora goat dubbing
Butt >> Black bucktail
Throat >> Natural guinea feather or natural teal flank feather

Evan LeBon is a regular contributor to beyondthebug.com

photos and flies courtesy of Shunji, a regular contributor to beyondthebug.com


Ian said...

Awesome flies. Yep.

Dano said...

can you change the hook on that loop?

karimero said...

Thanks man. They swam in the water pretty good too. Actually, the stinger hook is tied on the main hook so unfortunately unchangeable.

Evan said...


You could always tie a variation of the Kabuki Fly on a tube, making an on river hook change a snap. If you can get a hold of some fire wire, you can make a Paul Miller style loop on a long-shanked salmon hook (like a Tiemco 7999 or an Alec Jackson Spey). Once you have the loop tied in, clip the main hook at the bend with wire cutters. You should be able to slide stinger hooks in and out of the loop.

I'll work on a post for this type of procedure.

Thanks for checking them out!