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Sharing Tenkara with a 7-year-old

Sharing Tenkara with a 7-year-old
Written by Daniel

I have been sharing some good stuff on our Facebook page and thought I should also share them with you, our loyal blog reader. This post started out as a quick “here’s what happened” description of the picture below, and before I knew it, it was was one of my longest recent posts. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

This weekend I took a friend and her family tenkara fishing near Shaver Lake, CA. This was her Mayli’s first time EVER. I setup the rod for her, giving her just a quick overview of what I was doing, and told her 3 things:

1) First I pointed to the fly and asked her what it looked like. She responded it looked like a bug. So, I told her that fish like to eat bugs that are in the water, so that was how we were going to catch a fish.

2) Next I explained to her that fish will be in the water that looked deeper. And, that she was going to cast that fly to the water in front of her.

3) And, finally I told her one thing about casting as I demonstrated it: “you’ll move your arm like this, back and forth, and the fly will go to the spot – now, here, try it.”

I gave her the rod and let her try to figure it out on her own. In my experience teaching tenkara to kids, you tell them the objective and they will figure it out. It’s always the same, you give them a target, and at first the line starts out by falling right under the rod, but with every cast the fly starts going farther. As seems to be the norm, within 2 minutes she was casting the fly pretty close to where she wanted – with no further instructions from me.

At this point I held her hand and showed her how to make the cast better: “keep your arm close to your body so you don’t get tired; stop the rod tip straight above you when you move it back (she was going a bit farther back); and stop the rod tip a bit high when you go forward”. I cast with her some 5 times, to assist in her getting the muscle memory. From then on the fly was landing right where she wanted it.

We moved to the next fishy pool to start fresh and have a chance to catch a fish. Her casts in this pool were BEAUTIFUL! This was only about 5-6 minutes of fishing time, and she was getting the fly right where I pointed. Then I told her to keep the fly in the water a bit longer with every cast to give the fish a chance to eat the fly if they wanted. What came next was a big surprise to me. She started casting and leaving the fly in the water, and after a few casts she started making the fly dance in the water; she was pulsating it! I am not sure if she had seen me doing it, or just started playing it on her own. Regardless, that she did this on her own was remarkable.


A cold front had come in a few days before and brought heavy snow to the area. My expectations for the day were super low to begin with, and I was not really expecting a fish. But, they had to be there, and what are we fishermen if not the most hopeful of people?
Finding no fish on this pool I suggested we find another spot. We walked a minute upstream and found the best pool yet. There was a round loose sheet of ice covering about 1/4 of that pool, but it was deep so it was promising. She cast into the open water a couple of times. And, she spotted a fish coming toward us from below the ice, perhaps attracted to the fly she was casting. I told her to cast once and let the fly sink (since it was pretty cold and the stream small in my experience fish will be a bit more lethargic and will be more likely to take a fly that is just sinking slowly). She let it sink, and then I saw the white in its mouth. It had taken the fly .
“Hook it! Set the hook” I told her, rather calmly, a couple of times. But either she didn’t understand what I meant or she was too entranced by the sight of the fish in front of her to react. I held her hand and slowly lifted the rod with her. The hook was set and she felt the weight and feistiness of that fish. Her first one!
We were high on top of a boulder, about 5 feet above the water. I was just about to tell her to hold on and that I was going to go down to the water, but before I could say anything her intuition took over and she lifted the rod bringing the fish up toward us. That’s how you land a fish with no reel, I thought – no instruction, no questions, no tips – just pull in the opposite direction of the fish.
With the fish by us now we walked to the water that was running behind us, put the fish in the net and the net in the water. I asked if she wanted to hold it, she nodded with a smile that seemed to cover more than 1/4 of her face. She reached into the net and lifted the fish for the camera. Her first fish. Ever. A beautiful 9 inch rainbow trout.
I had expected there was a good chance she would be miserable: cold, with cold hands, and certainly with wet and freezing feet after a short time out. Luckily my expectations were wrong. The weather turned out to be beautiful, and she was loving every minute of it, and it was clear she wanted to stay there for quite a while longer.
At one point we both saw a fish getting spooked and darting off in a pool. I told her the only way to catch that one fish would be to let the fly stay in the water and sit very still while we waited. Jokingly I told her we’d have to wait there for two hours for the fish to come back. I dont’ know how long she would have stayed there, but she did take it very seriously! She stayed on top of the rock, staring into the pool in front of her for several minutes. She was focused, and I didn’t say anything.