Stories Techniques Tenkara

How Do You Fish With Others?

I used to spend most of my time on the stream with just a few people. I never had to discuss how we were going to fish together. It just sort of worked itself out. But over the past few years I’ve found myself on the water with more and different people. People have different fishing styles, different comfort zones, different favorite water types and different upstream velocities and these can come into conflict. Compromises may be required. To some extent it comes down to what you’re after on any given day. Is catching fish a priority ? Or is catching up with a friend? Is communing with nature what you need or fellowship? There is no one right answer. And the answers will probably vary for all of us and change from day to day.

In this article I will share some of my thoughts on fishing with others; I also invited some friends to share theirs.

So, the biggest change in my own fishing with other people isn’t really a communication thing, per se: it’s that I’m paying far less attention to the stream and stream conditions, and far more attention to the other angler, whether it’s conversation, keeping track of where they are, comparisons of how much and how they’re catching vs myself. Fishing becomes far less about me and the stream. It takes me out of the experience a little bit (of course, it’s a tradeoff, because it puts me in the social experience).

Dave Neuer

Up and Down (stream)

If I want to focus and do my best fishing I need to split up. One of us goes upstream from the starting point and the other walks downstream a ways and fishes back to the start. Set a meetup time and have at it. For me this method is the only way to do my best fishing. Primarily because I can fish at my own pace. After fishing with a few different people I’m realizing how varied fishing pace is among anglers and how that pace is such an integral part of an angler’s method.

photo Anthony Naples

I don’t often fish with other people but when I do I’ll usually either split and go up and down, because one person then gets to work on their downstream presentations which are often neglected, or follow someone who I really want to learn from (with their permission) either direction. Staying close enough to watch and learn, but far enough back to not be a bother. The double benefit is a chance to watch and learn and also the added honing of skills by the extra challenge of fishing water that was just fished by a really good fisher person.

Jeff Abramson

It can be more relaxing to fish alone. I don’t know about you but sometimes I just feel awkward and self-conscious fishing in sight of other people and I can’t relax. Also, when fishing the “Up and Down” system, I know I’m fishing fresh unspoiled water and conversely it allays that stress of “ruining” a nice hole for your friend when your stealth isn’t on game or when you get an unfortunate snag in that tree branch hanging over the water.

The obvious downside to splitting up is of course that you’re no longer hanging out with your fishing pal trading tales. And you’ve eliminated the potential to learn from your companion by watching how they fish. You never know what you can pick up from someone else.

Playing Leapfrog

There are two basic ways to play this game. One is to trade “beats” and another is to trade pools/runs. When trading beats you tell your buddy “Hey I’m going to go around the bend there and fish a few spots. and you can take this series of pools. And you keep leapfrogging sections like that. It’s not a bad way to go and it’s a good compromise between solitude and companionship.

photo Anthony Naples

While I like the idea of fishing with others, I don’t often do it in practice. I usually prefer to fish alone, finding the solitude therapeutic. That said, I do like sharing a stream with a friend or two, but find that we rarely fish next to each other. We typically keep a bit of distance (but remain within view), as we fish our own beats. We do make sure to pause and reunite every so often during the session to share our winning tactics or perhaps grab a snack and some laughs before separating once again. It allows us to stay connected while not interfering with the desired benefits of ‘alone time’. I find this approach to be the best of both worlds.

Mike Agneta

Leapfrogging individual pools and runs can require some patience. And in my experience this is where the contrast of individual fishing pace can really be highlighted. I know I can fish at what seems a painfully slow pace. And sometimes a fishing partner prefers what seems to me an unbelievably swift pace. So leapfrogging pools can really require a compromise from both anglers. I find that I speed up quite a bit so my faster friend doesn’t lose his or her mind and they are probably silently urging me to speed the heck up. So when fishing with someone that has a much different pace I find the Up and Down system is a little easier. At the very least, some discussion might help in order to make sure both parties are happy with the pacing compromises of leapfrogging pools.

photo Anthony Naples

When I’m fishing with others as a group, we often leap frog the riffles and holes. I like catching fish, but I like it better when I’m not up. I always seem to learn so much watching others approach the sweetwater. I imagine what the wheels in their head are turning out. I work that sequence up as well. Then when they execute, I compare it to my plan. It is a great way to see options and considerations in real time in real application.

Jason Sparks
photo Anthony Naples

Most of my fishing is done on the small streams of the Wisconsin Driftless region and adjacent areas. Fishing with two anglers side by side isn’t very practical on many of these streams. With longtime fishing partners, we tend to settle into rhythm where one angler works a pool or a run, catches a fish or two, then steps back and lets the other angler take the next spot. This allows us to still fish together and not get in to each other’s way. The guys I like to fish with are never stream hogs, so this approach works.

I am fortunate enough that I fish often and am seldom feeling the desperate need to hook into a fish. If I’m fishing with a newer angler or someone I don’t know well, I’m typically satisfied to sit back and play guide, let the other angler take 80 or 90% of the shots.

Mike Lutes

Trading Fish

What about trading fish? That can be good fun. Each angler gets to fish until he catches a fish. Or until they decide they had a good shot and it’s the other person’s turn. This is a pretty fun way to do it. It’s a great opportunity to team up and discuss tactics. Each fish can feel like a team effort.

Normally my buddy and I decide who’s going up stream and who’s going down. And agree to meet back at the parking area at a certain time. I have been mentoring a younger angler. He and I have both fished within sight of each other. Often times we will alternate, taking turns fishing a spot. Once a fish is caught then the other angler steps in.

Dave Rosset

Split Tactics or Water Types

One thing that nobody else mentioned is the idea of splitting up tactics or water types. Using different rigging and/or flies each angler targets a different part of the water column, or a different water type. An obvious way to do this is that one angler fishes a dry fly or wet fly targeting the upper water column and another fishes a nymph. This can be a real eye opening experience. I’ve done this quite a few times and I’m often surprised how two anglers can fish the same pool, one after the other and both pick up fish in completely different ways. On larger water another way to split the water is to fish up opposite banks. I love doing this when possible.

photo Anthony Naples

Safety First

Fishing can be dangerous. And ideally you’d always have someone around to help out in case of emergency. As I get older I think of this more and I tend to fish alone less and less. When fishing with others, be sure to communicate effectively. If you are splitting up, establish rendezvous times and places. And in dangerous terrain on big water with steep banks and roaring river noise, it’s probably best to stay within site of each other. Be smart out there.

If I am fishing with another angler I prefer to fishing together because I am there to meet up with them and catch up with them. I can always catch trout on my own, but it’s rare that I get to fish with another tenkara angler. So I want to learn or see something new that I may not know about. Tenkara is always a learning experience for me. And definitely take turns on good runs or fish. I enjoy watching someone catching a beautiful trout maybe even more than me catching that trout!

Jared Willadsen


I also like the time near the water, but not on the water. The conversation walks through lots of topics from tenkara rods to Larry Bird to cutthroat introduction experiments. At the end of those days, who I am spending my time with really means a lot to me. We are a group of friends.

Jason Sparks
photo Jason Sparks

How Do You Do It?

Plenty of opinions were shared in this article, we’d love to hear how you fish with others. Please make sure to join the conversation in the comments below.

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  1. Like Dave, I too prefer to rotate after each fish. Thank you for the thoughtful article. It was a joy to read!

  2. I usually fish with someone who has fished the water much less than I have so I let them lead and I follow. I try to guide them through the spots I have had prior success at.

  3. What a thoughtful, expansive article, Anthony. Well done as usual. I like to fish alone AND with a very few good fishing buddies, one of whom sent me this article. I agree — best performance when an angler is alone or at least independent. But highest performance is not always the primary goal, is it? With my regular fishing partners, we practice all of these techniques at various times. So fun. Takes good communication. I also like introducing people to Tenkara, in which case I like to determine with them how they would like to fish — some people like lots of coaching, and some like to figure it out on their own and just ask questions from time to time. This helps inform our fishing style. My daughter’s for instance, who are adult beginners, like to fish alongside me and like me to vocalize what’s in my head as I fish, as well as coach them. That’s pretty intense for most people! But we love it.

    1. Thanks Steve. I hadn’t thought about the communication factor when I first starting writing, but as I thought abut my experiences I realized that good communication about expectations could really help keep the experience good for all.

  4. Great article and discussion starter. For me it really depends on mood, who I’m fishing with, and the water. Sometimes I just want to fish by myself, other times I want to catch up with friends. When fishing with friends, I kind of like to fish big water so we can both fish but keep in sight of each other and chat or trade info. That’s actually a lot harder for me on small steams, where I prefer to either take turns on spots or fish. For example, when I fish with my girlfriend we usually just fish one rod and grade after each fish. That seems to work best for us.

    1. John, I like that idea of sharing just one rod. I’ve been trying to get my wife to fish with me and I think that might be the way to go.

  5. Until about a year ago, I fished only with my husband. I wasn’t independent rigging my lines and I didn’t have my own gear. We traded off some and also fished apart. But if I got snagged up and had to cut my line I had to go back to husband-guide to have him set my line up again. Tenkara has enabled me to fish on my own- which I enjoy doing if I’m familiar with a spot and safety/access isn’t a huge issue. As I’m fishing more, I’m meeting more people and finding groups. I don’t think I’ll ever be a large, social group fisher as I like the solitude. I did fish with two other women yesterday (from a group on social media) and had a nice time. One woman was familiar with the section of the river we fished. We spread out, met back at the parking area for lunch, then spread out again. It was enough social time, gear talk and fishing to make it a great day.

    1. It’s great to hear that using tenkara gear has given you that independence. I switch back and forth with rod-and-reel and tenkara gear, and when I get back to tenkara after a day using rod-and-reel I’m always reminded how much easier it is to get out on the water and start fishing.

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