Ken Tanaka (@wish4fish on Instagram), who grew up in North Carolina, has been reeling since he was four years old.
“It was a major thing I did with my father,” he says. “And I’ve always been very technical about fishing — even with conventional gear.”
As his career — as a DJ and also in marketing, branding and promotions — took off, though, Ken found he had less and less time for fishing. He traveled and lived in major urban areas like Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“In the Twin Cities, I decided to try fishing in one of the inner-city lakes,” he says. “I caught a 48-inch pure-strain muskie. It was 2012 and all I had was a crappy iPhone.”
Ken says, “A lady stopped to look at the fish, and I handed her my phone and she started recording.”
He posted the video on YouTube and started racking up the views.
“But I also got a lot of questions and comments,” he says.
Ken took a look at some other fishing sites and channels.
“I thought, ‘I can make a better video channel or vlog than what’s out there,'” he says. “So I started Wish4Fish. I started out wanting to help people who were trying to learn how to fish.”
While he was in Minnesota, Ken was introduced to all sorts of new-to-him species like muskie, walleye and northern pike. But then he went to visit a friend in Montana.
“He said to me ‘You have to try fly fishing,'” Ken says. “Growing up using conventional gear, I thought fly fishing was pompous.”
But he tried it anyway.
“He took me out on the Madison River,” Ken says. “And I caught a rainbow within the first hour. Right then, I decided that that’s what I wanted to do — I haven’t picked up conventional gear ever since.”
Ken moved back to North Carolina and started to get serious about his new brand. Fishing and Wish4Fish started to encroach on Ken’s work and family time.
“I was fishing five days a week on top of working five days a week,” he says. “My wife was wondering how long I could keep up with it.”
It didn’t take long before Ken realized he had to make a choice.
“I took it as far as I could part time,” he said. “I was lucky that with my marketing and branding connections, I was able to launch Wish4Fish into a full-time endeavor.”
And he continues with fly fishing.
“It’s the pinnacle of fishing,” Ken says. “It’s very manual. You don’t rely on the gear. You’re stripping and casting with your hands. It’s an art and a skill — and you have to know a little entomology.”
Even with the growth of his brand, the hands-on fishing remains important for Ken.
“I’m out there chucking streamers in the morning,” he says. “I’m big on tailwaters and streams that are wild and naturally producing.”
As much as the fishing itself drives him, Ken is also fascinated by the depth of knowledge required.
“It has completely captivated me,” he says. “The culture. The knowledge. There’s and endless amount of knowledge that you can absorb — not just in fly fishing but in fishing, in general. The pursuit to learn more keeps me going.”
Gaining and sharing knowledge not only drives Ken, personally, but it’s also key to his brand’s endeavors.
“Social media is a blessing and a curse,” he says. “But it drives growth in the fishing industry. In fly fishing, the growth is largely driven by kids and women.”
And inspiring new people to fish, in turn, is what drives Ken to being a role model for others.
“Used correctly, social media has been amazing for the sport of fishing,” he says. “It drives growth and diversity — and people come together around fishing in spite of any differences.”