Let Us Show You Around: An Angler’s Home Is Full Of Surprises


The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:


It’s been said that a home reflects the personality of its occupants, and if that is true, then it would be pretty obvious to a visitor that a rabid salmon and steelhead junkie lives at my address. You will get that immediate impression as soon as the house’s façade comes into view. Whenever I give directions to first-time visitors, I will always instruct them to look for the boat in the driveway. I know boats are common, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another fiberglass Clackacraft drift boat tilted at a 45-degree angle residing in a western suburb of Chicago.

If the garage happens to be open, you will see something even stranger: A Woolridge jet sled sits protected inside, despite the fact that the family’s vehicles are left out, parked in the driveway and exposed to the harsh Midwestern elements.

I have to scrape the frost off the car’s windows for five months out of the year, but the sled’s electrical system stays in perfect working order. The boat is surrounded by tackle bags and an extra kicker motor, plus there are six or seven rods lined up laying across the bow – rigged and ready to be deployed.

The garage walls are dotted with various hooks and hangers that hold nets, pairs of old waders, more rods, a plug pucker and a propane heater. A pretty typical set-up for a steelhead enthusiast. Let me invite you inside and give you a virtual written tour from room to room to see what else we can find.

Tony’s wife Lisa puts up with a lot of her husband’s fishing toys! (TONY ENSALACO)

BUT BEFORE WE GO in, you will notice the drops of dried blood on the driveway. No, nothing nefarious happened. The blood was left there from when I was cleaning some hatchery brats on top of a cooler. I guess I didn’t clean up very well.

When you enter through the front room, the first thing you will notice is a semi-cluttered pile of old fishing magazines resting on the coffee table. I like to occasionally peruse through past issues instead of watching all of the negativity on television, so I keep them out for easy access. I tried to convince my wife to leave them displayed because it shows our guests that we are a well-read family. Of course, she doesn’t buy my lame excuses and removes them when I’m not home. But somehow, they always find their way back to the table.

The next room you will enter is the formal dining room. It looks to be in order – except for the broken rods in one of the corners, including a Sage 9-weight, the most recent casualty. The tip section lost its last battle to a poorly placed dry bag that was errantly hurled into the boat. It’s waiting to be sent back to the manufacturer.

The home office that sits off to the left contains the typical clutter, like most offices do. Upon further examination you will find stacks of maps, files and pamphlets representing all of the rivers and lodges I plan on visiting someday. The bookcase is jam-packed. I would be lying if I said that it’s stuffed with literary classics and books written by history’s greatest thinkers. If you look at the computer’s screen, it probably has the website pulled up for the U.S. Geological Survey so I can instantly check the water levels of any river in the country.

Leaving the office to the right is the powder room. Look closely and you will see a copy of (fellow Alaska Sporting Journal correspondent) Scott Haugen’s book, Egg Cures: Proven Recipes and Techniques, resting on the vanity. Again, I try to buffalo my wife that the reason why the book is still there is because I feel obligated to provide instant information to our house guests – just in case they are in the market for a new egg recipe. Surprisingly, most of the people who visit me are in fact actively looking for new egg cures. Lisa says I’m an idiot.

When walking towards the kitchen, there is a desk that you will pass on the right that has piles of assorted boxes of plugs and spinner parts, two or three pairs of split ring pliers, a Luhr-Jensen hook sharpener and stacks of photographs from past successful fishing trips.

Once you enter the kitchen, be sure to look closely at the stovetop. You will see dried drops of orange, pink and chartreuse paint splattered around the front burner covers. This array of modern artwork has accumulated from years of painting hundreds of leadhead jigs with Pro-Tec powder paint. I could easily replace the stove’s burner covers, but there is something serene about seeing those vibrant colors when I’m making breakfast.

Now for a bonus sighting. If you are fortunate enough to be standing in the kitchen when the furnace or the central air kicks in, you will witness something that doesn’t usually happen in most homes. When the air starts blowing through the vents, some of the discarded fluorescent-colored marabou from my jig and fly-tying sessions will shoot out and rise into the air, resembling a small fireworks display. Warning: If I have been recently tying nightmare jigs, the discarded black marabou might look like a rodent and could easily startle someone.

Open the refrigerator at any given time throughout the fishing season and you might find Mason jars containing recently obtained salmon or steelhead eggs soaking in a potion taken from page 14 of Scott’s book. Check the freezer and you’ll see several plastic bags of skein, frozen sardines to use for bait wraps and maybe a few fillets.

There is a key rack hanging inside the mudroom that routinely holds pairs of polarized sunglasses dangling from the hooks, scissors, hemostats and a jig-eye tool from another, so I can always find it after I paint my jigs. Maybe if I remove some of the mess, I can actually have a place to hang my keys and I wouldn’t keep losing them.

IN THE FAMILY ROOM, there is a rectangular mirror above the fireplace and some family pictures adorning the mantel, blah, blah, blah. Which is to say, not the 46-pound king salmon taken from the Nushagak River that I intended to display there after lugging it home for 3,000 miles and spent a pretty penny to get mounted, but I guess Lisa had to draw the line somewhere. Now onto the second floor.

On the way upstairs piled on the first landing, you will probably have to sidestep around a small mountain of warm clothes, including pairs of wool socks, a couple of hoodies and a hat that needs to be put away from my last fishing trip.

When you reach the top of the stairs there is another family room. On the wall there is a black and white picture of a drift boat with a man fishing to the left of it. I believe it gives the room a tranquil feeling. It must be tasteful because my wife allows that – and not the salmon – to hang on the wall.

In the hallway we have a newly repaired vacuum cleaner. Seems that those darn kids of mine left lengths of fishing line, strands of Glo Bug yarn, and rod building and fly-tying thread all over the house which inadvertently got tangled in the vacuum’s roller. This is a reoccurring repair that needs to be conducted every few months.

The first bedroom is my daughter’s, which is tastefully decorated for a girl of her age. It just has some dolls, children’s books and maybe a couple of T-shirts and souvenirs on the dresser that I brought home from my annual spring steelhead trips to Alaska.

My son’s room has the first fishing rod I built for him hanging on the wall. It’s a mini version of a switch rod made from an extra fly rod tip section that I had lying around. Also, there is a picture of a 40-some-inch steelhead his daddy is holding that proudly sits on his dresser. As a joke, I removed his first ultrasound picture from the nursery frame before he was born and slipped it in. Since then, the frame has been age-appropriately updated, but the picture still remains the same. I believe it that it brings good karma to his room.

Aside from the typical fishing literature left on the nightstand on my side of the bed, the master bedroom might be the only space in the house immune to the fishing bug. But …

Lisa has a shoebox full of nail polish in the master bathroom. What she doesn’t know is that I use it as my personal touch-up kit for customizing lures. She swears to me that she hardly uses certain shades of pinks and oranges, but the bottles always seem to be empty. And if you think my ruse is exposed, think again. My secret is safe because she never bothers to read anything I write.

IT’S PRETTY NORMAL DECÓR throughout the rest of the house, and if I must say, it looks to be in fairly tidy condition. Lisa claims that the joint is in disarray; I prefer to describe it as “functionally controlled chaos.”

It’s funny, because it was mutually agreed upon when we first bought the house that I was only supposed to have the basement for all of my fishing paraphernalia, but somehow the gear migrated upstairs throughout the rest of the house and exponentially expanded over time. It’s been a turf war ever since.

Speaking of that: There is no reason to go downstairs to check out my space in the basement. It’s quite obvious what you will find there. ASJ