Picking The Perfect Partner: Eight Traits To Find An Ideal Angler

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

Tony Ensalaco (left) came up with eight personality traits he hopes to find in a fishing partner. But nobody measures up to his dad Bob. (TONY ENSALACO)


At some point in time, everyone will have to make important decisions that will have a major impact on their lives. Some examples would be whether to attend college, what career path to follow, what kind of vehicle to purchase or lease, or committing to buying a home.

Then, there is the mother of all decisions. You probably already know where I’m going with this. If you make the right choice, you’ll guarantee yourself a lifetime of happiness and bliss. Choose wrong, and it can mean you’re destined for a future full of anguish.

Let’s announce this one together. On the count of three. One. Two. Three … Fishing partner! What? You thought I was referring to choosing a spouse? No; never even crossed my mind. Besides, what the hell do I know about that? I only proposed once, and that was over 25 years ago. So, I’m going to stay in my lane and stick with what I know.

Fishermen will meet countless potential partners, but only a small percentage will ever make the cut. Lifelong fishing buddies will develop a special bond that is impossible to manufacture. It must come naturally.

There are certain traits that are needed for the partnership to succeed. You can have two great people who are top-notch anglers, but if their fishing personalities don’t quite mesh, then the partnership will eventually fail. I have learned what to look for in a good partner, so I am careful about who I invite to the fishing grounds.

Actually, there has only been one man who I have been fishing with that I didn’t get a vote in the matter. He was assigned to me when we met in the hospital over half a century ago. I’m talking about my father, Bob Ensalaco.

I was fortunate that my dad possesses all the characteristics of the perfect fishing partner. That’s a good thing, because it would have been awkward if I had to cut him loose after living under his roof for so long.

The rest of my inner circle came from trial and error. Some became my go-to guys because they have most of the qualities that I value, and they are the first ones I call when I have the urge to hit the river. If they’re unavailable, then I might consider inviting a handful of B-listers that I will occasionally fish with out of necessity when my regular pals are unavailable. Out of that stable, there are only a select few who I would ever consider inviting up north. Alaska is on most anglers’ bucket list, but I’m also aware that the rigors of traveling and the hard-nosed fishing that I do isn’t for everyone. These are some of the things that I consider and steer clear from when extending an invitation to join me on one of my Alaskan excursions.


There is never a guarantee that a fishing trip will be successful, even in Alaska. Indeed, key factors are completely out of a person’s control, such as the weather, timing of the run and whether the fish are even willing to cooperate. However, proper preparation helps increase the chances of a favorable outcome. That starts at home.

Being well prepared certainly can tip the odds in your favor. Even a simple mistake like forgetting to pack a vital piece of equipment can have its repercussions. It can be hard – or next to impossible – to replace a forgotten item once you arrive at your final Alaskan destination, so I need to rely on my partners to help me cover all the bases. Whatever I forget to pack, one of my buddies will usually remember to bring.

There was one year when I forgot the tow rope that I use to pull the boat out at the takeout. It’s located at the mouth of the river and the water level is influenced by the incoming and outgoing tides. It’s a good thing my dad remembered to bring a long section, because getting off the river during a low tide, we would not have been able to back the trailer down close enough to the water without getting stuck in the soft gravel. We needed the rope to yank the boat up to higher – and firmer – ground.

It’s also nice when you have partners who don’t have to rely on you to supply them with items that they should have brought themselves. It becomes frustrating when you fish with someone who is constantly asking you to borrow things that should be standard in every fisherman’s arsenal. Being self sufficient and well prepared are great assets to look for in a partner.


There is a better chance that a leftist animal-rights activist from PETA will get along with a right-wing NRA-card- carrying big game hunter, than a snobby, hardcore, catch-and-release fly fishing purist will coexist with a meat fisherman who has a “whack ’em and stack ’em” mentality and is looking to fill his freezer.

You don’t have to see everything eye to eye with the people you fish with, but it sure helps when you have a common goal and similar fishing styles. For example: If one guy wants to spend the day fishing in the salt and another one is a devout river rat, then maybe those two shouldn’t be on the same trip together. Or, if one guy is accustomed to staying at four-star resorts with fully guided trips and his buddy is more of a DIY outdoorsman, then a compromise might be difficult to work out.

Even something as benign as figuring out what time to start the day can become an issue. I know of two anglers who have fished all of their lives together. They get along great – like two peas in a pod – and have similar personalities and senses of humor. The only difference? One gets up at the crack of dawn and is anxious to go fishing in an instant, while the other one needs to sleep late. Then, once he finally decides to roll out of bed, he needs a couple of hours to wake up and drink his coffee. The early riser is jumping out of his skin and raring to go while he watches his buddy leisurely sipping a cup of morning Joe.

The entire group needs to be on the same page. And this starts with the start time, when to take a break and when to get off the water. If you like to fish from sunrise to sunset – which can be a long time in Alaska – and your partner doesn’t have that kind of interest or stamina, then time on the water becomes an issue. My suggestion is to discuss the trip’s itinerary ahead of time so there are no surprises or conflicts.

Chris Kelly is one of the author’s favorite cohorts to fish with. It’s not so much Kelly’s fishing prowess, but his disposition. “What he lacked in experience, he more than made up for with his enthusiasm,” Ensalaco writes. “It’s nice to share it with people whose company you actually enjoy.” (TONY ENSALACO)


Visiting the Last Frontier is a tough journey, even for the most seasoned adventurers. A person’s health and fitness must be taken into consideration when traveling to Alaska. The state isn’t like the Lower 48, where hospitals and immediate-care facilities are usually just a few minutes away. If an Alaskan emergency occurs, it might require a helicopter trip or plane ride to get the proper medical attention.

I would be hesitant to extend an invitation to someone who might be a serious health risk. Even someone who appears in good health can struggle with traveling, vigorous fishing schedules, fighting a bunch of fish, and persevering through possible inclement weather. If someone isn’t physically up for the challenge, it might diminish some of the trip’s activities or even cut short the trip altogether.

Years ago, there was an incident when I brought one of my closest buddies to Alaska. At that time, he was on some heavy meds for a chronic ailment that he had been battling. With all of the chaos of getting to Chicago from Florida the night before and returning to the airport early the next morning to catch the first flight out, he mistakenly double-dosed himself. No bueno! Long story short: He was whacked out for almost three days before his mind was able to readjust and return to normal. The rest of the week went off without a hitch, but if I had known how serious his health condition was, I probably would not have asked him to go that year. Please make sure that anyone you bring with you is in good shape.


You don’t have to fish with the most highly skilled anglers to have a great Alaskan experience. It’s better to surround yourself with people who you generally like, rather than guys who might be viewed as d-bags but happen to be lights-out fishermen.

Catching fish should be important, but it doesn’t have to be the sole focus of a trip. One of my all-time favorite steelhead trips wasn’t because I caught tons of fish that year. In fact, the numbers kind of sucked. What made the week so special was because I had a great guy to fish with. His name is Chris Kelly. Chris was someone who I worked with. When I met him, the first thing I noticed was that besides being super intelligent, he was so personable. So much so that I invited him on my annual trip, even though I was fully aware that Chris had never seen – let alone caught – a steelhead in his entire life.

As it turned out, what he lacked in experience, he more than made up for with his enthusiasm. What drew my attention was how he was able to fit in with even the most grizzled steelheaders, like he was one of their own. I made it to Alaska the day before Chris was scheduled to arrive, so I met him at the lodge after completing an 11-hour shift on the river. When I returned that evening, I discovered Chris shooting pool and hanging out with a couple of the locals ,along with a few of the guests. It was like he has been going there for years. Now, that’s the type of guy I want to be around.

Again, fishing is the main objective for most of us, but it’s still only a part of the Alaskan experience. It’s nice to share it with people whose company you actually enjoy.

Father-son steelhead trips to Alaska are made all the better for the Ensalaco men by their all-around compatibility. “I was fortunate that my dad possesses all the characteristics of the perfect fishing partner,” Tony writes. (TONY ENSALACO)


Whenever I conducted an interview with a possible new hire for the commodities trading group that I managed, the first question that I would ask was, “Can you answer the bell?” Because I needed to know if that person could make it to work on time.

It is no secret that the high-pressure environment of a trading floor attracts certain individuals who might have trouble showing up every day, mostly due to extreme late-night activities (i.e., partying). The same problem can be prevalent on fishing trips.

I’ve been fortunate over the years that alcohol consumption has never been an issue with my crew. Sadly, I have witnessed on several occasions when someone decided to indulge in too much extracurricular fun and had to be put on the 24-hour disabled list.

Normally, it only takes a couple of days to become acquainted with most of the guests at the lodge. You’ll learn each other’s names and where they are from, along with other small pieces of personal information. Typically, seating arrangements stay the same throughout the week – especially at breakfast – so you tend to get used to one another’s company, and also know right away when somebody is noticeably absent.

When inquiring to the present bunch where so and so is, you usually get the same awkward response: “He decided to close the bar down last night and he’s having trouble getting up this morning,” or – my favorite – “He is bent over praying at the porcelain altar and tossing out all of the fun he consumed last night.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand why some guys use terrible judgment and refuse to show restraint when it comes to boozing on fishing trips. Look at it this way: The trip only lasts X number of days, so why waste one sleeping off a hangover? Why spend a day feeling miserable because of a self-inflicted wound? Not only is the person hurting himself, but it affects his partners as well. I want to be with anglers who I can count on and not have to worry about finding Gatorade and crackers so they can nurse themselves back to good health.

Listen: I’m no angel and I’ve had my share of good times, but I have learned how to restrain my alcohol consumption, especially when I only have a few days a year to reside in Alaska. Now, I’ll be happy to stay in the bar until last call on the night before going home, when I can sleep in and have nothing to do the next morning but pack. Plus, it’s a real treat to unwind and reminisce about what’s hopefully been a great trip.

If you fish with someone who has trouble knowing when to say when, then maybe you shouldn’t extend an invitation on a major trip. Bring guys who know how to limit their alcohol intake.

Sometimes, even spouses get along well enough to fish together and bring home some fillets! That’s what Danny and Kristen Kozlow accomplished. (TONY ENSALACO


Most anglers I fish with will never be mistaken for being members of Mensa, including myself. But what they might lack in general knowledge, they make up for in knowing how to handle a fishing stick. That’s helpful when you’re limited to only a few days of fishing. The sooner that you can get dialed in, the quicker your odds of success increase. That’s why I make it a point to fish with my friend Ryan McClure, one of Glacier Bear Lodge’s top guides, as soon as he is available.

Not only does Ryan know how to find the fish, he’s also a bank of information when it comes to the area’s river systems, wildlife and the town itself. Having some local knowledge makes the trip that much more special. Alaska can be a quirky place, and some of the stories I have heard about its residents and the antics that take place there are fascinating. I mean, who doesn’t love some good gossip? And if you don’t have a connection to any of the locals, hire a guide. Most guides are well informed about the area and they are happy to answer any of your questions.


My favorite people to fish with are the ones who can leave their egos at home and are capable of being truly happy to see others catch fish, even when they are struggling. Believe it or not, there are a few anglers out there who don’t mind when someone does better than themselves.

That selfless, team player mentality enhances any trip. I have a few dudes in my personal contacts who I have fished with, and I’m sure they would be a tremendous asset to me in Alaska. But I refuse to even consider them because of their competitive nature. The only thing that matters to them is that by the end of the day, their catch ratio is higher than yours.

If you fish long enough, you will run into those clowns – guys who are so competitive and full of themselves that they will do almost anything to get an advantage over their competition, even though it’s not a contest to anyone but themselves. Some of them might even go as far as blatantly lie about their piscatorial conquests just to one up their perceived rivals (see sidebar, page 46).


Take it from a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. You got to believe – even when the odds seem to be stacked against you. No matter where you fish, it’s never a sure thing that you’ll land on decent fishing, including Alaska.

Truthfully, it’s extremely rare to have dead-solid perfect conditions. There are times when too much experience can be detrimental, and sometimes it’s better to be naïve.

One of my best trips was during a year when most fishermen decided to throw in the towel and cut their trips short because the river was running high and dirty – a steelheader’s nightmare. I was ready to pull the plug as well, but my partners talked me into sticking around. They thought the fishing would improve, even though they had nothing to back up their claim. I thought they were nuts.

Thank goodness they talked me into staying, because the river dropped into shape and the fishing was spectacular. If it wasn’t for their optimism, my skepticism would have caused me to prematurely abort a fantastic trip.

Finding the perfect fishing partner is an impossible task because they don’t exist. The good thing is, you don’t have to clone yourself to find one. You just need to know what characteristics to look for. Then, when you meet someone who appears to check most of the boxes, give them a chance to see how the partnership develops.

Having a great fishing cohort to share quality time with on the water will make the memories that much better. It’s almost like having a spouse. Do I know about that? ASJ