Fishing Teamwork by Tony Ensalaco

Fishing Teamwork by Tony Ensalaco

Recently, Great Lakes Angler ran an article that I wrote in its October/November issue titled, “How to Beat Your Buddies Without Making it a Competition.”

It discusses the competitive nature of people and its different levels that occur among fishermen. Friendly competition usually exists between regular fishing partners and might consist of some subtle joking and a little light-hearted teasing when someone is experiencing most of the action.

driftboat fishing fish steelhead salmon

To me, that is all in good fun.

What I don’t like is when the competition is so intense that it becomes brutally uncomfortable when the lucky angler becomes belligerent about his good fortune or if someone in the group is only concerned with keeping track of who caught what for the day.

I knew a couple of guys who were at one time within my fishing circle who always had to “one up” everyone else.

If they found out that you caught three steelhead, they said they got five fish. If you caught six, they seemed to land seven.

Fishing can be strictly competitive for some anglers, and it affects them much deeper than a bruised ego when they don’t come out on top.

My intention for the article was to point out the things you can do for yourself that will help you catch more fish, while at the same time, not hurting your buddies’ chances.

driftboat fishing fish steelhead salmon

I would never condone that you should purposely deceive your fishing partners with some of the dirty tricks fishermen have been known to do, like the ones Mr. Amato mentioned in the issues’ editorial. Fishing with friends should never be that way.

Sure, everyone wants to do as well as they conceivably can every time they are on the water, but it should never come at the expense of the guys that you are fishing with. If it were somehow possible that I could know ahead of time that I was going to catch the majority of the fish on a certain day, while my partners were going to have a dismal time, then I would immediately abort the trip. I don’t “get off” on putting a beatdown on my buddies.

In fact, I feel quite the opposite way.

I have been on the receiving end more times than I care to remember and I don’t wish that feeling on anyone, especially the guys I have been fishing with for years. Since I don’t like seeing my friends have a bad fishing experience, I will do whatever I can to put them on the fish, even if that means sacrificing my fishing time by taking a break from fishing to give them a chance to catch up. I don’t mind doing a little spectating while enjoying the day from the sidelines.

Steelheading with friends should be done as a team sport.

Teamwork starts from the moment you hook your trailer to the vehicle and it doesn’t end until the boat is clean and all of the gear has been put away. Everyone in the group should have responsibilities to help ensure the day goes smoothly.

I am sorry to say that I have fished with some guys that didn’t understand that concept.

They were only concerned about themselves and their own equipment, while they expected the others to oversee all of the other duties that needed to be done. If there is a person in the group that is only interested in taking care of himself, while he relies on the others to do all of the mandatory work, then it will eventually set a negative feeling for the day.

That is why I make it a point to include everyone in the game plan. I will gladly accept the rowing responsibilities and let the others decide on what their tasks should be. I don’t mind spending my day on the sticks while watching the guys upfront do most of the fishing.

driftboat fishing fish steelhead salmon

I’ve been fortunate to have caught enough fish in my lifetime—that allows me to relax and view the action from another perspective.

I think studying the way others fish is a great way to pick up different ideas that you can use when it’s your turn to fish. I also get a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I might have played a small part when someone in my boat hooks a fish. I could have put the drift boat in the right position so my partner was able to make a perfect drift or I might have successfully maneuvered the boat so he was able to steer his fish away from that giant logjam anchored in the middle of the river.

When you are steelheading from a boat, it seems that most of the fish you land ends up being a group effort anyways by the time it’s in the net. If we do come to a spot with enough room for all of us to fish, then maybe I’ll pick up a rod and make a few casts. I remember one weekend when I took a couple of co-workers on a late fall steelhead trip to the Pere Marquette River. The only time I touched a rod was when I made sure the drags on the reels were set correctly. We were mostly pulling plugs, so I was fixated on watching the rod tips vibrating while waiting for a slam dunk takedown to happen. It never occurred to me that I had gone for two days without a rod in my hand until one of the guys apologized to me on the way home for having me spend my entire weekend in the rower’s seat while they sat up front battling all of the fish.

I told him there was no need to feel sorry for me because I was content on watching the fire drills and the aerial displays that ensued once a fish was hooked.

You should always insist on having open and honest communication with your partners. If you are planning to fish a river that you are familiar with but your buddies aren’t, then it’s a good idea to discuss with them what you know ahead of time.

Tell them upfront about a certain technique that has worked the last time you fished that particular stretch or a hot color that you’ve discovered so they can show up prepared. The day can quickly become uncomfortable when the angler who has fished the river in the past starts catching some fish using inside information that he “forgot” to share with the rest of his crew.

I fished with one guy that I didn’t know very well who took me on a summer steelhead excursion to Northwest Indiana. Everything was going fine until we arrived at the stream.

He didn’t bother to tell me that the stretch of creek we were going to fish had ultra-slow water, and the only presentation that works is casting spinners or some other type of lure, which he had already rigged for himself. The only tackle I had brought with me was a Martin 72 fly reel spooled with monofilament and a rod set up for bobber and bait fishing.

He ended up hooking some fish while I spent most of the day searching for any type of current that was conducive to bobber fishing. If he would have told me ahead of time what the stream was like and advised me what equipment that I should use, then I would have planned for the trip accordingly.

driftboat fishing fish steelhead salmon

Always keep communication going while you are on the water.

If you see something, say something. When I fish with my buddy, Ricky Dunnett, we seem to always fish in perfect tandem. When we are bank fishing, I will always allow him to start at the top of the run and fish in front of me to give him the best opportunity to hook a fish. In return, he tells me where the snags are and what I should be looking for as I work my way downstream. I will watch Ricky cast to a spot in front of me and I will instinctively place my cast in an area that will present my bait in a completely different way. We will slowly work our way downstream while constantly communicating with one another. By the time we reach the tail out, I will feel satisfied that we covered the water to our best ability.

The communication continues when we fish from a drift boat. While I am working the oars, Ricky will be surveying the river from the front of the boat. As we come to a spot that I want him to fish, I will first ease the boat into position and then I will give him minor instructions on how I think he should work the area. Since he Is reading the river from a better view, he will alert me to any likely looking spots that he wants to try, and I will maneuver the boat accordingly.

Sometimes we don’t have to say anything at all. Ricky and I are at the point in our fishing partnership when the communication does not to have to be verbal. We can sense what one another wants to do.

We can be floating downstream and all I have to do is take a hard pull on the oars, and he’ll know exactly what I’m seeing and where I want him to cast.

We developed a rapport over the years working as a team. Ricky had never river fished for steelhead until he met me. Since he was the new guy, I spent most of my Saturdays rowing him around the river and retying his lost rigs while I watched him fish. I was elated every time he landed a steelhead and felt more excitement than I would have if I had caught the fish myself. If I didn’t have a team player mentality and was only concerned about catching my own fish, while letting Ricky learn the hard way, then he might have become frustrated with the sport, and I probably would not have kept him as a fishing partner for all of these years.

When guys are fishing as a group, it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep each other engaged in the day’s action. There is nothing worse when you mentally lose someone because he is having a lousy day. I have joked that fishing boats should come with a psychiatrist’s couch as standard equipment. Sooner or later, every fisherman will go through some sort of funk on the water when things aren’t going his way. It is up to his friends to pick him up and get him back on the right track. They need to help him out by insisting that he should be the first one to fish the next run. Or better yet, have everyone else take a break while the struggling angler tries to correct things for himself. When things aren’t going right for me, I seem to forget what I have learned, which causes me to second guess myself. I will begin doing things that I normally wouldn’t do, which ultimately seems to send me into a tailspin. That’s when I need to tell myself to take a deep breath, try to regain my focus, and start fishing the way it relates to the situation.

driftboat fishing fish steelhead salmon

Sometimes the only way to help a frustrated fisherman is to give him some space and let him try to figure things out for himself. What you shouldn’t do is add to his anguish by taunting him or pointing out his obvious misfortune. Fishing partners can be merciless at times. They might see it as part of the game, but I think it can go too far. There is a fine line between good natured razzing and being cruel. I’m sure that most of us have given our buddies a hard time when they are struggling, but we have to realize when it’s time to stop. Some people have a difficult time mentally recovering when things aren’t going their way, and the last thing they need is to have someone reminding them about their troubles.

Steelhead fishing will always be more productive when fishermen work together as a team.

It starts with the preparation at home and should continue throughout the entire day. Everyone needs to be on the same page by communicating with one another. It just takes one guy with his own agenda to ruin it for the rest of the group. Also, be sure to help and support each other, especially the guys who aren’t having their best day on the water. Make sure to offer them some helpful encouragement and try to give them every opportunity to redeem themselves. Finally, if you happen to be one of the fortunate anglers who is experiencing most of the action that day, remember to be humble, because the fish gods have a funny way of balancing things out in a hurry!

- Tony Ensalaco


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1 comment

Good content. Appreciated!


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