A True 'Sportsman's Friend' Passes Away

Harold Ensley

Harold Ensley, host of the long-running TV show The Sportsman's Friend, from the cover of his book, Winds of Chance. Leathers Publishing hide caption

itoggle caption Leathers Publishing

The host and creator of a fishing institution has died. Harold Ensley started the TV show The Sportsman's Friend, in the early 1950s on a Kansas City television station. He was on the air for 48 years. Ensley's daughter, Sandy Trotter, talks with Melissa Block about her father, his show, and the fishing expeditions they went on together all over the world.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

If you loved fishing, and even if you didn't, for nearly 50 years you had a friend on television in Harold Ensley. Ensley was the sportsman's friend, the star and creator of a fishing show he hosted first on radio, then on television, out of Kansas City. Mr. Ensley died on Wednesday at age 92. This song would welcome his viewers to his weekly live show, which aired around the country until 2001.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Gone fishin'. There's a sign up on his door. Gone fishin'. He ain't workin' anymore.

BLOCK: Sandy Trotter is Harold Ensley's daughter. She joins us from member station KCUR in Kansas City.

Thanks for being with us, and I'm sorry for your loss, Ms. Trotter.

Ms. SANDY TROTTER (Daughter of Harold Ensley): Thank you. Glad to be here.

BLOCK: I would bet that your dad was a fisher from very early on. Did he talk about that, fishing when he was a kid?

Ms. TROTTER: He did. He grew up in western Kansas, which is not exactly lake-filled, but there are a lot of old creeks. And he talked about playing hooky from school and going down to the creek with a bare hook and trying to catch fish.

BLOCK: And somehow, in 1953, he has this idea, `Hey, I'm going to have a live fishing show on television.' And he not only has the idea, but he gets a station to agree to it in prime time.

Ms. TROTTER: That's right. He had been on radio with small fishing shows, 10 to 15 minutes, and he and my mother both understood that television was going to be something that would be a powerful force. And my mom encouraged him to pursue that, and his boss said, `Well, we'll see if he lasts a year.' And then 48 years later, I guess he did last more than a year.'

BLOCK: What would the film be that he was showing on these shows?

Ms. TROTTER: Well, the various films, he would travel around the country, and later on he would travel internationally. And they would go to a lake and go out in a boat and fish, and then he would film whoever was fishing. They would take the picture. And if he caught the fish, they would film him.

BLOCK: I've read that your father fished with Joe DiMaggio, with Mickey Mantle...

Ms. TROTTER: Yes. Yeah.

BLOCK: ...taught Jimmy Stewart how to cast.

Ms. TROTTER: Yes, and Henry Fonda, many, many, people. Dad was able to communicate with not just the common folk, but celebrities. And the thing that Dad loved about fishing is he said fishing was for everybody. He said the fish didn't care whether you were famous. They didn't care if you were the president. They didn't care if you were a beautiful woman or a handsome man. And so it was the great thing that everybody could do.

BLOCK: When your father was filming these segments for his show, would you go with him?

Ms. TROTTER: Yes, I would.

BLOCK: What was that like?

Ms. TROTTER: Oh, it was incredible. And now that I look back on it, I wish I had it again. We had so much fun. We went places that probably aren't even around anymore. Just incredible memories.

BLOCK: And if we look closely in those old archive reels, would we find a young Sandy Trotter out with her father?

Ms. TROTTER: You would find a three-year-old. That's when I started. And that's the first time I went fishing, and it's on film. And I had my little life jacket on and caught fish one after another. And I understand that my mom was so nervous about me falling in the lake, she developed a migraine and they had to send her in, but Dad and I stayed out and fished all day.

BLOCK: Oh, dear.

Ms. TROTTER: Love it. Love it.

BLOCK: Well, Sandy Trotter, thanks for talking with us.

Ms. TROTTER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Sandy Trotter, remembering her father Harold Ensley, the sportsman's friend, who died on Wednesday at the age of 92. This is how he signed off on one of his programs.

(Soundbite of "The Sportsman's Friend")

Mr. HAROLD ENSLEY: When I think, though, about those old tarpon, about Sandy catching her big one, it gets my fishing fever high, and when Ensley gets his fishing fever high. Anybody asks where he is, say the last time you saw him, he had gone fishin'.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Gone fishin' by a shady, wade-y pool. I'm a-wishin' I could be that kind of fool. I'd say no more work for mine. On my door I'd hang a sign...

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