Why Getting Skunked Makes you a Better Angler

Ito-on-S.-Platte

Jason getting a good skunking on the South Platte

It might sound strange, but I have come to believe that fishless days can actually be a good thing (well, every once in a while, that is).  And I’ll even take it a step further and add that ultimately, I think they make us better anglers and deepen our appreciation of the sport.  I’ve been particularly lucky this season with a number of stellar days on the water like this, this, and this so I’m a little distanced from the skunking phenomenon.  But I think there are at least four reasons why the occasional skunking is something to be embraced rather than cursed…

The last time I got skunked was last year on the South Platte with Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA and my good fishing buddy Karel Lansky from Tenkara on the Fly.  We fished the notoriously over-pressured Cheeseman canyon over a three-mile section.  We fished hard, but at the end of the day, only Daniel landed a fish, Karel hooked but lost one, and I was completely skunked.  Not a very encouraging day, but good company always seems to make up for that and I came away with a better understanding of how such days can affect our angling skills (for the positive).

 

Four Reasons Getting Skunked is Good

 

1.  It reminds us and confirms that there is skill in our sport.  The fact that we have access to a body of fishing knowledge that spans thousands of years, yet still occasionally can’t catch fish, reaffirms the fact that our sport requires skill and grace.  If not, we’d be able to catch a fish every time without trying. Personally, I like the challenge and when I catch a fish, it seems more rewarding. Somehow, not catching fish every time validates the effort

2.  It makes good days feel even better.  If we did catch tons of fish every time we went out, I think the luster would wear off.  There’s got to be some opposing force to the stellar days that makes them stand out by comparison.  I think that makes us appreciate them all the more.

3.  It forces us to reevaluatue our techniques.  A fishless day is a good time to rethink and improve our techniques.  Like a coach going over a video of a shut out game with the team, it gives us an opportunity to reevaluate our strategy.  What could I have done differently that might have worked?  What did I learn?  Sometimes, learning what didn’t work is just as important as learning what did.  I have run through the play by play of many skunked days, returned to the same water later with a new game plan, and succeeded.  And that has improved my skills.

4.  It keeps the sport fresh.  If you catch fish every time you go out without even trying, I think something is lost.  You begin to approach the stream as a know-it-all and impose your will on the water rather than trying to engage and connect with it.  Instead, I think taking a humbler, beginner’s mind approach is more enjoyable and tunes us into the environment more.  You have to observe, be focused, and be in the moment.  I learn something new every time I hit the water with this mindset.  I learn nothing when I approach it with overconfidence–even if I catch a lot of fish.

 

So what is the definition of “skunked” anyway?

 

I mentioned to Karel that I was going to write a post about getting skunked and he posed a pretty interesting question.  Basically, he asked if I considered hooking (but not landing) fish still being skunked.  Some people would argue that a fish doesn’t “count” unless you bring it to hand or net.  But Karel thinks that the mere act of hooking them suffices and makes a good argument:

I feel that if I hook a fish, I am not skunked.  Our goal is to make them take our offering.  Landing a fish is a bonus–especially if you practice catch & release. – Karel Lansky

I can’t say I disagree with that philosophy, but am still on the fence.  So I thought it would be interesting to open the question up to you…

How do you define getting skunked?

 

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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24 Comments

  1. Not getting out and fishing = skunked.

    Getting to fish, just perfect. Catching fish is a bonus.

    Tj

  2. TJ, well, if that’s the definition, I’ve been skunked for 4 weeks now! :(

  3. I absolutely agree with karel. Sometimes I’d rather not spend the time to land larger species and tire out fish in certain scenarios. I’ve even considered fishing with a hookless fly to this extent, such as on bear creek with the voluntary fishing ban.

    When/where were you on the platte?
    We may have crossed paths at some point as I was in cheesman on Saturday.
    To get back on topic, my prize fish of the day was a long line release after the most amazing aerial performance I’ve ever seen from a trout that size. Definitely will not forget that fish/fight/display.

  4. When we lived in Montana, my Sweetwife Carol quickly learned that the question to ask when her hubby arrived back home from fishing was not “How many did you catch?” but “Did you have fun?” The issue was not one of tact, but rather of relevance as to whether his time and effort had been well spent.

  5. Philo, this was over a year ago so I’m sure we didn’t cross paths. But if you want to change that, give me a call. I’m going this Saturday and I’m sure you have my number.

  6. Well put Paul. I agree. Which was why I was hesitant to answer the question. # of fish doesn’t necessarily = fun.

  7. I’m also on the fence with the whole “skunked” definition. A part of me says that if I fooled a fish into taking my offering but didn’t actually land the fish, I didn’t get skunked. On the other hand, if I land one fish and my friend has hooked 3 but landed none, he got skunked! Too bad for him, “you got skunked beotch” Muahahaha!

    JD

  8. Jason
    I haven’t been able to find that first email with all of your info, maybe you could resend to the email linked to this message? I’m planning to hit deckers Friday, but could be convinced to go again Saturday :)

  9. I call them LDR’s long distant releases. If you are smiling when it happens then your not getting skunked. In my opinion that is.

  10. Let’s do it! I will send an email! I need revenge, LOL

  11. I agree with karel, if I hook a fish that means I tricked him and ultimately made him harder to catch next time without really messing up his day too much. :)

  12. I agree with Karel as well. Being skunked is no hookups. I don’t mind a long-line release since I will let them go anyway. However, if it is a large fish I like to touch it and say thanks!

    -Tom

  13. I wish I had thought about writing about being skunked…I would have had more posts on my own blog lately.

  14. Jason, very good post.
    I agree with Troy: “I call them LDR’s long distant releases. If you are smiling when it happens then your not getting skunked. In my opinion that is.”
    My dog actually got skunked twice last year (very soon after we adopted her) and trust me, I have NEVER felt the same way when out in the fresh air by a stream and no fish in hand – especially if I had a bite.
    Someone once told me, if we always caught fish our sport wouldn’t be called fishing, it would be called “catching”. I like that.
    Also, I have gone through periods where I felt like I could catch fish anytime, everytime. And, it was good to be reminded that I couldn’t. I had to wonder why and that was the only why I could improve (I guess…it’s hard to tell if one is improving or getting luckier sometimes). Getting skunked a couple of times after being “lucky” for stretches has been vital in my fishing “career”. It has made me think more about technique and so on.
    The hardest thing is embracing the idea that the fly does not so much matter if you’re getting skunked. I look hard at what I am doing, and don’t worry about the flies – one less variable to look at.
    Good post. Thanks for writing it.

  15. Hooking but with release before the net, if by intent, an LDR or even an SDR, is a blessing to the lazy and the pinnacle of C&R, and, IMO, Tenkara.. I fish with barbless hooks and often attempt the slack line release before netting. Apart from being easier, it means the fish is better off. I regard skunked as no takes and no sights. Very disheartening, but a great character and fortitude builder. I once went a year skunked,butnI learnt how to overcome and it put a lot of things in perspective. There’s another category, “spurned “, the case where a sighted fish refuses to take your fly.

  16. The only time I ever feel “skunked” is when I take someone else fishing and they dont catch anything. I love helping people catch fish just as much if not more than catching them myself. Im perfectly happy to thrash the water all day without a bite, but it drives me nuts when Im trying to get someone else a fish.
    and I totally agree with more fish does not equal more fun, case in point. its not tenkara related but last year I went to alaska, I caught 170 pounds of halibut and one 40 pound king salmon. the halibut didnt fight at all, it was just like dragging a wet mattress off the bottom of the ocean, the king on the other hand was a fight of a lifetime. I will take that one king any day of the week over the halibut. its not about the fish its about the experience. great post jason ! :)

  17. Craig, “spurned” is good. Or “forsaken”, LOL.

  18. I’ll share this with my clients when we have slow or skunky days on the water. :) Doesn’t happen often, but it’s always there in the back of your mind.

  19. Thanks Daniel! I’m fine with LDR but I also like to get some pictures of fish too. So a day of nothing but LDRs would be a little disappointing. But still a good day on the water.

  20. Jason,

    Another great choice for your blog. I truly enjoy the diverse topics you create. Your humble knowledge and expertise is backed up by research and experience. Your right brain topics force readers to think about the many aspects of fly-fishing beyond the gear and science. Do I smell a book in the works? If not you may give it some thought, maybe a similar format to Curtis Creek Manifesto. Thank you for your efforts. I would add a 5th to your skunked list – Put your rod away and take in ALL the water has to offer.

    Bill (Hoot)

  21. If I don’t bring a fish to hand or net then it’s skunked. Plain and simple with no questions asked.

    Attitude is everything. I’ve been skunked and had a good time, and I’ve also had a bad time when I’ve caught 90+ fish in a day. The problem comes when our expectations do not meet reality.

  22. Getting skunked or catching fish is only part of the equation. You are outside, breathing fresh air, listening to the wind in the trees and seeing all of nature’s glory. From a strictly numbers perspective, my trip yesterday would be rated as a waste of time. The water was extremely low, and I only caught five dace and one 6″ brookie. But, two of the dace were “rosy sided dace”, which are rare here. The brookie was a native; born where he was caught (and released). I came within 25 paces of a black bear while rock-hopping in the river. I also discovered a waterfall that I did not know existed. This was also my first Tenkara experience (12′ Iwana). Almost skunked? FA-GET-ABOUT-IT! It was a fantastic trip!!! Getting skunked only means you did not get the candy sprinkles on your icing; you still had a very tasty cake and frosting to enjoy. Open your minds to the entire experience. Remember, you learn more when you do not succeed than when you do. Tight Lines!

  23. Fish to hand, net, or photo in water to avoid skunk. “Catching” a fish requires landing, or at least having the fish in a position where you could land it, if you’re doing a barbless slack release as mentioned earlier.

    But it’s all a matter of degree. Obviously, I feel much better about fooling a monster fish even if I don’t even hook it than landing a dink. As long as I’m getting hits every now and then, I feel that my efforts have been validated.

  24. The skunked or not definition is really a personal feeling, and really irrelevant except if you are in a competition, which most of us are not when we go fishing.
    To me I really liked this blog as I too feel that getting skunked are some of the most beneficial days of fishing that I have, though not really the most fun while I am suffering through them. It really focuses your mind on ones fishing. I go home after and really ponder and research what I should have done/tried in that day of fishing. And the great thing is that next time you go to that river and the new things you are trying work….an even better day.
    Going to the river and doing the same old thing and catching the same old fish in the same old way is not the way to grow, and honestly, for me becomes very boring. I like new fishing challenges, be it technique or waters

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