The Skunk Set Me Free

Getting skunked, catching nothing, was never an acceptable outcome.... until I realized different

don't get skunked while fly fishing

February 2024

Perspectives from one of our own at DWA

Over my entire fly fishing existence, I've focused on one thing: catching fish. More and more, and larger and larger. But I finally realized that this approach, while in theory seems ideal, might be a handicap in practice. The destinations I chose, the tactics used, all steered me away from new challenges. Steered me into the same comfortable, predictable approach. And getting skunked, catching nothing, was never an acceptable outcome. But should it be?

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Exiting the Nymphing Super-Highway

On every outing I'd gave it my all, but over and over fell back into the same old thing. I convinced myself that I was honing my craft and developing as an angler. While that's true, there's only so far one approach can take you. I largely shied away from the world outside of nymphing, because it's a sure-fire way to catch trout. Trout aren't always going to eat a dry or chase a streamer, but they constantly eat nymphs below the surface. I didn't want to come home empty handed, fishless. I hated leaving the water knowing I'd been bested.

So understandably, it took some mental re-tuning to exit the nymphing highway. I don't exactly remember when I eventually decided to make the move, but after some reflection, it suited my ultimate goal to become a well-rounded angler.

Feeding the Fish

The biggest weakness in nymphing is that the angler may not see where their target is holding. Sure, sometimes the angler might see the fish, but it's still challenging to hold a clear understanding of exactly how small, submerged flies tumble, float, and bounce towards that fish's mouth. Nymphing is mostly a blind casting game. An endless supply of rinse and repeat roll-casts, with one favorable outcome. A bobber down, or a tightened line. But I've since learned from chasing other species (including several abbreviated saltwater outings) about another subset of the fly fishing world – one revolving around "feeding the fish". Aka, putting the fly in front of a single fish and enticing the strike – reading the individual fish, reacting appropriately, and sealing the deal.

The only problem is that for trout anglers, feeding the fish isn't exactly the name of the game. We're usually prospectors panning for takes, not cafeteria ladies ladling out food on a plate.

Beautiful Skunk

As any cafeteria lady would tell you, you gotta sell the slop to the kids... it's not fine dining. Similarly in the fly realm, you gotta sell a hook wrapped in feathers. Many times, the fish know better. In the trout river, that's no problem, I can reload and try again. But, for other species, when nymphing isn't an option, I've experienced how few chances actually exist before a wayward fish moves on, un-appetized. So leaving empty handed is more likely.... Way more likely. A perfect training ground for getting it right the first time.

Each time I'm skunked, I'm learning how to make it work better next time. A skunk is now a badge of honor for stepping out into something unfamiliar, instead of slipping back into nymphing the same old holes for the same old fish, again and again.

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