Wadeoutthere Philosophy

Don’t Fear the Skunk. Part 1 of 2. It Happens.

Getting skunked. It happens. But it’s not about catching fish, right?

It’s about wading through a beautiful trout stream. The stillness of being alone with your own thoughts in nature. The rhythms of casting and mending line. Spending time with the people you care about. Are these not the special reasons we go fly fishing? Sure they are… but I still want to catch fish.

If it was not about catching fish at all, then getting skunked would not bother me. But it does. A little. Even with all the other great aspects of fly fishing, it still frustrates me to know I netted zero trout. This article is not an attempt to explain why the beauties and intricate experiences of fly fishing should be enough to motivate you to visit the river. Why casting flies and mending line without worry of whether or not you bring a fish to hand is noble. That is for you to decide. Everyone is different. My goal is to explain the practical and logical place that getting skunked has in fly fishing, and to help you embrace the experience as motivation to help you Wadeoutthere. 

Paying Your Dues.

In the beginning everyone struggles. Not catching fish is sort of “part of the deal” starting out in fly fishing. It certainly was for me. The process of improving is just that – a process. There are ways to expedite the process with lessons and guided trips and YouTube videos, but the learning process itself cannot be bypassed if you want to progress. There are no true shortcuts. You have to pay your dues.

I believe the only real way to improve at fly fishing is time on the river. You have to go, to get better.

So, it makes sense that in the beginning there is going to be some skunks.  Because you have so little time on the water when you just start fly fishing. And that is okay. Do not consider these bad days. Understand that if you are new to fly fishing, it is supposed to be this way. In time, you will catch more fish because time on the river equals experience.

There are really just more experienced fly fishermen and less. Not better or worse.

Playing the Long Game.

For those of us that do not wet a line as often as we would like, getting skunked can especially sting. Finding the time, gathering your gear, checking the fishing reports, and tying the flies are all investments in our day on the river. All that effort with no fish, may seem like a waste. It’s not.

If you believe that the key to progress in fly fishing is time on the river, then each day counts. Even if you are skunked, you accomplished the important task of knocking out one more day on the journey.

If you cannot go fly fishing all the time, those days add up.  While you may not catch fish today, you are securing your ability to catch fish in the future. Getting skunked is a small victory in the endeavor of becoming a great fly fisherman or woman.

The Drive.

It may also be a long drive to the closest trout stream. I would sometimes drive three to four hours into Southwest Utah from Las Vegas, just to reach a trout stream. Many of those trips ended in skunks in the beginning while I was still discovering the fisheries. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but it is never a fail if you look at your time on the river over the long run. Eventually, I found my rhythm and my spots and getting skunked became rare.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Embrace the Drive.

It Happens to the Best of Us.

Getting skunked is not just for beginners. Everyone has different skills and levels of experience.  Different amounts of time on the water. Some days the fishing is harder than others. Your experiences may not get it done one day when they would on another.

Even more experienced anglers will sometimes come up short.

As I gain more experience and time on the river, the skunk rears its head less, but it still happens now and again. I try to remind myself that it was not wasted time. I gained experience and learned from that time. And although I am striving to catch fish out there, I recognize the other wonderful things that fly fishing allows us to experience. Getting skunked re-cages me and helps me appreciate those things. It also reminds me of the challenge, and how much that challenge makes fly fishing exciting for me.

What about the really experienced fly fishermen? The guides and the thirty year veterans? Well, I am neither, so I will not profess that they too get skunked. But I would bet if you asked them about it, their answers might surprise you.

Don’t Give Up.

Getting skunked can be no fun, but it is part of the journey. The difficult days on the river make the excellent fishing days even better. Even the best fly fisherman and woman enjoys that good day a little more because of the dues that they paid long ago. They know that some days can be much harder to hook up than others. That is why it is special.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | What Makes a Good Day’s Fishing.

In Part 2 of Don’t Fear the Skunk, I offer a couple of ways that we can try to avoid the unavoidable. After all, eventually, we hope to have less fishless days on the river. We can always do our best, and focusing on a few key things can up the odds of success.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Don’t Fear the Skunk. Part 2 of 2. Two Strategies to Avoid It.

There is a difference between the idea that it is not about catching fish, and the idea that it is not ALL about catching fish. Getting skunked reminds us that the journey never ends, and the challenge is always there, no matter how much time we have on the river. Wadeoutthere.


Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    May 13, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    Got skunked the other day. Still enjoyed the day. But, I certainly remember the missed hook sets from that day more than others.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      May 14, 2020 at 1:59 pm

      Good point. Stay tuned for Part 2! I talk about that very thing…sort of. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers mate!

  • Reply
    Meandering Mike Subialka - Park Yourself Outdoors
    May 14, 2020 at 10:54 am

    Good article, Jason! I agree with your thoughts. I was fortunate enough to catch a fiesty 12″ Rainbow 30-minutes into my very first trout fishing trip and thought to myself, “wow, this is easy!” But as the hours progressed that day and the following day, I learned quickly that beginners luck really is a thing. My biggest discovery over many trips since that first day is to switch it up (flies or technique) if your tried and true isn’t working. Don’t spend hours doing the same thing and expecting different results or that “Skunk” we all fear may be inevitable! Thanks for keeping me reading and learning!

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      May 14, 2020 at 2:10 pm

      What a great intro into fly fishing! I could not agree more Mike. Change it up! I wrote a post about this very thing:

      READ: WADEOUTTHERE | The Orange Scud Theory


      And another one o the same topic coming out soon. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers.

  • Reply
    The Skunk – Fly Fish Mend
    July 19, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    […] blog posts that approached the topic differently, but in great ways.  The first blog is from wadeoutthere.com and is a wonderful two-part series on the benefits and growth from getting skunked. Jason Shemchuk, […]

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