Just when I think I have something figured out, the river shows me how much I still have to learn.
There are hundreds of reasons I have not caught trout in my life. Slowly, I do more things right than wrong, and chip away at those reasons. But when I add up all the factors that have gone into the days I ended up getting skunked and look for what I can strip away as a root cause, there are two strategies that come to mind. They are two things that any beginner can focus on to help prevent the skunk, even as all those other reasons are staring them down every time they wet a line.
1. Fish the Same Water.
Once you find a descent trout stream, stick with it. The more you fish the same place, the more comfortable you become with it. You learn which sections seem to produce more than others. You gain confidence in the flies you use.
You begin to find your “go-to” spots where you can usually manage to net at least one fish before calling it a day.
Fishing the same water also saves you the time that comes with exploring new waters. There is nothing wrong with finding new spots to fish of course. This is another great aspect of fly fishing. But spending time hunting good trout streams is not time spent actually practicing on the trout stream.
I had days in Southwest Utah that I would not catch fish because I was driving, hiking, and exploring more than I was actually fishing. I was putting in the time though. Paying my dues. And eventually, I found a great trout stream, became familiar with where and how to fish it, and rarely drove the four hours home skunked.
2. Work on Your Hook Set.
The number of times I have fished a river and never had a fish on is far less that the number I have had no takes at all. If I could have landed even one of those fish, I might have avoided the skunk altogether that day. This makes the hook set extremely important.
If fish are taking your flies, that means you are beginning to do many of the other things right. The right fly choice. The right drift. The right mend. The right depth. And so many other steps in the process. When that trout takes your fly, you are almost there. Almost.
Losing a fish that has already bent your rod can be quite deflating, but it is even more deflating if it happens on a day you end up getting skunked.
The problem is that getting good at hook sets can usually only be practiced by catching fish. And if you are not catching fish, you cannot practice. It is a cruel Catch-22. But being aware of this is a start. Thinking about and putting the appropriate emphasis on hook sets will help you expedite the process of improving at them.
When I started fly fishing, I had no techniques for a good hook set. There’s the fish – set the hook. I saw a strike and yanked back. Some days, I came back skunked, but the fish were biting. Almost there. That final step is key.
The more I have become aware of the importance of the hook set, the less I have missed them. Check out this article for what I have learned about avoiding the missed hookset. It is a bit of satire, to help make light of a frustrating moment for any angler.
In Part 1 of Don’t Fear the Skunk, I talked about how getting skunked happens whether we like it or not, and how embracing the experience makes us better fly fishermen and women over the long road. It is part of paying your dues and that is okay.
As much as we work to bring them to the net, sometimes it does not work out. Getting better comes with time on the water but it is nice to land a few fishy fellows for your efforts. Try these two approaches to help avoid the skunk.
Finally, remember that the only guaranteed way to get skunked is to not Wadeoutthere at all.