The Perfect Skunking

Lesser Places has been going through a lot lately. On top of a busy job and a simply crushing case of writers block, I’ve been having a particularly odd problem: getting skunked. Skunked hard. Skunked in places I know have fish. Skunked in places that I drove far to get to. Skunked with the kids around. Skunked alone. Skunked after long hikes. Just skunked. And well, I don’t like writing about getting skunked.

But I do like to share advice from the field from time to time and after a full spring of just getting crushed, I’ve built up quite a bit of knowledge about my new area of expertise. So, here it is, my how to guide for attaining the perfect skunking.

Be hopeful.


All bad skunkings start with hope. You show up in the morning to a place that you know fishes well. Maybe you even see some rising fish. You feel good about yourself. Then nothing. Extra points if you have been looking forward to the trip for months.

Go when it is cold or, even better, hot.


Getting skunked when it is miserable outside is always worse than getting skunked when it is nice outside. That is a fact. Another fact: extreme heat is worse than extreme cold. Some of you non-Arizonans may disagree, but you are wrong. There is no limit to the number of layers you can put on. There is a limit to the number of layers you can take off.

Lose flies on the first cast.


Imagine this: It’s early. You creep up to your favorite honey hole and spy a nice fish. Quietly you strip line from your reel. False cast. False cast. Take a deep breath anddddd…you overshoot your fly into the snag on the far bank. The sound of your cursing scares away all fish, thus ensuring your skunking.

Wake up before 2 AM.


Nobody likes waking up early, but pre-2 AM wake up calls bring a special kind of pain. Aching legs and a guaranteed headache, anyone who is willing to deal with this deserves to catch fish. This makes it all the worse when you don’t.

Break expensive gear.


Bad: explaining to your significant other that you need to replace your $3,000 camera. Worse: explaining to your significant other that you need to replace your $3,000 camera and not having a fish to show for it.

Go to places where other people are catching fish.


Four categories here:

1.) Everyone on the river is skunked. This is bad because you are not catching fish but it happens.

2.) I’m being skunked but the only person catching fish is a friend. This will drive you insane, but you can probably live with it because you can be a little happy for your friend.

3.) I’m being skunked and someone who is catching fish had the gall to say “The worst day fishing is better than the best day in the office,” to me. You will want to fight this person. You shouldn’t, but you’ll want to.

4.) Everyone is catching fish but me. The 9th circle of millennial hell is being stuck in a place where everyone else is having a shared experience but you are not.

Hike a long way to get there.


Every step you take down the trail is an extra step for you to think about how you didn’t catch fish on the way back.

Don’t actually want to be there.


Fish are a fickle bunch who love to pile on. Show up on the river with a clean slate and you have a chance of catching fish. Show up on the river without a strong desire to be there and you are screwed. I don’t know how the fish know, but they know, and they will punish you for it.

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Max Wilson is a born and raised Arizonan with a love for all that is beautiful and strange about the Southwest. He studied at Arizona State University, where he received his PhD in ecology. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

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