What Does Getting Skunked Mean in Fishing?

Getting skunked in fishing means catching no fish. It’s something that all decent fishermen and women seek to avoid. Avoiding getting skunked is one of my first priorities on any …

Getting skunked in fishing means catching no fish.

It’s something that all decent fishermen and women seek to avoid.

Avoiding getting skunked is one of my first priorities on any day fishing.

Of course, it depends on how difficult the type of fishing you are doing is.

For example, fly fishing in a lake or river known for trophy trout means getting skunked is going to be a very real possibility. Where the fish are large, it means there are fewer of them.

So the trade-off here is the possibility of catching a trophy trout, but the risk is getting skunked.

What Are Other Terms for Getting Skunked?

Skunked really is the main term us anglers use for failing to catch anything. Sometimes we use the term a “donut” to describe a fishless day. There is always a lot of banter about avoiding a “donut” when I am fishing with friends, and one of us is at risk of getting skunked.

Top Three Reasons You Are Getting Skunked

Skunked fishing
Anglers who frequently fail to catch fish can avoid getting “skunked” by selecting the right fishing time and location and thinking like a fish.

While sometimes it is just a matter of luck, there are a few common reasons that we can identify in anglers who often get skunked.

Not Fishing at the Right Time of Day

If you fish to your schedule rather than choosing times when the fish are most actively feeding, then you are setting yourself up to get skunked.

An example in coastal fishing is not choosing appropriate tides. I fish estuaries where I like to target the edges on a falling tide as that’s when the fish are actively feeding. “No run, no fun” is the classic saying suggesting fish are more active when the tide is flowing swiftly. So rather than fish at the same time of day, I will choose the time I go around the tide and hence the fish’s feeding activity. Sometimes that might mean fishing at night.

In trout fishing, you can time your trip to coincide with hatches. For mayfly, that’s often the middle of the day. In high summer, you might want to incorporate the evening rise in your fishing if it has been a tough day. It’s the time when the fish feed most heavily on the surface, and fishing this short period can often save you from getting skunked.

Not Fishing the Right Areas

I reckon more important than choosing a spot to fish is fishing the right areas within that waterway. Fishing in areas where fish aren’t congregating is a surefire way to get skunked.

For example, in fishing an estuary, there’s not a lot of point fishing a deep channel at high tide when the fish have more often than not come up into the shallow margins to feed.

And for river fishing on a hot day, you might not find the fish in the shallows where the water is too warm, so you’ll need to fish deep.

Failing to Think Like a Fish

A more general tip to avoid getting skunked, which takes the above and a hell of a lot more, is to remember to think like a fish.

Always remember what’s likely driving the fish to behave in a particular way. They are thinking about three things: food, shelter, and conserving energy. These things need to be in balance, and fish will choose a spot to station accordingly.

Take trout in a river as an example. They’ll station in faster water only if there’s enough food coming down – say during a heavy hatch. Otherwise, they’ll prefer to sit in an eddy beside the main flow as it is better for energy conservation.

And they’ll always be mindful of having some shelter nearby – a deeper hole, an undercut bank, or a pocket of whitewater where they can disappear out of site.

How to Avoid Getting Skunked Fishing

Skunked fishing 1
To avoid skunked fishing, use proper gear, practice casting, and avoid heavy equipment.

In addition to taking into account the above, here are a few more tips on how to avoid getting skunked.

Having the Correct Gear

Your chances of avoiding the dreaded donut on a fare always higher if you have the right gear. Check out some of our gear lists below for certain types of fishing. They are designed to make sure you have everything you need, from the right rod and reel to clothing that will keep you comfortable on the water, along with the right types of lures.

Work on Your Casting

This goes for both fly fishing and casting lures – practice regularly and improve your casting. To avoid getting skunked and to catch fish on a consistent basis, you need to be able to cast accurately and effectively.

Don’t Fish Too Heavy

Choosing a line strength that is too heavy, or a rod or reel that’s overpowered for the type of fishing you are doing, not only detracts from the sport but means you won’t be able to feel the lure’s action effectively and detect bites when they come. Use our fishing line strength chart to choose the right pound test for the fish you are chasing.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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