Every kayak angler has something in common… It doesn’t matter if they’re a tournament professional or a novice who’s only been in the yak a couple months. And this my friends is the dreaded skunk! It’s happened to all of us at some point in our kayak fishing careers, we’ve all got the skunk. If it hasn’t, well bide your time, because just like the “upside down club”, we all join it at some point or another. Our good friend, Dustin Schouest, gives us great advice for dealing with a SKUNK.
I stared into my glass as I listened to the conversation around me. Through the din of the bar I heard the voices of fellow fisherman discussing the meat haul of the day. Between laughs I could make out my friends bragging. “Yeah, I caught about seven nice redfish! And the trout? I couldn’t keep the small ones off my hook.” Their eyes turned over to me. “How about you Dustin? How did you fair?” I downed the contents of my glass and gave a slight smile. “I got humbled.” There was a curt nod from the guys, one of understanding. We have all been there and dealt with a skunk.
To many people in Louisiana, fishing is coming home with hauls of speckled back fish or a boquet of spot tails sticking up from the ice chest. And yes, our fishery makes it possible for anyone, an amateur or professional alike, to come home with more fish than they can count. But on the flip side, for many those trips rarely happen. Many anglers go out all day either struggling to get a bite or even see a fish and coming home with a skunk. And for them, catching a handful of fish is like getting treasure. Even professionals sometimes have days where the fish don’t bite or show up. They may not talk much about it, but everyone gets a skunk from time to time.
It is humbling when you work hard for fish and have nothing to show for it. Maybe the tide wasn’t right. Maybe the moon was against you. Perhaps the fish were super spooky. No one will ever know. And the worst thing to do is dwell on it. I like to tell newer fisherman that you need to expect days where you only catch a sunburn and or malaria. The worst thing that they can do is beat themselves up over a bad day of fishing. When one dwells on failure, they are inclined to fail again and again.
A great example of this happened to me recently. I had gone fishing three weeks in a row during the doldrums of February, fighting bitterly cold mornings and fluctuating water temperatures. I was getting very depressed with myself, and in all honesty, I felt like a failure. I saw the meat hauls that many of my friends were having on social media, and it made me feel like I was a pathetic fisherman. Granted, those trips had been taken with a fly rod. My mentor, Stephen Robert, had taught me the only way to get good with the fly rod was to push yourself to only use that rod, and to not rely on conventional tackle. I had spent hours upon hours practicing my casting and tying flies. And to see trip after trip without so much as a bite, it was quite disheartening. I had messed up and let the darkness of failure push me into the corner of self-doubt. And that is something that can kill interest in a hobby.
The first day of March I was determined to get my butt on the water and catch something, even if it was the lowly hardhead catfish. I decided to launch at a spot in the village of Pointe Aux Chenes that I hadn’t used in almost two years. All during my long paddle, I saw swirls and tails along the side of the main canal, which gave me hope that my fly would connect. I found my cut into the marsh, and immediately I saw hungry fish tailing and pushing wakes. Splashes of hungry redfish eating baitfish against the bank provided the perfect soundtrack for this hunt. I spooked tons of redfish thanks to the fin of my YOLO Board catching the bottom. I was getting frustrated again, and thanks to that weight, I was missing easy shots at fish, and missing out on a beautiful day.
After a while, I stopped to reflect. I looked around me at the beautiful marsh, the garfish resting on the bottom of the pond, the otters playing in the grass, and the ospreys circling in the air. The sun wasn’t overly hot, and the wind was keeping me cool. It felt… good. It was a beautiful day, with nature all around me, and I was getting upset about something so trivial as a fish. That was when I saw the shape of a red torpedo slowly and lazily hanging in the water. I also got the idea to change out the shrimp fly I had tied the night before, to something I had tied two years ago and never had the confidence in myself to throw. It was a crab pattern, the bastard child of a Merkin and a Kwan styled crab. I took my time to deliver the fly: I had it in my head that if I caught this fish, it would be awesome. And If I didn’t? It would still be an awesome shot.
The delivery was perfect, with the fly quickly sinking into the water and resting on the weedy bottom. The crimson form dipped its head, and there was a sharp resistance on my fly line. I mouthed an expletive, and hammered the hook home. There was the sound of thunder, and the burn of 9wt fly line rubbing the tips of my fingers raw as the redfish began to run. The fish made a long and hard run, turning my board almost a full 90 degrees. My SaltLife Optics showed me the beautiful scene as it played out underwater: the redfish twisting and turning, running back and forth trying to escape the fate imposed by its fateful appetite.
By the end of our fight, I had my personal best redfish in front of me: 28 inches of pure brute. Leaches from the cold mud adorned her sides like remoras on the side of the majestic shark. And the one red dot on the tail reminded me of the scaring on a leviathan sperm whale. I had earned this catch. The fears and worries I had earlier were gone, replaced with an adrenaline heavy high. And it was all because I had quit worrying about the dreaded skunk, and focused on the natural world around me.
The next time you are at home, sweaty and tired after a long day on the water, dreading putting that infamous sunrise picture up on your social media, aka the international sign of having been skunk, don’t worry about getting a friendly ribbing from your friends. Don’t worry that your fishing buddies will talk poor of you. Because guess what: somewhere in the history of their fishing trips, there were a few trips ending in an empty ice chest and a hungry appetite, dealing with the dreaded skunk!
About the Author
Dustin Schouest is a veteran angler from the small disappearing village of Pointe Aux Chenes, La. When not fishing, Dustin is usually found tying flies, editing video, or writing about his adventures from his YOLO Stand Up Paddleboard. He is a member of the Hook1 Fishing Team as well as a member of Team Filthy Anglers.