Excuses: why you may not be catching fish, and how to get a bite

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August 11, 2015

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No matter how much experience you have, there will be days when you won’t catch fish. After all, we call the sport fishing, and not catching.
In this tongue-in-cheek episode Daniel explores reasons you may be getting skunked (i.e. excuses you can use) and he shares a few sure-fire ways of getting a fish to bite. Finally, he will try to help us clarify whether a fish counted as “being caught”.
Music generously provided by Nick “Takenobu” Ogawa: www.takenobumusic.com

Referenced in this episode:
Unicorn hair in tenkara rod

Transcript of podcast episode why you may get skunked and how to catch fish

This is Daniel Galhardo and you’re listening to the Tenkara Cast. A podcast about the simple Japanese method of fly fishing, tenkara. In the Tenkara Cast we’ll be sharing information on techniques, history, philosophy, and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA. Introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It’s only possible we create content, such as this podcast and videos because of your support. So we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about this simple method of fly fishing.

Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining me on this second episode of the Tenkara Cast. I think I’ve got a topic that is gonna be really interesting to a lot of you. Actually, it’s gonna be three topics I’m gonna be discussing today. I will keep this podcast short. But I believe this episode more than any other one, is gonna add the most value to your fishing. In the beginning of this episode, today, I’m gonna be talking about getting skunked. But then, later in the episode, I’m gonna be talking about three really sure-fire ways of getting to fool fish with a fly. Getting the fish to come and take your fly when you’re out fishing. And then at the end of the episode, I’m gonna be trying to answer that existential question fly fishermen have. “Does that count as catching the fish or was that just a bite?”

So when it comes to the topic of getting skunked. We’ve all been there. I’ve been fishing for many years. Luckily, it doesn’t happen quite as often anymore. But occasionally the fish are gonna let me down. And over the years, I’ve kind of started realizing that there are reasons that we might get skunked. It’s not like every day that we’re gonna go out and catch a fish. After all, we call the sport fishing, not catching. That’s one of my favorite phrases in the sport of fishing, that if we were to catch fish every single time, every time we go out, and in every cast, we wouldn’t call it fishing, we’d call it catching. So it happens. In the beginning when you’re just starting off with fishing, it’s gonna be a little bit more frequent. Later on, hopefully you’ll start picking up on a few things that are gonna happen that will increase your catch rates. But in any case, we go out sometimes, and either we have very slow days of fishing and occasionally, heartbreakingly, we get completely skunked. We catch nothing. Even with a lot of work. So I’ve realized that I do have about five main reasons why I might not be catching a lot of fish on a certain day. And I wanted to share that with you.

So reason number one. When somebody sees that I’m not catching a lot of fish, and of course, a lot of times I feel like I have some pressure, because I’m teaching people very often on the art of catching fish. The number one reason, or maybe I should call it an excuse why I’m not catching fish, is water levels. So occasionally, depending on the river, depending on the area you’re fishing, we might have the water level go up dramatically or go down dramatically. A lot of places the water’s regulated by dams, and the dam operators are not always thinking about what their decisions are gonna impact on the fish-feeding habits. So we go out, we make this plan to go out on a weekend, and we get there, and we realize that, “Man, the dam operator has just let the water flow,” and all of a sudden the water is really high.

So reason number one. Why I’m not catching a lot of fish today is because the water level rose too rapidly overnight. That’s my favorite reason right there. Occasionally, the water level drops as well, and I’ll use that as my excuse, and I’m gonna stick with it because, hey, I should be catching fish. Occasionally, of course, the water levels are normal and they stay normal for weeks. So I have to come up with a second excuse to why I’m not catching a fish. And in tenkara we never blame the fly. Ever. So there is the concept of using one fly and the fly that we use is always gonna be the right fly. So we’re never gonna blame the fly.

That’s not an acceptable excuse. The fly, it is the fly. The fly that is in the water is the fly that catches the fish. So I have to come up with another excuse. And the second excuse that I usually have, is, the water temperature seems to have dropped recently or maybe it seems to have rose dramatically overnight. So water temperature is the reason number two, why I’m not catching a lot of fish today. It happens. There are some places, maybe it rained overnight and the water temperature dropped or perhaps it’s just been a very hot week, and the water temperature just has risen recently and put the fish in a lethargic mood, and they’re not eating as much as they usually do.

And before I elaborate a little bit more on excuse number two, water temperatures. I would like to really bring up, if you’re a trout fisherman, I’d like to bring out a very important point that I’d like for you to keep in mind. A lot of you might not carry thermometers with you. But that is an accessory that I do like to recommend if you’re fishing in places where the water temperatures can rise, and it can be really hot. Or you’re going out in the middle of the summer after several days of very hot weather, is the fact that we really should strive to fish at 65-degree water temperature or less. So trout in particular, they thrive in cold water. They need the cold water to have their metabolism work well and for them to have enough strength. And 65 degrees and below is what we are looking for. One of the rule of thumb is that if the water temperature reaches 68 degrees, please stop fishing. If you can, if you’re in places where the water might get pretty warm and you’re just getting started and water’s slow moving, more like desert kind of places, keep water temperatures in mind, not as an excuse, but really as a reason to not fish, period.

So try to fish when the water temperature is 65 degrees or less. Stop fishing at 68 degrees and please never catch any trout when the water level is above 68 degrees, because what happens is, they’re already very stressed out and they’re trying to survive and you catch the fish, and that fight is very likely gonna kill the fish when you release it. Even if the fish is gonna swim away, there’s a good chance that it’s gonna die. So, once the water is above 68 degrees, just stop fishing, maybe find a different stream nearby, and that is a little bit more shaded, more turbulent, more water and that kind of thing.

But in any case, going back to the topic of the conversation today, reason number two that I usually give people why I’m not catching fish is the water temperature. I always like to tell people that fish really don’t like when things vary too much. So if water level rises or drops too fast, if the water temperature drops or rises too fast, it’s gonna put the fish down and that’s gonna be one of my favorite excuses why I’m not catching a fish today. But then there’s days where the water levels are normal, the water temperature has not changed dramatically, and it’s below 68 degrees, what else can we tell our fishing buddy why we’re not catching a fish today.

And then I go to reason number three, it’s too sunny. The blue skies that attracted us to start fishing on that particular day, and it’s a beautiful day out, we don’t see a cloud in sight, I’m gonna use excuse number three. It’s too sunny out there, the fish don’t like it. Maybe the sun is shining right down into their face and they’re not seeing my fly properly. That’s excuse number three. Occasionally, I’ll stick with that excuse all day long because it’s sunny and not a cloud comes by. So if we are out there fishing and everything is looking good and the weather is too beautiful, just tell your fishing partner that, “Hey, the weather might be too beautiful today, we have to wait for the weather to get crappy in order to catch fish.”

And then we come up with other excuses. If there’s a few clouds and the water temperature is 65 degrees, it’s a really good temperature, it has remained that way for a while, the water levels have been very stable and good, and there’s a few clouds out there so we can’t say it’s too sunny then we might have to come up with a fourth excuse. I’m gonna assume that a lot of the listeners of this podcast are actually not gonna be able to use this excuse, but excuse number four that you can give to your fishing buddy is that, “Man, this is not a Tenkara USA rod.” So we can just blame the rod. Again, remember we never blamed the fly, the fly is okay, but if it’s not a Tenkara USA rod, which some people have said that it comes with unicorn hair inside of it, then you might not catch fish and it’s not because of you, it’s not because of the weather, it’s not because of the water, it’s just the rod, so go ahead and blame the rod that you are using. It’s the rod’s fault. And next time, remember that you have to take a Tenkara USA rod out and into the water to catch fish.

Now, of course, if you’re out there and you have a Tenkara USA rod, there’s a few clouds up in the sky, the water temperature’s have been nice and stable, below 65 degrees, the water levels have not dropped or risen recently. What are you gonna tell people why you didn’t catch a fish that day? And I think that’s when we pull one of the trump cards, number five. Excuse number five, we did not catch a fish is pure luck. “Oh man, I went out and had no luck.” So that’s why you can tell people why you didn’t catch fish. You can tell them my technique was really good, I had the right flies, I had the right rod, but I didn’t have any luck, because luck counts on occasion. If you cannot find a legitimate reason, use luck as your excuse by all means.

So there you go. If you’re going out, and even if you go by yourself and you come back home and your spouse asks you, “How come you didn’t catch any fish?” There you have it, five legitimate excuses why you did not catch fish, you can tell them that the water level has recently dropped or risen too fast, it’s not ideal. The water temperature has either dropped or risen too fast, that’s excuse number two that you can use or it was too sunny, or I didn’t have a Tenkara USA rod, or purely, I just had no luck.

But now, let’s get into the point of not using those excuses. I’m gonna give you three sure-fire ways of fooling fish, and then that way, you don’t have to tell anybody, “Oh, I did not get a single fish to come up to my fly.” These three ways, in my experience, they’re the best ways to entice a fish to take your fly.

Method number one is actually really simple, but it can be kinda hard to execute. This method consists of looking away, but I’m not talking about pretending to look away. You have to genuinely look away and be very distracted. So you see a bird going out in the horizon behind you. You look back genuinely trying to see what’s going on. And for a moment just forgetting that you’re actually fishing because you’re completely distracted. That is a sure-fire way of getting fish to come and take your fly. Very often you’re gonna feel the grab but by the time you turned around, the fish is gone. I’m not saying that this is a sure way of bringing a fish to hand, but it sure is in my experience by far the best way to feel a fish. If everything is going really slowly and you’re just about giving up and you look away to talk to somebody, you look away because you heard something behind you, maybe there is a bear and you got scared, that moment when you look away, there’s a fish out there that’s gonna know that you’re looking away, and he’s gonna come and grab your fly and spit it out before you can react to it.

But again, I must emphasize you cannot look away because you wanna catch a fish. You have to be completely genuine in your distraction. If you’re just gonna be like, “Let me look away and see if a fish is gonna take my fly.” It’s not gonna take your fly. It has to be complete honest distraction. The second method that I like to share with people to get a bite is to use a fly that you really did not believe in. A lot of times people are used to their Western fly and they have a hard time transitioning into a tenkara fly, for example, the Sakasa Kebari. I recommend that you put on the fly that you just completely don’t believe in and you fish it for a while.

And it’s gonna be a slow day because you don’t believe in it, but then here’s what’s gonna happen. You’ve been fishing it for a while and you start blaming the fly. As I mentioned earlier in the episode, we never blame the fly in tenkara. The fly is never the reason you’re not catching fish. But hey, you’re trying to find reasons and you’re trying to find reasons beyond the ones that I told you earlier on. So you’re gonna blame the fly, and then on your very last cast here, you had just completely given up, you’re gonna start pulling the fly back towards you to change the fly and the fish is gonna know that you’re about to change the fly. And one fish is gonna come and bite it just to let you know that the fly is actually okay.

And now what do you do? Do you change your fly? Probably not because the fly has just proven to work. So you’re gonna continue casting with that one fly. And you may or may not catch more fish, but the moment that you decided that you’re gonna change your fly because the fly was not working, that’s the moment you’re gonna get a bite on the fly. So that’s a second sure-fire way of getting a fish to take your fly. And now the third one is similar actually. But the third way that you’re gonna get a bite that day is when you’re completely done. And I’m not talking about, “Oh yeah, let’s go. Just one last cast.” And you continue doing that one last cast thing for a while. I’m talking about the very last cast of the day.

This is at a point when you’ve already had your 12, “Oh, one last cast honey.” This is that point when you said to yourself 20 times that you’re gonna do one last cast, but you knew inside of your head that you were gonna do a cast after that. So when it gets to the end of the day and you know you’re gonna leave, that’s when you’re gonna be getting a bite. And of course that was not gonna be your last cast, because if you get a bite on your very last cast, your “Honest to God” last cast, then you’re gonna get a bite and you’re gonna continue fishing for a little while longer until somebody gets really mad at you and you realize that you should have left an hour ago. So those are the three sure ways of getting a fish to come and take your fly. You’d look away, completely distracted talking to somebody or because of something else, you change that one fly that you really don’t believe in, or on your honest last cast.

Now I’m gonna be talking a little bit about the third topic of today’s podcast, which is to try to answer that existential question that fly fishermen have, “Did that fish count? Did I catch the fish?” That’s a question that we all ask to ourselves or to our friends when we go out fishing and we get a bite or we fight the fish for a few seconds and we just about bring it in, but we don’t have a picture of it. So when you go out fishing, you can ask yourself a few questions. First of all, does your hand smell like fish? ‘Cause if it does, you certainly caught the fish. Now that’s an easy one of course. We have a lot of other gray areas that things get a little bit more complicated. And I usually like to go by the rule of thumbs of, “Did I play that fish for more than three seconds?”

If so, “Yes. I caught that fish.” “Did I see the fish completely out of the water? Did it jump and I saw that was a 20 inch brown trout,” because of course the biggest fish is the one that’s gonna get away. And it’s gonna give you this place, which is horrible, this gray area of not knowing if you legitimately caught the fish. But if you see the fish completely jumping out of the water and you got a good look at it, yes, I would say that you caught that fish. Now what about that time when you just looked away and the fish took your fly? I would say that no, you did not really catch the fish. The fish came and took your fly for a second and it spat it out but you were distracted. So in that case, I would say you had a bite.

So here’s where we start having to make distinctions. When we go out fishing, we have a few things that might happen. Either we get skunked or we get a bite or we catch fish. So here’s what we’re trying to answer, “Did I catch the fish?” And if the fish just took your fly and you didn’t see it, your hand doesn’t smell like fish at the end of it and you don’t have a picture with it, I would say that no, you did not catch the fish, you simply had a bite. And a bite is still really exciting, don’t get me wrong. So I think we have to get that in perspective. Getting a bite is certainly better than getting completely skunked and never feeling anything because the bite after all is what gets our hearts racing, gets us excited and what motivates us to go out there again and try our best to catch a fish.

So there you go. In my perspective, if your hand smells like fish, if you have a picture with the fish or if you got a really good look at a fish, and usually when you fight the fish for more than three seconds I would say, yes, you caught a fish that day. If you looked away and the fish took your fly for a second, you got a bite. And of course, if the water level is too high or too low, and the temperatures are not ideal, it was too sunny or you didn’t have a Tenkara USA rod, or of course, if you didn’t have any luck then you didn’t get a bite and you didn’t get a fish either. And you can use those five excuses that I gave you at the beginning of the episode to tell people why you didn’t catch a fish that day. I hope today’s episode of the Tenkara Cast will help you in the future either by guaranteeing that you’re gonna get a bite on your fly, by having good excuses to tell people why you didn’t catch a fish that day. And of course, knowing for sure whether you caught a fish, had a bite or got skunked. Until next time on the Tenkara Cast.

Thank you very much for listening to the Tenkara Cast. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Nick Ogawa, also known as Takenobu. Check out his music at takenobumusic.com. We’ll be posting links to any references we made in this podcast, such as Takenobu’s music on our website, www.tenkarausa.com/podcast. And until next time on the Tenkara Cast.

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