A Comprehensive List of Fishermen’s Excuses

by | Apr 26, 2020 | 57 comments

Fishermen are full of excuses for failure — because we get a lot of practice at not catching fish. Mostly, Troutbitten is here to share better ways to catch trout, but here’s a big list of explanations for when you don’t. Why’d you take the skunk? This list of reasons will help explain it all away.

Found below are excuses that can roughly be grouped into three classes:

  • Conditions — where you blame the weather or the water
  • Fish’s Fault — where you blame the fish for not eating your flies
  • I Wasn’t Really Trying — these excuses are centered around the inference that if you really wanted to, you could have caught more trout.

So the next time your buddy asks, “How many did you catch?” but you sadly caught nothing, try something from the list below. While many of these excuses can apply, your challenge is to find the best excuse for your audience. Who are you trying to convince, and what approach is best? Also, consider your ability to sell the explanation. If you can’t pull off an excuse where you blame the fish, it may be best to consider a more simple or humble justification.

This list aims to be comprehensive. But it starts with the excuses that I know of. And I’m just one guy. So I invite you to share your own favorites in the comments section after the article. I’ll add the best of them to this list. Together we can build a list of fishermen’s excuses to cover your ass in every situation. So, when you walk through the door and hear the dreaded question, “Catch any fish?” you might save face with something from this list.

Final point here. There are two keys to delivering a good excuse: deflection and distraction. Think about that. Another approach is to inject some honesty. But that can be a risky strategy. So be careful.

A Comprehensive List of Fishermen’s Excuses

— — — — — —

1. They just weren’t hittin’. (The fish were off.)

This classic is a solid favorite, and it has some merit. No matter how well you fish, sometimes, the trout just don’t want to play.

2. I lost my fly box, tippet, (other necessary gear) somewhere on the stream.

Good one. This might build some empathy in the heart of your questioner. And that might distract from the fact that you couldn’t catch a trout.

3. The water was too cold.

This one’s overused. If the water is forty degrees or more, don’t offer this excuse if you want others to take you seriously. But yeah, any temps in the thirties tend to put trout into lock-down mode.

4. The water was too hot.

A summer staple, and a fair excuse. Trout experience the lazy days of summer the same as the rest of us. Feeding patterns are already limited, and when the water temps reach the high 60’s, we don’t fish for them anyway.

5. I was trophy hunting.

Here’s a way to make defeat sound intentional. Because, you see, you weren’t actually trying to catch just any trout, you were after one big trout. So the moment you walked out the door today, you knew the odds were against you. Be sure to tell them that trophy hunting is a #grind. See what I mean?

6. The spinners never fell.

For the crew that sits on a streamside log with a cigar, waiting for consistent rise forms, here’s a good excuse. Hey, you waited for the spinners to fall, but they never came down. This one sounds more educated or advanced than the next one, but they are similar.

7. The hatch never happened.

Another for the dry fly crowd. If you go to the river with one thing in mind — casting to risers — it’s easy to be disappointed.

8. They were touchy today, with lots of flashes and false takes.

Blame the trout! Here’s a good one. It allows you to mention all the trout that you almost caught. Talk about the fish that looked at your fly but didn’t eat it. This excuse makes failure sound like some kind of success.

9. Too sunny.

This is one of the best excuses on the list. Trout like dreary days best. We learn that over time. And when the sun is upstream, with bright light in the trout’s eyes, this excuse has merit.

10. The creek is all fished out.

My uncle used to chuckle about this one, when it was said about our local stocked streams just days after the season opener. Granted, eventually the population thins. But this excuse seems hollow. Try using that other explanation about the sun instead.

11. They didn’t stock the river this year.

When fishing for stocked trout, sometimes it does not pay to be ambitious. My friend, Brandon, always said this. And it’s true. If stocked trout are your thing, you can’t catch ‘em if they don’t exist. So, go where the stock truck goes.

12. Water was too high.

Extra water makes fishing harder. But it doesn’t necessarily turn off the bite. In fact, it may turn them on. Now, if high water comes with too much color . . .

13. Water was too muddy.

Just like the high sun upstream, this is a fair excuse. So go ahead and fish in muddy water, because the expectations are always low, and your excuse is already built-in.

14. I couldn’t figure out what they were taking.

At first, this sounds like the most honest excuse on the list. I mean, sometimes, it’s best to simply admit defeat, right? So making it sound like trout are smart enough to selectively take just one food item in the drift boosts the challenge level for this whole thing. Blame the fish, and the uninitiated will believe it.

15. They were hittin’ short.

This one’s a holdover from my bait fishing days. It usually means the angler was slow on the hook set. Then again, trout do slash and posture at streamers a lot, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to seal the deal. (Make sure to add that last part in with your excuse.)

16. They kept coming unbuttoned.

This might be a statement of fact, but it’s not much of an excuse. If you were losing trout all day, try to offer a reason why they all came unhooked before making it to hand. You can do better than this.

17. I think my hooks weren’t sharp enough.

That’s mostly your fault for either buying cheap hooks, $1 flies from a third world country, or not bringing a hook hone. (They make those, by the way.)

18. The river was crowded.

Nice try. But this fails to acknowledge all the times when the river was crowded and you still caught a pile of fish. This one also makes it sound like you lack the ambition to find less popular access areas.

19. I just didn’t fish well.

Ding, ding! We have a winner. This one is kind of pathetic, but as long as it doesn’t come off as whiny, the sheer honesty here might make a good impression.

20. It was raining.

Nope. So what. That’s why you bought the $259 Goretex raincoat. Also, never forget this fun fact: Fish love water.

21. I got to the stream too late.

This is another honest account of a real problem. Well done. Say it with a sigh and an expression that indicates you’ve learned your lesson. Sell it hard.

22. Too much snow-melt.

Not a bad complaint. This is a real thing. Melting snow filling the river with cold water on a warm day can shut down the bite. It’s especially true in freestone streams — but not always. So, link this excuse to a secondary reason.

23. I must have been fishing behind Joe Humphreys or (insert local legend).

This one is always good for a chuckle. So it’s a good distraction. Deliver this line, and then immediately pivot the conversation away from fishing.

24. I didn’t have them dialed in today. (The Sloop Special)

Nice work, subtly shifting half the blame over to the fish and making fishing sound more complicated than it is. Well done.

25. I was working on my technique.

Here’s another excuse from the big bag of I wasn’t really trying to catch fish today.

26. I let my fishing buddy hit all the good spots.

Solid stuff here. You just represented yourself as a selfless friend who sacrifices his own enjoyment to see his buddy smile. That’s a good strategy.

27. I wasn’t worried about catching them. I was just trying to move fish with big streamers to see what was in the river.

Yes, people actually say this. The streamer junkies have a lot of built-in excuses.

28. It was the low pressure, high pressure, warm front, cold front, etc.

Talk about the barometric pressure. Bury them with science.

29. The Solunar calendar predicted this!

Again, impress them (or bore them) with pseudo-science.

30. I was fishing marginal water that doesn’t hold many trout.

Act like it was your plan not to catch trout in the first place, because you knew there weren’t many fish there. Now you’re an explorer! See how good that is?

31. I didn’t have my two weight, twelve-foot fly rod, so I couldn’t euro nymph.

See? It’s not your fault. Blame it on a lack of specialized gear.

37. The river is getting too much angler pressure these days, and the trout are off.

If you believe this, go fish somewhere else.

32. I could have caught a bunch of trout, if I really wanted to.

This is known as the Austin classic. Act indifferent about it. Maybe you were out there for a higher purpose. Maybe trout were hardly on your mind. Be vague about the details and get philosophical about things.

33. ** What  Else? **

What’s missing here? Leave your own gem in the comments section below, because every good angler needs better excuses.


Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Too windy.

    • I agree with Mitch. The wind was blowing 50 miles an hour. I can fly fish in anything except a gale.

  2. brought my new fishing dog with me . he’s just learning how not to scare fish away

    • “Only fished for a little bit” (4 hours) lol

  3. I like #8. Another variation is “didn’t catch any, but moved six”.

    • I was experimenting with new patterns today!

      • Sure was a nice day! Let’s drink! Bottle already in hand. Best deflection for my fishing crew.

    • I got mired down in a peat bog and spent most of the day trying to get unstuck. I broke my flyrod using it as a pole to help free myself.

  4. • My waders were leaking.
    • My hands were too cold.
    • I had to pee.
    • I got a text that threw me off my game.
    • I didn’t really want to fish today.
    • I think I’m coming down with something.

    • “I was getting it over with!” Quote, stolen from a fishing buddy!

  5. I just SUCK !!!

    • Hah! Reminds me… “Suck less!” Is the mottoe of my beer league hockey team.

  6. My fishing buddy walked through the water like an elephant and put all the fish down.

    • We say we just got “Tinked” when this happens. Named after a former neighbor who moved away.

  7. My dad had a number of them…

    The fish had sore mouths.

    You’re holding your mouth wrong. (Used on my brother and I often when we were Skunked as kids.)

    Fish don’t bite when the wind is from the East (or whatever direction).

    I enjoyed this post as it brought back memories.

  8. It’s called fishin’ not catchin’

  9. Stupid fish!

  10. The fish couldn‘t get to my nymph because the trees kept eating them.

  11. I brought the wrong flu box

  12. Fly not flu. There enough flu already.

  13. Didn’t have enough time, just snuck out while the wife was cutting the grass and painting the house.

    • Does that wife have a sister?

  14. That’s why they call it fishing and not catching.

    • Good one. Heard frequently on Monday mornings at the jobsite/office.

  15. Trying a new technique, didn’t really expect to catch anything.

  16. I don’t fish to catch fish, I fish to be out in nature.

  17. I was too busy watching Alex Argyros catch all the fish

  18. Call this excuse #3-A – The air temperature dropped overnight causing the water temperature to drop which caused the fish to stop eating. I think there maybe some merit to this excuse since I’ve seen it happen numerous times. But then again, it just maybe another lame excuse for not being good enough.

    • It was new water I haven’t fished before.

  19. For those who prefer fishing for stocked fish: The trout were still stunned/shocked from just being stocked the day/hour/minute I got there.

  20. I fell the F in and didn’t bring a change of clothes!

  21. I’m still a novice fly fisherman

  22. I let Greg fish the head of the run where most of the fish are, and I fished below him. Every time he caught a fish, it ran downstream and spooked the fish in my water.

  23. It’s just nice to get out and be on the river

  24. Somebody was eating bananas!
    Kind of a holdover from offshore fishing taboo, but any excuse in the storm…

  25. “Too many bait guys around”

  26. The fish are in a mandated self-isolation.

  27. Full moon!

    • New moon.

  28. The fish were only taking size 34 tricos/midges or some other microscopic insect impossible to imitate. Not sure if this is actually ever true but I hear it often enough.

    Or, I needed to be using 10x tippet but I don’t believe in overplaying trout and hurting them. Makes you sound noble.

  29. I felt like drinking beer more than fishing.

    • That’s happened to me a few times . Ha.

      • I wasn’t fishing hard. I was just scouting the area.

  30. Two classics: I got hit with the first cast curse. I knew as soon as I caught that fish on the first cast I was doomed for the rest of the day.

    I’ve actually had someone use this one: My idiot friend brought a banana on the boat in his lunch, and that’s a real curse.

  31. Hooked a big one that immediately ran downstream and took all my line to my backing. Then my tippet broke.

  32. I was just washing my flies…

  33. I actually heard this the other day on Big Cove Creek in PA: I’m just experimenting with (insert name of fly).

    Or, “If I’m not going to catch fish, I’m going to do it with a dry fly.”

  34. Never actually made it to the river. Stopped on the way for coffee and got distracted by the Sheetz “Walk-In Beer Cave”.

  35. Skunked, what’s that?

  36. “Stocked fish don’t know they are supposed to be eating bugs yet”. Might be some truth to this one when you see caddis all over the place and nothing hitting them.

  37. The dog ate my fishing rod.

  38. My go-to: I was wet wading, but to catch fish on this river you really need a boat.

  39. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to fish for carp?”

  40. The most absurd excuse I ever heard made by someone came on one Opening Day many years ago, when as is often the case, the stream was very high and off color. My Dad and I caught a few but two guys across the creek were having lots of trouble and didn’t catch anything.

    Then Dad heard one of them say:

    “Someone must have snuck in and fed ‘em.”

    Dad laughed, told me, and I laughed. They were totally serious.

    After that, whenever we were fishing and were struggling, you could count on one of us, usually Dad, to say, “Someone must have sneaked in and fed ‘em.”

  41. I left my favorite fly box at home


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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