Home » Fly Fishing Stinks: A List

Fly Fishing Stinks: A List

They say that smell is the sense with the closest connection to the brain. Olfactory stimulation can trigger responses, even memories, more than even sight or sound. It is remarkable, if you think about it. An infinitesimal quotient of particulate in the air can stimulate thoughts, emotions, or recollections. A smell, can quite literally, take you back.

Today, as I opened my car after a day of work, I was taken aback. Because my wet, muddy waders had been baking in the sun and stunk up my Subaru.

Yesterday I went fishing in the warm outflow of a local water treatment plan. The science is simple: warmer water draws fish in during the winter. The science is even simpler than that when it comes to the funk that occupied my hatchback: cleaned and processed poopy water is still going to have some poopy notes. And all the residual microscopic nasties lacing my waders and boots had been broiling away in my sealed-up car throughout an unseasonably warm Virginia day. Now my car was quite literally privy to the odor of someone’s privy.

Fly fishing, like any outdoor sport, is full of these smells. Sure, you can wax poetic about the crispness of cool water dashing across sweet streamside vegetation. But there is also the stink of fly shop mothballs, decomposing spring creek mud, or the incredibly foul stench of shad. And it is those smells, more than warm pipe smoke or a fine leather fly wallet, that you can probably recall with quickness. Right now… shad…

As I drove home (windows down, believe you me) I thought about four  of the less celebrated scents that accompany the culture of fly fishing.


Perhaps the most acute offender of all discerning, nay functioning noses is a pair of waders. Before I go any further, let me say that this is all being said in a day and age when breathable fabrics are the commonly used material. Rewind 25 years to the era of neoprene and the hyperbole would be much more appropriate, the resulting funk much more offensive.

The equation is pretty straightforward: the lower half of a human is not known for producing good smells. Particularly during periods of exertion, this deprivation of pleasantness is compounded. That is all just what is transpiring on the outside. Add to that the aforementioned mud and dampness from the exterior, and you have a recipe for a cringeworthy cocktail.


So you’ve caught a fish right before you wrap up a day on the water. Congrats! You get to go back home with some great feelings of accomplishment, memories of conquest, and fish slime. Unfiltered, crusted on fish slime.

Maybe you’re a real man/woman, and you just barehand your catch. Impressive. So… where do you wipe that hand? Your waders, already compromised by whatever you’re producing? Your sleeve? Savage. And say you’re fishing water where you’ll be grabbing pickerel, needlefish, or shad. A net can at least be left on the porch to “air out.” But that is where it will be, rigid and drawing flies.


No offense, but you stink. All the 48-hour antiperspirant and magic synthetic fabrics won’t save you when you’re fishing up a mountain stream in the middle of August. That is okay – there is nothing wrong with existing au natural. It’s “woodsy.”

Until you return to civilization for dinner, that is. Then you’ll get seated a little further away from the other patrons. Cooks and wait staff will peer at you from the kitchen, with equal suspicion and disgust, wondering how they’re going to handle the sudden appearance of a vagabond in their establishment.

There is fragrance that generally accompanies the fly fisher aesthetic of dirty hat, worn flannel, and scruffy beard. And it is like the smell of salt and vinegar potato chips: you don’t notice it if you’re eating them, but to everyone else it smells a little bit like a gym bag.


Why put the car last? In any list like this, shouldn’t the final item be the most significant? And surely, isn’t BO the pinnacle of redolent whiffs?

Well, what upholstered and contained space holds the previously discussed waders, net, and human? Furthermore, loved ones are often forced into confinement if they desire transportation.

The smell of a truck cab after a weekend of fishing can be pretty ripe. Sleeping in the back of an SUV? Any patrolling officer that checks out what is going on is going to call the coroner before lifting a single blanket.

Fly fishers often treat their car like Tupperware. And, like Tupperware, things sometimes get left to get fuzzy or greasy.


I’m sure there are some helpful hints for removing or, at the very least, mitigating these odors out there. But that is not the kind of help I offer. I have the gift of criticism. Febreze and Clorox Wipes should be sold at fly shops.


  1. Lance Hankins says:

    Can identify with all the items you mentioned. But in Alaska it’s not shad – it’s spawned out salmon. And yes – that odor comes to mind instantly when it’s mentioned… Think maybe I’d better pick up some Febreze and Clorox wipes at the store tonight. Even I am beginning to recognize my truck by smell… and that can’t be good.

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