How To Be A Better Angler, Part Five – Take Notes

[This is the fifth in a series of posts about somewhat unconventional advice for becoming a better angler. It’s not tips, tricks or tactics, as such, but suggestions for becoming an overall better angler that you might not otherwise think of.]

If there is one thing I’m envious of, it’s people who can keeping fishing journals.

I say this because I can’t.

I’ve tried, but like pretty much every attempt I’ve ever made to keep something like this–travel journals, day planners, marking calendars on the wall, etc.–it just ends up being something I stop doing after only a few attempts. It’s just the way I tend to be with stuff like that. Heck, it almost happened with this blog.

Having said that, they are probably one of the handiest tools you can have when it comes to learning how to get better at fishing. It kind of goes hand in hand with my earlier post about paying attention, except you take it one step further and write down what you see.

What Should I Take Notes About?

Everything and anything you think might be relevent. Did you notice a hatch, even a small one? Write it down. How many fish did you catch? How big were they? How deep? Where in the lake did you catch them? What was the weather like? Anyone else catching fish that day? Water temp that day?

It might sound like there’s a lot of details to write down, but there really isn’t. If you’re not the kind of person who’s great at writing, make a chart with boxes you can fill in. Spending five minutes ticking off boxes and writing down a few numbers might is a heck of a lot easier than putting all your observations into sentences.

How Does This Help Me Be A Better Angler?

Well, for starters, when you sit down to write out your observations, you really think about the day you just had on the water. Things like number of fish you caught, hatches you noticed, shucks and what have all gets catalogued into whatever your journal is all worth noting and, when you write it down, you start creating a record of that lake that, over time is going to be extremely helpful in the future, especially if you keep fishing the same spots.

The more times you go out to a lake or river and take notes, the more information you end up having about that system (remember what I said about really getting to know a lake?). You’ll start to see patterns in terms of when certain hatches appear, what hatches will appear, what imitations works and more. The more information you gather, the more likely you are to catch fish in future trips–plus you’ll have an absolutely incredible hatch chart to help you figure out when to hit your favourite caddis lake.

Not only does this help you keep track of what’s going on in an area, but you get the added bonus of becoming better at planning fishing trips. Having all that data helps you plan the times of year to avoid an area, to visit an area or when you can find certain fish in decent numbers. You can also apply some of the information you’re gathering to other nearby lakes–things like when a hatch occurred or when a lake is ice-free.

But I’m Just Not Good At Keeping Notes

Don’t worry about it. As I already mentioned, neither am I, which is odd considering I write for a living.

Instead of taking notes, I rely on two other things. First, I have a great memory. I can hold on to details like where the fish were, what time of year I went out there, any significant hatches, size of fish and difficulty in catching them quite well.

For everything else, I take pictures. Lots and lots and lots of pictures.

I take pictures of everything I mentioned earlier. Fish caught, size of fish caught, hatches, random bugs, depths, water temps, flies I’m using, flies that aren’t working, flies that are. Everything.

The best part is, since organization isn’t a strong suit of mine, all my pictures get automatically sorted by date. If I remember there was a great caddis hatch on such and such a lake the last time I was out there and I want to try and catch it again, I look up the picture and get the date. If the season is early or late, I adjust accordingly–everything was about two weeks early this year, for instance, and I adjusted my plans to reflect that.

If you’re a super organized person, try to sort your pictures into folders based on the body of water you’re fishing. It’ll help when you’re searching through your photos, especially if you take 1000s of pictures of bugs and fish.

Keeping a journal is a long-term thing, more than a short-term one. You’re not necessarily going to find it useful after a year or two, unless you have a truly bad memory, but after a while, you’re going to start to see patterns emerging that will help you successfully chase your fish.

This can be particularly exciting if you start to notice that the fish in one lake have been getting a little bit bigger every year because it could mean that you’re building up to a couple of spectacular years of fishing. I’ve got my eye on one particular lake where I’ve noticed the fish getting bigger and I feel like next year is going to be the year.

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  1. Taking notes is a great idea if you can get in the habit, usually by forcing yourself to do it in a painful manner until it gets easier and then useful. You have a better memory than I do and, at age 66, I’m damn grateful that I started a journal (not of fishing but of life, itself) 46 years ago. It was sporadic for the first few years but then it became almost daily, a part of my daily regimen that I enjoyed and, as a writer for all these years, one that I’ve relied on as I look back not only on fly-fishing experiences and mishaps but also on everything else that I’ve noticed and learned. It’s good to start somewhere, of course, and you offer some fine tips for the angler who wants to stay focused on the water and the fish. Thanks for that. We should all take notes!

    1. It’s incredible how much information you can end up with by simply taking notes. There’s a few guys in my circle of local anglers who have notes on some bodies of water going back decades. I love the thought of having a resource like that. As I said, I just I wish better at it. This blog definitely helps, as does being a part of my local fly fishing club (we did some tracking this summer on the lakes we fished).

  2. Enjoyable post! Funny how it takes a number of false or staggered starts before note taking becomes a habit. Taking photos (sometimes too many!) works for me, a photo journal of sorts starts to evolve…and I’ll scribble on any scraps of paper and then stuff them in between pages of my notebook. They fall out weeks, and even months later, and then I spend ages trying to decipher what it was I thought was noteworthy at that time.

    1. I’ve got more random scraps of paper with notes scribbled on them than I should. It was even worse when I was focused on writing fiction. These days I use a note taking app on my phone to help with that clutter.

      I feel like this is a good time to dust off the adventure journal and start filling it in again. The adventures I have managed to write down in that book were all excellent (and sometimes intense). Thanks for the comment!

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