Keeping a log will make you a better fisherman.
Keeping a fishing log is one of the keys to my success in catching more and larger fish- regardless of the kind of fishing I am partaking in. I do not say this lightly, as there are so many components and important skills and attributes that contribute to fishing success. However, documenting my outings has helped me identify patterns, retain important details, and make discoveries I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have made otherwise.
I know many find keeping a log intimidating, or too much work (we’re all so busy these days), but it doesn’t have to be either. Here are a few thoughts to get you started as you think about your upcoming 2022 fishing season, and perhaps starting or upgrading your fishing log.
Lobbying For A Log
Before I detail all the factors you should be recording in your log, I want to make a couple important arguments for keeping a log. First, it’s not hard to remember amazing fishing nights, but we often forget all the bad and mediocre ones. I can remember every detail about my personal bests. Every detailed is burned into my memory, forever; as are most of the other great nights I’ve had reaching back to when I was 7 or 8 years old. However, it’s astonishing how quickly I can forget everything about ho-hum nights that may have just happened as recently as last week. Often I don’t just forget the details, but completely forget I even fished at all! How then would I ever remember what I did 5, let alone 40, years ago? The only way to ensure I will remember, is through my logs; it’s memory insurance.
Still not convinced? Let’s examine a hypothetical scenario. Let’s pretend you’re in a string of skunks and random schoolies at one spot in particular: 12 nights spread out over three weeks. Then, one night the wind turns hard out of the west and you start catching 20- and 30-pound fish. Now, I am going to assume you notice this shift in wind, and then assume you will conclude that west wind is an important, key factor. Next, I’d guess that some of you might proclaim something like “I’ll only fish this spot in west wind from now on!” You’ve figured it all out, right? Well, let me ask you: what were the winds doing the prior 12 trips, over the last three weeks? Were they always south? Were they always weak? Were they against the tide? Sometimes, or always? You probably can’t remember perfectly even a few weeks after, and you certainly won’t remember in another month or two. Or, maybe you can remember, but will you remember every wind detail by next season? How about 20 seasons from now?
Let’s take it one step further. Maybe you have a particularly good memory, and will remember the winds, and it definitely was the only west night of the entire period. So then, I will point out that when you caught that fish it was also onset of the full moon period, and particularly hot weather. Also there was a high prevalence of both cinder worms and squid that week. Also, migration was highly delayed that year. So, was it actually the west wind, the moon, the weather, or the bait? Did the delay in migration matter? How will you remember all that, how will you keep track, and how will you sort through it all?
So then, you show up the following year on a strong west, anticipating a good bite and it doesn’t happen. You wish you could remember any other differences from that night, but all you remember is the wind! So then, the bite doesn’t happen the next year either, and you start thinking that those fish were a fluke, and you’ve wasted time fishing all these strong west wind nights. I’m here to tell you, 30-pound fish hardly do anything random, and there was a reason they were there. If you had a log of everything from that night, you might have figured it out. Even with a log, this takes time; but without a log, you’re almost certain to forget facts, get confused, miss something important, or make associations that aren’t even there. This is why a log is so important.
What To Collect & How
First and foremost, you don’t absolutely need to record tons and tons of information, like I do, but you should always include every trip in your log, no matter how bad or good. Your log is a personal journal, and you don’t have to show it to anyone, so include everything! If nothing else, you can simply write the date, what you caught, and a sentence or two. Even that is better than nothing (though, barely), as it at least will help you remember what time of year you caught a significant fish, and you’d be surprised how a few key phrases can jog your memory. This is certainly a very basic log, but for those that are struggling to keep anything, this is a big step forward. Don’t stress about it not being “good enough”, or a “waste of time” to keep such a limited document. I can assure you: at some point during each season, probably many, you will still turn to it to help you make fishing decisions about where to go or what to do- even if you keep just this tiny, basic log.
However, there are some very basic statistics I believe to be essential if you want to make any proper use of a fishing log. These components are: where you fished, the date and time of the trip, size and number of the fish, air and water temperature, wind direction and speed, and (if this is a saltwater log) the tide. I consider these the absolute bare essentials, and without them, I consider my log incomplete. The next most important things I also include are water clarity, waves and swells, wind gusts, moon stage, and current strength. These aren’t quite as essential, but they’re also not that hard to collect, and I find them all pretty important.
You should strive to get all of these basics down as quickly as possible after fishing. I don’t even wait until I get home. I used to have a notebook in my buggy, but now I simply talk into my phone using a note-taking app. If you have hands-free settings on your phone, you can even do it while driving. My more recent decision to quickly capture the essentials before getting home has made a huge difference in my ability to keep very detailed notes, and never miss logging a trip. With the ability to talk to my Smartphone while on my way home, this process has become extremely easy.
I highly, highly recommend digitizing your logs. You can always print them out if you want hard copies, maybe every few weeks, or at the end of each season. Being able to rapidly view and sort through all the data you collect is so much simpler on a computer. While there are some purpose-built digital programs available, like John Skinner’s FishersLog (which I used for seven years), nothing beats a simple word or data file in my opinion. I particularly like Microsoft Excel these days, or Google Sheets (which is free to use). You don’t need to understand anything besides very basic typing skills, and digital logs are easy to back up over multiple sources. I have my log saved on no less than two hard drives, a computer, and two cloud storage services!
A Step Further
I also like using a rating or ranking system in my log. The easiest is a number system. I tried using a 0-10 ranking for a while, but that was too much. When I started using John Skinner’s FishersLog, I liked that it was simply 0-5. I have since adopted and modified this system in my own file. Having a ranking system allows you to rapidly sort through trips by how good they are. Of course, rankings are relative, and change throughout the season, but it makes it easy to quickly review really good, or really bad, days or nights. I believe there have to be a small number of nights with a “5 rating” in my log, or it doesn’t really mean anything. Save the best ranking for truly the most special nights. Same for zero and one rankings- make sure they’re skunks and abysmal trips. I find two and three nights hard to use and assign scores to sometimes, so I often treat them as the same. Therefore, I’ve thought often about turning my ranking system into a 0-3 system, to make it simpler- you may want to do the same.
The other, more advanced, factor to include in your log is detailed notes. This is the hardest part, by far, but also without question the most rewarding. I generally fill in all the other “stuff” that doesn’t neatly fit in a column or box. This means factors like: plug or fly presentation, how the fish were acting, anything strange or exciting, how I was feeling, what other anglers were doing, or big-picture ideas. These are just a tiny sample of what’s in my ‘notes section’. Essentially, I use the notes as a personal journal that is focused on that nights fishing, but reflects so much more going on in my life. I include a lot about my love for fishing in this section, and also chronicle some of the things going on in my “regular life.” Sometimes, the notes section can get really long- I was just looking over my log from last season, and there are several 1,000-word entries! One in particular, I included almost 2,400 words of notes- that is significantly longer than this entire article!
This brings me to my final point about a fishing log; and mine in particular. It’s extremely motivating for me to read back over my good nights, and humbling to review all the poor ones. It’s not just about hard data. It grounds me, focuses me, and helps me push through tough periods during the season. However, one of the very best parts is, in the winter, looking back over my logs and reminiscing, getting nostalgic, and living vicariously through my historical documentation. It stokes the flame in the darkest, coldest days of the year and something I turn to over and over to keep me sane during the forced hiatus we call the “offseason”. Perhaps you’re wishing you had that right now, too.