Dear Diary

Starting your own little red book
Fishing notes
Photo: George Costa

I've got a guy. You've probably got one too. He's the guy you call when you’re heading out someplace you only fish every so often and need some intel. He always seems to know when and where to go and where the fish will be. Is it a sixth sense? The knowledge gained through experience? Sure, it may be, but the odds are better that he's got a notebook, or in my guy’s case, a crusty old manila folder that looks like it's been around since the Reagan administration.

These are the guys that catch the fish. Not just because they’ve put it the time, but because they’re not lazy and they take notes on every detail that affects their fishing, every single time they hit the water.

Anglers are faced with so many variables and even a small change in one of them can be the difference between a lousy trip and one for the books. There are volumes of good information to record every time you chase fish that will pay dividends down the road.

WHAT did you fish for? Trout, carp, steelhead, stripers, tarpon? Consider keeping a separate book for different species if you’re lucky enough to get out that often.

WHERE were you lucky enough to go? A Keys flat you found on Google maps? The West Branch of the Delaware? Your local koi pond? Location, location, location — the realtor’s mantra. Be very specific in your notes. From year to year, fish may move from where you found them last time you were there. After a few years you may discover patterns that will allow you to find fish more consistently and target them more confidently.

WHEN did you go? Date, time, all that jazz. In addition what where the hatches like? Was it June 28th on the Madison and Salmon flies were all over the place? How about the tide? Did you write that down? Saltwater guides live and die by the tide, you should too. When you went should include the really pertinent data. Wind, rain, pressure, water temp, water flow, turbidity and so on. Keep track of the little things. Rather, there are no little things. Did it rain three day before you got there? Were the water levels dropping or rising? Did last week nor’easter push that sand bar 100 yards down the beach? This is the data you’ll need to really build your knowledge and identify patterns over the years.

WHO did you go with? Was it a long time fishing buddy or some hack guide you found on Craigslist? Often this is the choice that leads to a memorable trip, be it a good one, or the worst day of your life floating down the river with Hungover Jones rowing the boat. Who you went with, and who found success or failed to, can also tell you a lot about what worked and what didn't. Maybe it was your buddy with the out-of-sight reach cast, or the one who's great at swinging big meat. Maybe it was pounding the banks from the guide's drift boat when you've otherwise only fished it on foot.

WHY did you go? No, not that you had the day off from work or you were feeling blue and wanted to get out to the woods. Keep track of why you made the choice to fish on the days that you did. After you compile enough data, you can look back on your records and choose the days when you’ll most likely have success in the future and justify to your family why you need to go fishing. “Honey I don’t care if it’s Aunt Mable’s 93rd birthday! The steelhead have been running great this weekend every year since 1998!”

HOW did you fish? Did you swing flies for chrome? Nymph up some brown trout? Throw 8/0 fish head flies at mako sharks? What worked and what didn’t work that day? How you chose to fish and the success you had will determine how you chose to fish and make you a more successful angler in the future.

So get yourself that nice Moleskin notepad with the pretty filigree on the cover. Keep those notes nice and neat, build your knowledge and before you know it, you’ll be someone’s guy.


Good read. Im very anal when it comes to stuff like this. This is the format I use for my log -

DATE - x/xx

- Stream name, County.
- Parking Location - location of parking spot
- Time - time of day (start time to end time)
- Water Condition - description of water / Water Temperature - xx*
- Air Temperature - xx* / Conditions - weather condition
- PFBC Notes - stocking info, ect
- Biomass - A, B, C, ect / Water Quality - EV, HQ-CWF, ect
- Gear - rod length & weight / line weight & type
- Successful Flies - flies used to catch/attract fish

*Breif description of experience, noteable items, ect*

And here is the other side. I am not a detail guy. But, I have kept a journal pretty consistently since 1977. While I do not have near the detail (usually just general weather, water level, flies used, etc) it has allowed me to look back and see some patterns. Additionally, since I have moved around the northern rockies a fair bit, I have a record to look for when I return somewhere and just for some entertaining reading when I look at old journals. Talk about what you remember and tell your buds (and yourself) and then read about it in your journal from 10 years ago and find out the real happenings - make syou realize why eyewitness accounts can't be trusted!