Every day or night I spend fishing is different than the day or night before. Water conditions are constantly changing from one day to the next. Not to mention the movements of fish, what depth they’re in, or what they’re eating. Keeping a detailed report on any water you fish, whether it be the smallest ponds and streams to massive lakes, rivers, even saltwater fishing. Remembering water conditions, what time of year, and areas can be difficult. Writing it down doesn’t take to long and will help your case the next time you head out on the water.
The first step of any good fishing report or journal is to be specific. OCD style specific and OCD style organized. Stating the lake or river you were fishing is a good start but those names alone are not detailed enough. Give different spots or stretches of water different names to better organize where you were fishing. Make detailed notes of this water such as underwater structure, the depth you fished or the contours of the shoreline. These details may help you find fresh honey holes or cut down the learning curve during trips to new water.
Make sure to give the date you fished. Even give the time you caught fish if you really feel it's relevant. Some bites are an early or late bite while others are better when fish move to deeper water in the heat of the day. Stating the date gives you an idea over the course of the year how fish moved and staged depending on the time of year. If you fish a certain water for multiple years consistently you will begin to see a pattern that can take a lot of the guesswork out of fishing.
Remember to list the water temperature and air temperature. Both can be important. Water temperature is more important to bass and panfish who live in climates that can have fluctuating water temperatures. You’ll see in certain bodies of water fish may move to the bank to spawn or chase baitfish during different water temperatures. Ponds usually heat up quicker and will offer spawn fishing well before lakes. Shallow water can change five to ten degrees throughout the course of the day and fishing may heat up, much like the water. Air temperature is very important to fly fisherman, more specifically trout fisherman. Different hatches may occur during different air temperatures and these should be duly noted for future reference.
Water levels affect fishing without a doubt. Be sure to note the water level of any lake (mostly impoundments) you fish. This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when fishing lakes. Water level determines everything. For example; what structure is underwater or not, the depth of certain flats and humps, whether a point is exposed or fishable. Knowing water levels (what is high, what is low) and how to fish them is key. Certain levels on certain lakes can be described as almost unfishable because of the scattered cover and scattered fish. Some levels may be cash money for fishing. Other water levels may be good at certain times of year but not at others. Taking note of the water level in your detailed report can help pattern fish faster than just about anything.
Generation and current in rivers and tailwaters should be noted if possible. Some
tailwaters have generation amounts that are unfishable due to high and dangerous waters. Don’t waste another day driving to a fishing hole only to find it ten feet underwater. Make note of your favorite generation levels and a bolded, underlined, note of you not so favorite generation levels. Sometimes current is a hard value to find but if you can, write it down, in fact if you have any doubt that it may help you catch fish, write it down. Your reports can never be too detailed.
Tides in saltwater fishing are probably the biggest uncontrollable factor in any kind of fishing in the world. Knowing the tides and how to fish them is a slightly more complex challenge then matching the hatch on a trout stream. Tides can fluctuate dramatically even in the course of a day. Remember to always note the tide level you fished in your report. Keeping a record of where you were at what tide can help you in the future when similar tides are present.
Now for the fun stuff, what the fish are eating. Obviously a key point in your report or journal or diary or whatever you want to call it should be the fly or flies you used. Don’t just note the flies that worked either, list the good and bad patterns to help eliminate the trial and error portion of your time on the water. Make sure to list size, materials, thread color, anything different about the fly pattern you deem unique. Write a detailed paragraph on how your top rig was set up, including line size, weight (if any), and distance dimensions (if you were fishing some form of indicator or dropper rig). Drawing a picture isn’t a bad idea either, but that’s not for all of us.
Finally the last thing to remember is that we can’t eliminate all the guesswork, but we sure can try. Write down anything and everything you think is important. Don’t be lazy or skimp on the details in your report/diary/journal thing. It’s kinda fun to do I think, and it can definitely help.