Writing in a fishing journal

How to Keep a Worthwhile Fishing Journal

Sam Ubl 5.2.2018

Muskie season is largely based upon four seasonal pillars – spring, summer, fall, and for the diehards out there, the “late” season. The transition between the end of summer and the beginning of fall typically lends itself to some of the most exciting outings of the year. Active feeding windows will continue to follow the same conditional patterns throughout the season, but will often last longer as we near the end of August and continue through September – at least that’s what my data tells me. While active feeding windows are heightened throughout the end of summer, success during this period can throw a curve ball at certain presentations that have been working all summer long, not to mention the spots they’ve been most effective on.

Community spots get pounded hard all season and will often continue to get hit up until it closes. If you spend enough time on a certain body of water you will eventually recognize individual boats frequenting the water and you tend to learn the common patterns and presentations applied by those occupying the boats. Many fishermen are creatures of habit – what has worked before will work again – so we fish the same spots and throw the same baits every time out.

fisherman holds a big musky from WisconsinThe author holds a nice musky before releasing it back into the water.

By the end of summer, fish on these community spots have seen it all, heard it all, and potentially felt it all (newsflash: fish don’t like hooks). Conditioning is real and there’s no time of the year this becomes more evident than the end of summer.

It’s this simple concept that I’ll typically change up my presentations and target fresh waters during the late summer period. That doesn’t mean I’ll completely avoid a lake that’s been producing over the course of the season, it just means straying away from the spots I’ve been beating up the last few months. I’ll start searching out areas I’ve kept on the backburner when I’m having a tough day. Usually, these are spots I keep a watchful eye on and don’t commonly witness intrusion by other fishermen. These are my top secret spots I’ve recorded in my journal.

My Grandpa, Tony Ubl, gave me an empty journal to log my hunting and fishing trips in when I was eleven years old. I made my first journal entry in the spring of 1994 and recorded everything, and I mean everything. Date and time stamp, weather conditions, water temperatures, clarity, what was working – what wasn’t. Heck, I even recorded the snacks my Dad had packed for us as a reminder to myself that I don’t particularly favor black licorice.

I’ve recorded hundreds of outings since then, both in the field and on the water. I do my best to record every outing, albeit sometimes I’m a few days behind. And while jotting down what snacks I had in the boat rarely make the cut anymore, recording key takeaways after nearly every trip has provided me with an exceptional informational resource for making decisions in the upcoming years.

fishing journal entry in a notebookA 2016 fishing journal entry from the author.

Thanks to reliable note keeping, I can effectively speak to metrics demonstrating trending active muskie patterns throughout the season.

Data I’ve recorded over the last twenty years has not only helped identify the most opportune times and date ranges to be on the water, it’s also helped paint a clearer understanding of the conditional factors that drive those metrics.

Since I spend the majority of the season targeting home waters, I have names for most of my spots. Some are common names, while others are personal or only shared amongst a close-knit community of muskie anglers in my area. Titles like, the “Yellow Boathouse” remind me of a shoreline spot where something unique about the area appeals to me and is worthy of a couple of casts when I’m out.

Other names are more communal and may be broader or more generic, like the “east end” versus the “west end”. Typically, in this case, the opposite ends of the lake are significantly different – one end may be shallow and weedy, while the other end may be deeper and of different bottom substrate. I’ll typically use more general area titles when I can’t distinctly pinpoint my success on the uniqueness of specific spot, or in other cases when I blank on an outing.

I’ve found that while details are great for telling the whole story, too many details can distract from the big picture.

Spending time recording notes after every outing requires a commitment of your time and your willingness to assert the habit. The first year of taking notes is by far the hardest because the notes you’re taking aren’t as valuable until the following year. However, it’s important to recognize the immediate value of reviewing observations after every outing. This also feeds into the level of detail you include in your notes.

releasing a musky after the catchThis musky will live on to grow and please many more anglers to come.

At first, you’ll find yourself considering all the variables and you’ll write them all down. It’s useful to include additional comments or notes beyond the key takeaways, but it’s easy to get caught up in the details. The more you write, the longer it takes. It’s that very concept that can dissuade you from sticking with the program throughout the course of the entire season – “It takes too long to write all that down,” or, “I don’t feel like writing, I’ll get to it later,” but you never do.

Focus on the big picture, even when your net bag stays dry after an outing. Key takeaways I consider staples in my records include a date and time stamp, water temperature, air temperature, high or low barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, moon phase if it applies, and any lure that may have seen action. Additional comments and notes include observations.

“The water was cloudy compared to normal,” or, “It’s been overcast and raining all week, but today was clear,” are a couple examples of notes I might take.

Other examples of useful notes I might take are, “Big blades have been getting hit all summer on this spot – only follows though lately,” or, “Saw fish caught in front of the big white house with the green Adirondack chairs along north shore – check it out next time”.

Knowledge is power and some of the best lessons learned are those learned through experience. Even the best of memories can’t remember everything, and putting the pieces together off of memory is really just a guessing game. Whether you’re a competitive angler looking for an edge above the competition or just want to maximize your time on the water for simpler reasons, keeping a running journal of your fishing outings can have a tremendous impact on your success – you owe it to yourself.


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