How keeping notes nets more fish
Why you should be recording your fishing trips
What’s the most important thing you can do this season to improve your angling success, the one task that will help you quickly catch more and bigger fish? Rick Clunn will tell you it’s keeping meticulous notes—and he should know.
As the all-time leading money winner in professional bass fishing, Clunn is the only angler to ever qualify for 28 consecutive Bassmaster Classics. He’s also the only four-time winner, capturing at least one title per decade since the 1970s.
To say that the 60-year-old Missouri angler is a fanatical note keeper would be an understatement; when practising for a tournament, Clunn takes a break every three hours and pulls out his notebook. Beyond recording the obvious—the number, size and location of the fish he’s caught and the lures he’s used—Clunn also documents details such as water clarity, wind direction and the locations of fallen trees, submerged stumps and aquatic vegetation.
He’ll even sketch diagrams directly onto his lake map or notepad, outlining precisely where various objects are positioned or how a particular piece of structure twists and turns. That way, the next time out he can scoot straight to the sweet spot and accurately position his boat. And as if all that wasn’t enough, he later records everything all over again in a diary at day’s end.
Overzealous, you say? Not according to Clunn, who maintains that after only two or three days on the water, even the most detail-oriented angler can overlook some mighty important facts. For example, he insists that without notes, anglers often think they’ve caught 20, 30 even 40 or more fish when they’ve actually only caught half as many. “We lie to ourselves, and we don’t even know we’re doing it.”
More to the point, Clunn insists that without detailed notes to consult, many anglers exaggerate the importance of certain variables over others. For example, say you catch 20 fish, two-thirds of them from a certain type of structure or cover using a certain lure or technique. You’ll probably remember those variables, but what accounted for the other one-third of the fish? If you don’t keep notes, you’re likely to forget those details.
What Clunn is saying-in a polite way, of course-is that we pander to our preferences. If we enjoy flipping, drop-shotting or ripping jerkbaits, we remember the fish we caught using those techniques and exaggerate their size, while overlooking even bigger fish that we caught with less effort using a lure or technique that may not be our favourite.
Although ritual note-taking can produce immediate results, it also pays extraordinary dividends in the long-term. Armed with a personal fishing log filled with details of a specific lake, river, reservoir, pit or pond, anglers can often eliminate 80 per cent of the water and focus on the remaining fish-filled 20 per cent.
And while the date of the annual fishing trip with your buddies may never vary, things such as water levels, weather conditions and fishing pressure will. Again, though, if you have reliable notes to fall back on, you’re at least equipped to quickly make the necessary adjustments.
“When the average angler arrives at a lake, he is usually overwhelmed,” Clunn observes. “He may do well once every 20 times out, but he dies the other 19 times. What the average angler needs is a more rational way.”
A more rational way that begins with simple record keeping.
Starting a fishing log
Want to start your own fishing log? Here are some of the things you should consider keeping track of whenever you catch fish.
- name of waterbody
- date and time of day
- number and size of fish
- depths, structure and/or cover fished
- GPS coordinates
- water temperature, level and colour
- wind speed and direction
- weather conditions
- lure used (including size and colour)
- amount of time lure used
- technique used
- amount of time technique used
- retrieval speed