Sometime back around the mid to late 80’s, I worked as a Naturalist for one of the State Park Systems in the Midwest. The job didn’t pay well, but it involved being and working outdoors. I had a two year degree in Zoology and had a pretty good idea of the natural scheme of things. I loved to read about anything that pertained to my job, and one of the best books I found was “The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook” by Vinson Brown. This book opened my mind to more than I could imagine. It stressed one thing that has stuck with me to this day whenever I am out in the field or fishing: “Take notes”!
I have long since lost my handbook, but in the process of my note taking, I have written another one for myself, all jumbled up in a stack of old leather covered journals, the kind that you find at Staples filled with blank pages. I have recently pulled out my oldest one that I first modeled after the handbook, and thumbed through the pages that were dated back to 1992. It was a treasure trove of information that only I could decipher.
My son picked up the book and began reading my entries. He was intrigued by the weather symbols and wind speed numerations. There were algebraic formulas for estimating a fish’s weight without a scale and the formula for converting Celsius to Fahrenheit. There were ballistic formulas for calculating windage and elevation for the days when I would rabbit and goose hunt in the cold winter air. And lastly, there were the notes I took of each and every fishing trip over the years. A notation was made for each fish. I documented the water temperature, air temperature, time of day, and the weather pattern (was it cloudy, clear, windy, or raining?). It was important to know if there was a storm on the way, if there was a storm the day before or earlier in the day. Was it a full moon? Is the water clear or murky? If it is murky, what color is it?
All of those things made a difference. Every subtle nuance of the weather had an effect on the fishing. The only way to learn from it was to document it, study your notes and look for patterns. Then you would try to develop a theory and go back out and test it. If it doesn’t work, write it all down again, rethink it and try again.
Your natural surroundings will tell you a lot if you know how to read them, but you must also look at your unnatural surroundings. Your unnatural surroundings are the effects of you and other people. Regardless of how careful you may be with your actions, you will still leave an impact behind in the environment.
Typically, if you are not alone when fishing, if there are others on the lake, pond or stream, watch them as well. Are they catching fish? What are they using for bait? Talk to them. Some old timers are not willing to share their fishing secrets to just anyone, so be observant and take notes. Look for evidence of others if no one else is present. Subtle clues can help you tremendously.
You can supply yourself very easily to begin concise note taking. All you need is a good, sturdy journal that is available at most stationery stores. I prefer leather bound books, with a snap cover or an elastic band around it. It is easier to carry if it is small enough to fit in your pocket. A good set of mechanical pencils is mandatory. You don’t need a sharpener and they keep easily in a tackle box. Go to a swimming pool supply store (or Wal Mart) and pick up a pool thermometer to measure the water temperature. It helps if you are able to attach a 10 foot cord to it. Keep a small outdoor thermometer with you as well for air temp readings. A small pocket tape measure is also needed. If you have a pair of binoculars, they will come in handy, but they can be optional.
I always kept my journal/note taking equipment in a small rolled up canvas bag that I got form the Army/Navy store, but it is your preference.
Here is a sample from an entry in 1995:
“3-25-95 Malta Bend Community Lake partly cloudy, wind @3 SW, 70 ⁰, turning overcast, beginning light rain with distant thunderstorm, ground wet. Time: 10:00 to 13:30. Water temp 68⁰, clear.
Fishing from boat. Large bass, 2 ½ to 7 ½ lbs. hitting offshore in 2-5 feet of water. Fish biting on homemade crank baits, Pop-r’s. Bite is steady on middle bank on east side. Thunderstorm moving in as bite increased. About 25 fish caught. Fish finder GPS @ 1900.745.6111.00”
Where the notation says “wind @3” does not mean that the wind was at 3mph, rather it was a level 3 “gentle breeze”, which is actually 8-12 mph and “moves leaves, twigs and light flags”.
It is important to realize that each entry in itself may not hold the key to better fishing or understanding of nature’s effect on wildlife, but it is the culmination of an entire season or several seasons’ note taking that will give you better understanding of everything around you. If you have kids and grandkids, your journals will be priceless to them as they begin their outdoor excursions.
Just remember to make sure that you leave the environment the way you found it. Pack your trash out and any other trash you may find. Trash left behind not only looks ugly, it is harmful to the animals as well.
Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to read my article. I hope you found it useful.
©2011 By Del Banks