O.K., I’ll be honest, I preach a good game, but when it comes to doing all I could do, following the wise advice of those much more experienced than I… well, I can’t say I am the most astute. You see, for me fly fishing is the experience! Am I looking to catch fish? Absolutely! Do they need to be monsters? Absolutely not! I get a kick out of being “one with nature, in the moment, yada, yada, yada.” BUT, with that I do realize I am missing a lot of fish. Every year I take several trips to Northern MI, and the Au Sable River. I fish many of the same spots. Do I learn from my past experience? A bit. I know I could do better if, for example, keeping a journal of my fly fishing experiences in those spots that I frequent.
Write It Down
A journal you ask? Yep, a journal. One of the keys to fly fishing success is to keep track of and learn from your experiences. If you write down some key variables, you can look back and compare the current situation to the past to see what worked, and what didn’t. The easiest way to accomplish this is to get a notebook. You know one of those that are a decent size and have a firm cardboard cover. You want it big enough to capture enough information to make it of value. There are actually several good journals that you can purchase that are already “set up” to capture many of the needed information. Simply do a Google search for “fly fishing journal” and you’ll see plenty of options.
What information am I talking about? Some folks just jot down a few data points, while others, well, they seemingly write a novel from each day on the river. Here’s a list of possible data points:
- Weather; sunny, overcast, windy (out of what direction), temperature
- Water Temperature
- Water flow rate as measured by Discharge in Cubic Feet p/Second*
- Gage Height*
- Any current Hatches based of the local hatch chart, then what is really coming off the water
- The method of fly fishing; dry flies, nymphs, emergers, streamers, did you have a dropper fly and which did the fish strike on, etc.
- What types of flies you have fished with
- What you caught (or not)
- Recent weather
You may find you want to record other variables that you find useful.
* USGS River Data
One comment on the water flow rate, discharge rate, and gage height. These metrics are really measurements of how high the water is, and how fast the water is flowing. Great information to know BEFORE you hit the water. Where do you find this information? The USGS has a great website where they track various spots along quite a few rivers in each state (website is here: USGS River Data). Simply select your state, and you’ll see a map of those rivers that are monitored. Click on that river and it will provide you with the above data points. This is an incredible tool to use to see how the river changes during the year and year over year.
You’ll Be Saved
Now, no two days on the river are exactly the same. That is part of the point in keeping a journal. Every time you fish the same spot or river and keep a record, you start to see some patterns. These are the gems of information that may save your adventure from being completely unproductive to actually catching fish.
When you get to the river, take out your journal and look back at your prior experience. Look for those days where the past is similar to the present in terms of those data points you recorded. Of course as they say on Wall Street, “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” however the more you are aware of how all of the variables impact the fish, the better your odds of success.
Does it work? Well, not for me because I’m not smart enough to keep a journal. However, my buddy and fly fishing mentor is religious at keeping his journal. Whether we’re in a drift boat or wading, he’s got his journal and refers to it often, and from that journal he’s got that insight to be better prepared to for the day on the river. And I’ve seen it pay off. Think of it as having a local guide with you in written form. Or a map if you will of what part of the river to focus on, what flies to use, and how to fish them based on what is going on that particular day.
Fish are wryly creatures. They are highly sensitive to their environment. Us fly fisherman need to be students of that environment and how it impacts the behavior of the fish to increase our odds of success. Some of us are better students than others, and a journal will help you learn more and be better educated to improve your odds on the water.