By Nick Simonson

There have been a lot of changes in my life over the past five years. I've lived in two states and three towns and have had six different jobs, with this one being the most consistent. In that time I've fished over 60 lakes and rivers, gaining some level of familiarity with all of them. And though the waters I frequently fish have changed over the years, my habit of keeping a fishing journal remains the same. And thanks to this process, and my ability to customize it, I have found patterns that exist from water to water, and sometimes even across species, which I build on for even greater success in the future.

Fishing diaries help remember your angling experiences.

Fishing Diary Details Great and Small

My fishing diary is less like diaries and more like an IRS form (but one that's actually fun to fill out) complete with dates, places, notes, and some crude drawings that sometimes more like a drunken Pictionary effort than a lake map, but I can generally recall where they point to. Each page, and more so each year's completed diary, provides me with permanent written insight into what I was doing, what was working and what was biting. Even if I was on a lake just once, that entry provides a snapshot of what I experienced and I can take that information with me for the next trip and avoid some guesswork in the process.

Recording a trip is quick and easy with a standard form, and the one I made for myself five years ago has gone mostly unchanged. From basic information such as water, date, who I was fishing with and time of day, to the more specific details such as lures, bait, depth, location, moon phase and weather conditions, all of my data is written into or marked in fields on this one convenient page. All the fields help provide details of what was happening and my success or lack thereof. However, as I have ventured into other realms of angling, I have found that modification to my standard fishing diary entries has helped in my fishing endeavors.

Adjust on the Fly

Particularly for fly fishing trips, ice fishing trips and outings for muskellunge I have found it necessary to alter my fishing diary pages. As these varieties of fishing are quite different than a standard run for river walleyes or an outing for bass, it is nice to have fields that correspond to each style of fishing. For example, fly fishing may require alteration of flies, tippet sizes and lines and may be very dependent on what is happening in the world around the water such as changes in flows, insect hatches, and other variables. I add in these fields to document those events on my fly fishing form.

Ice fishing is a different world altogether, for both angler and fish. The hardwater season requires different fishing methods and more precision with lures and finicky fish. My ice fishing page addresses those conditions and has fields like "tip-ups used" and "holes punched" to keep track when those efforts work best.

Muskie fishing is unique in the fact that the fish are notoriously tough to catch and just seeing one can be considered a successful outing. Noting the where, when and what lure a big fish followed is important for subsequent trips, because yesterday's lazy trailing fish at the cabbage patch on the twelve foot hump might be next week's vicious strike on a figure-eight at boatside. My muskie journal pages reflect these facts, with a bigger space for maps and GPS coordinates to document encounters and it includes categories such as "sightings," and "follows" along with the standard "fish caught" category.

The Big Picture

Ultimately, all of these pages end up in a binder for a particular angling year, with each journal beginning with the first open water trip of the season and ending with the last ice fishing outing. By comparing journals, taking note of weather, dates, and moon phases, I've been able to calculate when the best fishing is for my favorite species. Walleyes run hard from the end of March into late April on my home river, and then usually spawn and are slow until mid-May. Smallies fill the void during that time and then they spawn and fire up again in June. Many of my biggest largemouth come after July 4, when the water on my favorite bass lakes warms up and brings them under the docks.

When correlating moon phases with fishing success, I've found that for muskies, bass and late summer walleyes, the full moon date and the days around it have brought big fish to boat consistently. Through the hundreds of previous outings cataloged in my fishing diaries, I am able to determine dates and conditions, which lend themselves to good fishing.
As open water seasons approach, try making up a sheet that fits your style of fishing, or use a page from my book to get a start on your fishing journal. When the pages pile up and the bigger picture comes together, you'll begin to notice patterns and identify probabilities that will lead to more success…in our outdoors. (Visit or click the image below for a sample fishing diary that you can use to start your own angling diary.)