By Nick Simonson
Nick with a Devils Lake pike


I've made a list and checked it twice, and last year it turned out to be pretty nice.

In what has become a recent year-end tradition I assembled and updated the list of the various species of fish which I have caught since I first started fishing. In this past year, I am happy to say, I have added four new members to the list: redhorse sucker, brown trout, arctic char and grayling.

A life list is not a new topic in the realm of angling, but it still remains an uncommon one. This list details, in as much or as little documentation, the size, type, and place where a species of fish has been caught. Life lists for angling can be very helpful in remembering times past, improving angling in the future, and enjoyable to look over on a cold day.

Lists can be broken down into species, where the fish was caught, what the fish was caught with, or any one of various categories used by the individual angler. In total my list has 30 fish on it. It includes some of the familiar faces from our area, such as walleye and smallmouth bass. It also has some strangers on it, like the char and some saltwater species like red snapper and triggerfish. It boasts gloriously long northern pike, and diminutive and dark creek chubs. From bass to bullheads they're all there, and that's what makes a life list fun to keep.

Nick with his first brown trout


What also makes it enjoyable is adding your own criteria. The modern-day legend of fly fishing, Lefty Kreh, has assembled an impressive life list of over 70 species of fish caught in both saltwater and freshwater. What is even more amazing is that the list of 70-plus species is for one lure. Using a fly designed to catch smallmouth on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania by another fly fishing guru, Bob Clouser, Kreh took the Clouser Minnow pattern and ran with it. Apparently he ran to many streams, shorelines and estuaries as well. This year I caught three species of fish on the Clouser Minnow myself, so look out Lefty, only 67 fish to go!

Another fun item to include on a life list are the stories behind the first catch of each species, or of the biggest sample of the species an angler might catch. Take, for example, my common shiner story. I was fishing the Turtle River near Grand Forks. It was my first time using the fly rod and I was stalking recently-stocked rainbow trout. I would get a tap on the line, indicating my pheasant tail nymph had been eaten. I would strip the line tight and see a silvery-pink fish come to the surface. Excited that it was one of the small rainbows, I would bring the fish to hand. Five times in a row I felt that rush of excitement, only to have my young fly-fishing emotions played with by a set of five-inch common shiners. I finally did land my first trout on the fly rod that day, and a couple creek chubs as well, adding two new fish to my personal list, and three to my fly rod list.

I also enjoy keeping the length and weight where possible on the fish I add to my life list so I can improve my fishing the next year. This year was a particularly good year in terms of personal bests on my life list. I landed the biggest largemouth bass (21 inches), northern pike (35 inches) and walleye (28.5 inches) of my fishing lifetime. I take those numbers from this year, and add one inch, so that next year I'm on the lookout for that 22-inch bass or 36-inch pike. If I don't clear the new bar I've set for myself, I carry it over to the next year. Such as the 20-inch smallmouth I have pursued for three seasons now. Though I have come close several times with 19.5 and 19.75 inch bronzebacks.

Another fun way of categorizing a life list is by presentation, or lure. I have begun a category for fish on the fly rod, and though I have only caught a select few gamefish and panfish on the long rod, I plan to catch more, such as smallmouth, pike and walleye on the fly in the future. I added white bass to this list last year, and almost had a nice smallmouth too in late August, but was unable to bring him to shore. With life lists, almost doesn't count.

First Artic Grayling


I also like setting up a geographical reference. I have caught fish in a few places, but North Dakota and Minnesota predominate the list. Outside of Florida for some bass and panfish my trips away from home are limited. I do have two different countries on my list after this summer's trip to Norway. I am surprised by the fact that Canada is not on my paper, but I will try to make it there soon, and maybe add some new big pike, bass or walleye to my list.

Life lists aren't always comprised of bragging fish, as many anglers start out with bullheads, bluegills or other less known fish in their angling careers. And though many of the fish on my list, and I'm sure on most people's, aren't popular species or trophies to brag about at the local tackle shop, they are another notch, and that has to be worth some boasting! In fact there are two less appreciated fish I look forward to adding to my list next year, the carp and the ling. In fact, I'm so interested in catching a burbot that I may just stop by the Walker Eelpout Festival this winter. There's always the food stands on the ice to console me if I can't add to the list.

Perhaps when you are staring down that hole or watching your unmoving bobber you can organize a mental list of all the fish species you have When you get home, with visions of fishing trips dancing in your head, write down your list, organize it however you want, state by state or lure by lure, it doesn't matter. Because when it comes down to it, no matter how you lay it out, a life list for fishing is a great way to recall those memorable species you have landed…in our outdoors.