Keeping a fishing diary

Keeping a fishing diary

At some time during your fishing career you will have the desire to join the ten percent of anglers who catch ninety percent of the fish. When you think for a minute about that statement you will realise that there are many people out there fishing and not getting the results that they would like. I have no idea who came up with those statistics originally, but after many years working around the industry from all angles I would agree that they are probably fairly accurate.

To get into the Ten Percent Club requires that you sacrifice a lot and to be prepared to spend a lot of time and, indirectly, money in reaching this achievable goal. You have to want this with a passion. It won’t come easy and it won’t come fast. (Allow a minimum of ten years) Achieving it could be the best experience of your whole life, though.

Where do you start?

First you need to decide which avenue you are going to take. Will it be trout fishing? Trout on the fly? Surfcasting? Game fishing? Coarse fishing? Snapper catching? Saltwater fly fishing? You will need to decide and to focus all your attentions on the one subject. Later you can add to your ten-percent membership with other categories, but for a start just concentrate on one thing.
snapperLet’s assume that you have decided to earn your membership by pursuing trout on fly.
This is going to be like going back to school. Get yourself a large exercise book to keep your notes in. This might become the basis of a book or magazine articles you write later in life. Your first course of action will be information gathering. If you don’t have a fishing diary then start one. Note all the information you can, on every fishing trip you make. Even things that seem insignificant at the time could be the piece of the jigsaw of information that you are missing at a later date.

What should be in your diary?

Here are some headlines to work from:


Be exact — not just river or lake name. Eg. Tukituki River, 1 km above Red Bridge.


Note wind, cloud cover, precipitation, temperature.

Water quality:

Clarity. Work out a measure that you can use for constant monitoring of water clarity.

big snapperCatch: 

Record every fish hooked (this is most important as your success here is not related to what you land, just the fish you fool, landed or not). Sizes are unimportant, but could be of use at a later date.


Record the rod and line used, weight of leader, flies used, noting if they caught fish or not.


Keep a record of the time you spent on the water. You will be able to work out catch rates from this. If you fish more than one location note the time spent at each.
General observations: Keep an eye on other anglers and record their successes as well as yours. Note weather changes during the day; you will be able to play that info against your catch to see if it was related. Note changes in river levels or clarity, the pressure from other anglers and anything else that happens during your fishing day, eg. Mayflies hatched at 3pm.

Some of this may seem silly and unimportant, but you will thank me for suggesting it in later years. 

Be very particular about filling in your diary; you will understand why in about five years’ time.

Once a month take time to study your diary. Note how fish are reacting differently from one area to another and through the seasons. Keep a list of the flies that are successful as well as a list of those that are not. Try and work out why some work and some don’t. Is it the food forms that you are imitating or is there a colour preference starting to appear in your results?

When you study your diary take notes in your exercise book and try to match up common happenings. Eg. I always catch fish at Lake Tutira (or Okataina) when the wind is strong from the northeast. Or, I never catch fish on the Tongariro when the water temperature is below 40 degrees F. Or, I always catch fish there when the water temperature is 43 degrees.

It won’t be long before you are getting the hang of picking the best spot to go from the information gathered in your diary. If you were catching fish at the mouth of the Waiotaka River in March last year, then it would be a good spot to start looking in March this year. Memory is not good enough.

Get into the habit of this information recording, it is very important.

Next you will need to do some fieldwork. You can leave the rod at home for this part of your trout education. Take time to walk tributaries where trout will be spawning in the winter. Sit on the bank and watch them. Use binoculars to get an intimate look at what is going on. You will be surprised at what you will see. You will see many things that you may miss with the naked eye. Study the things that appear to motivate them. Do the jacks act differently to the hens? How do they relate to each other? Are they territorial? Don’t be afraid to take notes. Go back to the same spot when there are different weather conditions and see if the fish are behaving differently.

Walk the popular fishing areas of your local rivers and watch the other anglers.

Learn from them where the best spots are and watch how they fish them. Note if someone is having success with a particular method. Watch the way they approach water that you are familiar with. What are they doing differently to you? Are they more successful? Try talking to the successful anglers. They will quite likely be prepared to help you out where they can. They may pass on valuable information such as a particular sink rate of line that they are catching fish with, or a fly size that seems to be working best at a particular time. Write it down for future reference.

Note how bankside vegetation changes through the year.

Willows that offer food and cover during the summer months will be thin, denuded stakes in the winter and offer little if any cover. The trout will move to better areas when the leaves drop, but you will know that and have it recorded in your exercise book.

Does all this sound a bit boring and are you noting that you are not hard out fishing all the time? I am afraid that it is what is required to gain the knowledge to open the door to the ten-percent club.
You may think that just by fishing every spare minute that you could get good enough to join the club. It won’t happen. You need the experience and knowledge passed on by others to complement your own experience. That brings us to another part of the course. This is reading (and understanding) the words of others on your chosen subject. Start at the library — you will be amazed at the number of books and videos that are available on trout fishing. Devour the books and write out any passages that you consider important into your exercise book. It won’t be long before you start collecting your own library together.

Read any magazines that you can get your hands on. These will keep you current with the latest advances in tackle and ideas from around the world. Don’t discount anything you read or you may just miss out on being a trendsetter rather than a follower. If someone says that blue Glo Bugs work well on the Waimarino River, take a note and try it next chance you get. The one thing that you laugh off and fail to note in your exercise book could be the latest development in fishing technique and something that you will need to know and understand if you are to advance your standing in the fishing community.

Constant reviewing of your notes is important because, as your ideas develop and change something that wasn’t important last month may be well worth noting now. While all this is going on you need to hone your basic skills. How many fishers actually practice casting? You will find that ninety percent of the ten-percenters do. I like to get out in the back yard and work my way around the trees and select difficult targets to try and reach. I usually have a cat or two to act as trout during these training sessions. Skills honed at home can be invaluable on the river.

Another skill to practice is trout spotting and stalking.

Sorry about this but you should leave your rod at home for this one too. Go to a river where there are plenty of trout present and try sneaking up on them. See how close you can get before spooking them. Don’t get distracted by wanting to fish. Take notes on where you find the fish. Eg. “River clear, temperature 46 degrees F. Browns lying along the edges. No sign of rainbows today.”

Get into fly tying.

Experiment with ideas. Use your knowledge of trout foods to come up with your own patterns. I did just that many years ago. I wanted a mobile night fly for Taupo, one that would give off good fish attracting vibes. All but the rabbit flies were too stiff. I came up with what is now known as Gary’s Green Marabou. I hate to think how many fish this simple pattern has taken over the years. It is now tied commercially and is a very popular pattern. You can do the same and if you come up with a winner it will give you an edge.

Now comes the time to put in the hours fishing.

You should be totally familiar with the fish that you are after. What they feed on, what motivates them to feed, what puts them off the feed. This is the time when you are likely to strain relationships. You must be focused on the fishing. You need to get out as much as possible. For me, in my formative years, that involved before work, lunchtimes and after work till midnight. This was in Taupo and I worked in town. To prove a point one day I caught a trout during my morning tea break and was back to work fifteen minutes after I left. 

Make your own assumptions on the right flies and tackle for the day.

Don’t just do what you did last time – try new approaches. You will waste some time but you will also come up with some fish catching techniques that will work when other things don’t. Put yourself in difficult fishing situations in an effort to learn. Don’t go where you know you can catch fish, go to spots where you think that a catch is unlikely and try to work out the secrets of the place. Fish in the crowds, use them as a gauge of your prowess — try to be in the top ten percent of achievers that are present on any day. Count your success by the number of fish that you get takes from, not the number landed. Fish in overgrown places where your casting practice will be of great use. You will find that ninety percent of the anglers avoid such spots. Hang on, could that be an indicator that you are on the right track?

If you get the chance to travel and to fish distant waters, make the most of it. Take notes of your experiences and talk to any anglers you meet. Their approach to their water may well be easily adapted to your waters at home. Soak up the experience and learn from all you meet.
Don’t expect a diploma at the end of this or even a membership card to say that you have made the grade as one of the ten percent of anglers who catch ninety percent of the fish. No one is likely to say, “You must be one of the ten percent club now”. By the time you have achieved that status it won’t even be important to you to be recognised as a ten-percenter.
You will know that you have made it.

A Blast From The Past!


February 2000 - by Gary Kemsley
This article was originally suppled by
NZ Fisherman Magazine

and reviewed for
2013 by John Eichelsheim
      Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited          

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