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Logbooks and Topographic Maps

An angler's approach to better catching
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Published on FishExplorer.com
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I am going to warn you now, if you continue reading this article and follow the advice given, you may hate me in the near future. Heck, you may hate me three years from now. However, I am willing to take the risk, as the following information, I have come to find out, is worth its weight in gold.

It started a couple of years after I moved to Colorado. I was living in Aurora at the time and my favorite body of water was Cherry Creek Reservoir. My job was pretty close to the Reservoir, so after work I would head over to the Creek and fish into the morning for my favorite species, channel catfish. The first time I caught a walleye, I can honestly say that I had no idea what I had caught. Having grown up in California, walleye were not a species that I was familiar with. I learned two things with my first walleye. The first thing was that they have really sharp teeth. The second was that I was in a whole new world, one in which I would have to learn some aspects of fishing, all over again.

I realized that my quest for the bigger channel cats, or any species for that matter, would need to be closely watched. I needed to “re-learn” everything I knew about fishing; I needed to take notes. When I started a log book of my fishing adventures, I was certain that it was going to be a game of patience. There was no way that this new “chore” would pay over night, but I couldn’t help but think that it would pay years down the road. I will be honest; it is a tough go at first. I am not sure about you, but my typical night after any fishing trip is a drink, some good food and music, and a bed not far away. The last thing I wanted to do was write notes in a log book for ten minutes or so, and try to remember my fishing trip.

The Log Book

My first trips logged were pretty simple. I felt that writing down what I had caught, along with what bait I used, was enough. In time, the log book took on more and more information, most of which I was finding to be important as I learned about my environment. I learned where yellow perch hung out at Pueblo in the summer, and started to accumulate somewhat reliable spots for summer time walleye. Soon, I was logging air temperature, water current direction, wildlife activity, wind headings, and bottom structure. The types of fish caught and what bait was used was now accompanied with the exact time that I caught it. I began to log underwater vegetation, and its state. Was it brown and dying, or alive and green? Was it thick? As time moved on, I also began to note water temperatures. After a few months of this I had at least a few bass spots, and a novice understanding of wiper movement in the north coves. It was information overload at times, but easily organized in my log book. So, what conditions do I log in my book today? Here is a list of information I record:

  • Location (number that will correspond to your map)
  • Date
  • Time fishing (start/stop)
  •  Air and wind (temp/wind heading/wind speed)
  • Water and cover (temp/substrate/foliage/type of cover/water level/visibility)
  • Bait used
  • Fish caught (time/bait caught on/size)
  • Other notes (pressure/animal activity/etc.)

What a typical trip looks like logged

I will expand on location shortly. Just know that with each new spot you fish, it will need a corresponding number to go with it. If you fish that area multiple times, then use that same number. The date and time is self-explanatory, but I will offer some detail into what I put in the other sections. In regards to air and wind, I like to note the temperature, and how much it fluctuated over the trip. I record if the wind was heading in one direction, did it change over the course of the trip? With water conditions, visibility and water temperature are very important. What I find to be even more important at times is the bottom substrate and structure. Substrate is a fancy word for “soil”, in simpler terms. Were you fishing in pea gravel, mud, or rip-rap? Also, what kind of foliage was around, and was it healthy? If there was a drop off, how far was it out? The section where the fish caught, as well as the bait you used, is easy enough to figure out.

What about that “other notes” section? This is the section that you are going to want to note anything that caught your eye or curiosity. At times, it is the biggest piece of the puzzle. What you put here? How many anglers were out that day? Were there a lot of folks trolling? How big was that swarm of birds on the west end, and how long did they stay? How was the trip overall, and is the spot I fished worth a second shot? Did you miss a big fish? Were the majority of the fish you caught smaller than average?
 
And the most overlooked information to add is what didn’t work. We all know the great feeling of figuring out what color works best, but you also want to know what colors or baits didn’t. By logging this information over time, I was able to figure out, almost to the day, when walleye go nuts for leeches at Pueblo. I am not talking about a catch here and there; I am talking about a leech apocalypse goin’ on under the water. It took many different baits and situations (and time logging) to figure that out, and it still holds true today.


The Topographic Map

About a year later, I found out about “Fish ‘n’ Maps.” This is a company that was founded by a man named Curtis Sporbert. He had taken interest in the research of a man named Buck Perry, who had earned a reputation as a great structure fisherman, as well as a person who understood under water topography (and its importance). Long story short, we have a huge library of underwater topography, of the most popular waters in Colorado. So, now that I was able to see the underwater structure better with these maps, I was able to correlate that information towards what I was putting in my log book. With each trip I began to mark exactly where I was fishing onto my map, by writing a number next to the spot. After a few years my maps of Cherry Creek, Aurora Reservoir, and Pueblo Reservoir started to look like they had chicken poxs. Red dots with corresponding numbers began to pop up everywhere!

With every new area fished, always make notes with a corresponding number. This way, you will know exactly where you were fishing when looking at older logged trips

 

 

Oh, but the story of compiling my information doesn’t stop there! I soon after found this same company not only makes a book of their maps, but they sell large prints of their maps as well. I bought the map for Pueblo Reservoir, as this, I had decided, was going to be my stomping grounds for at least the next decade.  I also got a large cork board and pins, and started to log “hotspots” on my map. All the information that I had in my map “book” was transferred to my map “poster”, with the poster eventually becoming the final map that I stuck with. I still use the map book for logging bodies of water that I fish less often, as well as my numbering system for spots fished, so consider buying it as well. If you skip out on purchasing the book, you can still simply number the spots on the poster alongside its corresponding pin. It should be noted to, that the topographic maps still require some hands on knowledge of the structure. Over time, I have found that some of the bottom contours of Pueblo have changed. So some feeling out of the water is required to accurately log where you were fishing, and next to what.

By using pins of different colors on a pin board, you can organize what species you caught in a specific area

This model however, isn’t going to work for everything, and sometimes changes will need to be made to how you log. The above examples are from the “still fishing” perspective. If you are walking say, a mile stretch of shore and tossing baits, you can note where you started (Point A), to where you stopped and started to walk back (Point B). If fishing in a boat, I find that simply marking the area you fished in is enough. There may be times that you want to mark a hole, but I find that in a boat you move a lot as is.

Just make sure that you place the corresponding pin color next to each fish on the maps species key. Confuse your hot spotting friends by hiding the key when they come over to visit!

As many know, there are a ton of various cell phone applications and charting programs, some of which are already on your fish finder. The only problem I have with this is that things break. If you have an application that will save your logging onto the internet, great! Speaking of which, upgrading to an FXR-plus account on FishExplorer.com will give you a section where you can easily organize your trips in a similar fashion, all while giving you the comfort of knowing that it will stay in cyberspace forever. Should you choose to not sign up for any given reason, the information will still be available should you ever re-up your subscription. Pretty cool! I suppose I am just old school. I like the idea of having all the information in a book, that over time will show the signs of my growth and knowledge in pages. Who knows, maybe if I am lucky enough to have a kid someday, I can leave the log book to my kid in my will. Lord knows I won’t have any money!
 
Here are a couple more tips, for your information accumulation efforts: 

  • Should the body of water you fish, at any time drop significantly in water level, take pictures. Although Pueblo is currently suffering with its water levels, I took advantage of the situation. By taking pictures of dried up coves, I was able to see every log, bush, channel, and feeder creek that normally would be under water. It won’t help now, but in a year or two things will be back to normal, and I will know exactly what is under water!
  • There are many affordable hand held GPS units, some of which are already on that fancy phone in your pocket. There are also a few apps I have heard of that will allow you to chart coordinates relatively accurately. Why not note this in your logging as well, more information never hurt, as knowledge is power.
  • Whatever you do, DON’T become lazy with this. Discipline is needed to accurately log a trip, and should be done as soon as you get home. It’s not always  realistic, but if you get complacent the whole effort is for nuthin’. This past year I did this, and fifteen trips later I found that I had yet to log any of them Fortunately enough for me, I remembered the most important stuff and logged it. It also took three hours to do so, since I had to painstakingly break down my catches, baits used, etc. Take the ten minutes and do one trip at a time, instead of scratching your head for hours.
  • As mentioned prior, many fish finders on the market now allow you to upload logging specifics, such as coordinates. Many also, allow you to set way points for trolling or bass runs along the shore. Use this information, and log it accordingly as well.
  •  Log every species you catch. Although it is tempting (and time saving) to just log your target species, you never know when another species may peak your interest. Sometimes, other species activity can actually correlate to what you target the most. If you are catching bluegill, the cats may be close, so log it.

 
The Day It Came Together

The day it all came together, I was about three years into my project. The night prior to a particular outing, I was staring at my topographic map for Pueblo. I sat there and thought ‘when is this all going to fall into place?’ I had been noticing that one area of Pueblo was increasing my catch rates substantially with channel cats, but that other similar areas were not. It really started to tick me off, so I began to thumb through the log book.
 
I noticed that the area in mention (that was producing) had a significant channel nearby. The other areas didn’t, so I continued to dissect these trips. I was using all the standard bait’s (shad, chicken liver, night crawlers). However, I did notice that the last few trips to the 'honey hole,' I was using an increased amount of shad.  I then saw that the very last trip I in fact was only using shad, gizzard shad cut into smaller cuts, and I did well with the cats. Then, I noticed something even more exciting!
 
The last trip out, during which I had just used shad, I noticed that the wind was pushing moderately strong into a cove throughout the night. It was a cove directly south to where I was fishing, and only a hundred yards away. I then noticed that I had made two similar trips to that same spot that had very similar wind conditions, and on those trips I found that I had done well there. I looked at one trip, in which the wind was heading the opposite direction, and noticed that I had been skunked. What did I happen to use on that trip? Shad! I looked at the weather forecast, and the wind was just barely going to match that south heading I was lookin’ for. I was excited to see what the next night might bring. As it turns out, I got into some cats.
 
It turns out that I was fishing a transition area. The bait fish were being pushed into the cove by the wind, and in true predatory fashion the cats followed. The best action was during a rather small window of time, about three hours prior to sun up. They moved in, ate like pigs, and went back to their channel. They weren’t traveling far at all and saving energy to boot. In similar conditions, and with the reservoir’s water levels holding constant at the time, it turned out to be a go to pattern for the rest of that year. We tried this same pattern out recently, and with the cove’s current water levels, it was a useless attempt. We did however fish coves that had a very similar environment to that honey hole I had found just two years prior, same bait, same wind, and a similar channel. It worked. Also, by having a rough estimate of when they were going to come out of the channel, we were able to stay on channel cats nearly the whole trip. We fished the channel, followed them into the cove, and back out again all in the span of fourteen hours. My patience had finally paid off. Logging my fishing wasn’t a waste of time after all.

 

© 2017 Shantro Buck