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Volume 2,  Issue 7 -  July 2003


Documenting Pays Dividends By Scott Bonnema

Your sister likely kept it under lock and key and buried beneath the mattress. Scribed in it, were the pieces to the puzzle of her life, some chronological and factual, others whimsical and emotional. Whatever its contents, though, they mattered.

As a youth, I never documented my every deed or feeling, but respect those who did. For theyíll forever possess a written memory of childhood that even hypnosis cannot elucidate. As a tournament angler, I understand the long term significance of generating records on the water, jotting down the good and bad for future reference.

It matters not if youíre a professional bass fisherman or weekend ice angler. The wisdom of experience Ė notes in your journal Ė will one day reapply directly to the body of water at hand and likewise translate, in some fashion, to similar circumstances elsewhere.

My keeper of commentary is basic too. Itís a simple 9.5Ē X 6Ē spiral notebook, the multi-subject type. I stow it in a watertight, Ziploc freezer bag along with a ballpoint pen, permanent marker, and a highlighter to colorize the most critical of the critical.

The package is kept handy too, right on the deck in plain sight. Notebooks that are tough to access Ė like in a storage compartment Ė donít welcome as many entries. Trust me, they just donít. To journal at all is better than to not, but random doodles and scribbles donít come together and fashion a comprehensive picture. Fishing notes need to be organized, as well as thorough. And through trial and error, Iíve established the most important items to put down on paper.

Date and Time of Day
Fundamental as they seem, these are weighty matters and worthy of discussion. The date and associated notes of a fishing trip are always germane to consequent outings to the same place. For instance, if you hooked a bevy of bass on Lake X in May, itíd be wise to revisit it, or lakes like it, the following spring.

Time of day is relative to feeding periods. As a general rule, certain species, like bass and walleyes, feed more aggressively at or near sunup and sundown. But thatís not always the case. So if the bite on a particular lake, for whatever reason, ignites at noon, it must be recorded. And when doing so, keep in mind associated factors such as depth, water clarity, and lure types.

Water Clarity and Depth
Again, these might seem like no-brainers, but by accounting for depth and water conditions you can accelerate the search process on subsequent trips. Say, for instance, itís early June and youíre banging bass in four feet of super murky water on a chartreuse spinnerbait. The colored water, as expected, warmed early, consequently activating bass and attracting forage. Take note, because this straightforward formula is undoubtedly applicable elsewhere, not to mention on the same lake year after year.

The same archiving procedure goes for midsummer, when bites develop deeper, say on an established weedline or offshore hump. Make careful observations of the exact depth and coloration of the water, not to mention structure, lure, and species of weed under scrutiny. Itís all meaningful data.

How Big and How Many
As a tournament angler, itís doubly important for me to not only know what species dwells in a particular area, but also how the size structure ranges and what sort of volume I can expect to catch.

Some spots are geared for size, others numbers. That classification can change throughout the year too, making it crucial to make such distinctions in your notebook. By doing so, youíll have a better handle on where to begin when next season rolls around.

Type of Structure
This data goes hand in hand with depth. Did the fish come off a rock ledge or was it deep timber? These are decisive and transferable aspects. For example, if a rock bite is recognized, that knowledge can usually be transferred to similar formations on the same lake, as well like structure on comparable lakes.

Lure Selection
This oneís big, really big. The marketplace is flooded with far too many shapes, sizes, and colors to trust your memory every time you pop a fish. Did that bass slam a blue jig with black pork or was it a black jig with a blue craw? Canít rememberÖ Your notebook can, though.

I keep close tabs on what lures work, as well as those that donít, paying close attention to make and model. Lure weight is noted too, as is color and any special modifications that were made. And if the lure was dressed with a trailer, like a grub or craw, thatís jotted down as well.

Live bait is treated similarly. If walleyes are slurping large spottail shiners on a reef in June, my notebookís getting saturated with ink. And you can bet Iíll be back out there next June with a bucket of large spottails.

Filing and Sorting
Iím a pen and paper guy. I canít foresee myself ever sitting at the console stroking keys on a computer. But once my notebook overflows, I do key the data into my desktop computer and christen a new notebook for the boat.

In a simple program like Microsoft Word you can organize and file information taken from written notes, making the data far more readable and searchable.

Photo Documentation
In my boat, photos arenít reserved exclusively for fish. Like a notebook, the camera is a tool for recording poignant elements of a fishing trip. Maybe itís where a certain sunken tree lines up with a cabin or particular and productive patch of bulrushes sits in a sea of stems. These are details that easily fade from memory, but live indefinitely on film.

But more often than not, I bypass snapshots and reach for my Fuji FinePix 2650, a truly affordable digital camera. It shoots wonderful images that can be downloaded directly into my computer, creating the complete high-tech archive.

Editorís note: Scott Bonnema is a touring bass professional who fishes tournaments and offers instructional seminars throughout the Midwest. Heís a member of the Rapala Team, and Pro Staffs of Fuji Film, Northland Tackle, Ranger Boats and Mercury.

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