Diary vs Memory

I’ve kept a detailed fishing diary since 1998 and a patchier version for a couple of decades before that. The early model has more novelty value than anything because reading back through it just now, it’s clear I only recorded the very successful days. Either that or I was once the greatest flyfisher who ever lived, and I’ve since lost it!

Most of the mates I fish with, and the guides I work with, don’t keep a diary and it’s fascinating to compare their recollections with what actually happened, and when. Within only a few months, we all begin to lose track of when we had that great evening rise on Goulburn, that awful heatwave that shut down the Ovens, or that flood that deposited logs 100 metres from the main bed of the Delatite. What time of year was it that the Tullaroop smelters really peaked, when was that crazy early season stonefly hatch at Lake Kay, and what year did we have that early summer all day midge hatch at Buckenderra  (at least I think it was early summer?) That October dun hatch on the Maruia River with the fish lined up eating Shaving Brushes; what time of day did it start and when did it finish? Oh, and how long did that Hepburn Lagoon algae bloom take to clear last year?

That day on the Maruia River NZ, 26/10/04. The diary tells me the duns hatched from 2 til 6 pm. Can't believe it was 10 years ago!

That day on the Maruia River NZ, 26/10/04. The diary tells me the duns hatched from 2 til 6 pm. Can’t believe it was 10 years ago!

The thing is, many of my friends and colleagues believe they can recall this stuff using their brains alone, or at least some of it. Yet my diaries prove that they almost never can. Whole years are muddled up, separate events merge into one and crucially, tough days are wiped from the memory altogether. Even the best dun years at Little Pine have their off days, but in our minds they never do. Before I start sounding too self-righteous, my memory is as bad as anyone’s. However I only came to realise that when I started to match up my recollections with the cold hard facts in my diary.

 For me, a diary is an essential part of my flyfishing. It’s all that gives me the ability to write about medium to long term trends and past events with some authority – if I tried to do that relying on my memory alone, you couldn’t trust me! The diary is pretty handy for guiding too, and for much the same reasons. It tells me when to start expecting mayfly hatches, or smelters, or tailers etc. and under what conditions. It also reminds me of successful flies, or tactics that beat difficult fish.  Of course history doesn’t repeat neatly – we are dealing with essentially wild fish in a natural environment, subject to seasonal variations and occasional exceptional events. Nevertheless, there are valuable lessons to learn from accumulated factual records, and there are patterns to observe.

Yellowstone River whitefish near Grey Bear 27/713. Don't need the diary for this one...yet!

Yellowstone River whitefish near Grey Bear 27/7/13. Don’t need the diary for this one…yet!

 I like to think that if I’d remained a purely amateur angler, my original ‘best day’ diaries would have morphed into a more complete record because I have no doubt that professional considerations aside, having decades of fishing journals to refer to has made me a better fisher.

Here’s a sample page from my diary. I’ve kept a diary electronically for a few years now but the prompts are unchanged from decades of handwritten diaries before. The prompts (in bold) make it a five minute job to record a typical trip – a small effort for the benefits that are gained for years to come.


LOCATION:  King @Cheshunt, in gorge & above WH.                   Date: 12/11/12

Fishing partners: Max

Start:   10 am  Finish: 9 pm

Weather: Partly cloudy                       Wind: Gusty at times.

Air temperature: Up to 23 C              Water temperature: lower 15-16 C, upper 17 C

Water level/ condition: Crystal clear, moderate height (44 cm at Cheshunt gauge, stable.)

What were the fish doing? Odd rise on lower & upper; good late evening rise in gorge at Long Spur Tk.

Best Flies: Red-bodied Klinkhammer, tungsten bead-head Cadillac & Hares Ear nymphs.

Most effective techniques: Searching.

Fish caught: 10 x ½ to 2 lb browns plus a couple of rainbows

Comments: Slow-ish fishing on lower despite good conditions (maybe a little lower than ideal without regular ‘pulse’ releases from dam?) Upper very quiet with only one actually caught & a couple missed. Gorge was good.

Max on the King 12/11/12 - i my memory the details are already fuzzy but the diary brings it all back.

Max on the King 12/11/12 – my memory of the day is already fuzzy, but not the diary entry.

If you decide to keep a diary, the best advice I could give is to make sure you record every day – good and bad. Finally, make sure you back up all your hard work. My electronic copies are also printed and backed up on an external hard drive. Incidentally, there are various diary ‘programs’ you can buy and with some, the advantages include the capacity to collate and crunch information. Still, I’m happy enough with my simple system and importantly, it’s no chore to complete once you get in the habit.