Volume 14, Issue 18 ~ May 4 - May 10, 2006

The Sporting Life

by Dennis Doyle

How To Catch More Fish

A fisherman’s best friend is a log book

The single best way to improve your odds of catching fish is to increase your time on the water. There is no substitute for that. If, however, you’re looking for a plan to improve the odds of hooking up, over the long run the single most effective strategy is keeping a log book.

Human recall is not a dependable process. We tend to quickly forget the unremarkable, remembering only our more significant successes — and perhaps the occasional disaster. Everything else gets pushed aside in the avalanche of information from our technologically dense environment.

A log book aids recall immeasurably. Without one, you may be re-experiencing many things every year. In five years, instead of five seasons of cumulative fishing experience, you may have just one season’s experience five times.

For my log book, I use three-by-five-inch, side-bound spiral note pads, side-bound because a short pencil fits in the binding. I keep a pad with me all the time because I never know when someone is going to give me a hot tip, which I record in the log as well.

When I’m fishing, I try to write conditions down as soon as I start and results just after I quit. Some people, I’m told, are more fortunate in having the discipline to faithfully record information days later. I have never met such a person.

Vital log data can vary. While on the Bay, tide, temperature, water clarity, light conditions (cloudy, bright, etc.), wind force and direction are essential as well as the location and the depth at which fish are caught. Freshwater data aren’t exactly the same, but the process is analogous. The lure or bait that got them and how it was presented is always pertinent.

Moon phase is helpful as well. I’ve found the new moon more productive than the full moon. I still fish both phases though, because I’ve also noted a consistent exception: Overcast conditions during the full moon can be especially good. That insight came straight out of my logs.

The circumstances of trips where you don’t catch anything can be valuable, too. Keeping in mind the eternal axiom, the best time to go fishing is whenever you can, the information from unsuccessful trips may help you modify your techniques to adapt to adverse conditions — or at least to lower your expectations under certain familiar circumstances.

Review your entries from time to time, particularly at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Look for trends, patterns and coincidences. On a day-to-day basis, it is easy to overlook a relationship between weather, tide, temperature or other specific circumstances and fishing success.

After reviewing some of my past logs for this article, I’m tempted to say that some of the fishing conditions right now are uncannily similar to those of four years ago.

Because of low rainfall in 2002, Bay salinity was high, just as it is now. That salinity paralleled a run of big spring stripers. Oversized croakers, big perch and spot were unusually numerous in the mid-Bay throughout summer months. Summer was followed by an exceptional fall run of sea trout, and the rockfish that moved up into the tributaries provided the best shallow-water striper fishing I’ve experienced in September and October.

Another byproduct of log keeping is that it makes you more observant. The angler may initially attribute a successful fishing trip to superior skill, but a little reflection may replace that assumption. It’s not, after all, about us. It’s about the fish. Since their behavior can be in direct response to the constant flux of the natural environment, it’s helpful to recognize the circumstances that invoke their actions. Fortune favors the aware.

Fish Are Biting

The Susquehanna Flats was gangbusters the past two weeks. Big rockfish were everywhere, and light-tackle anglers wore themselves out using top-water lures up on the flats and seven-inch Bass Assassins down in the channels and holes. The catch-and-release season is over now in this area, and though the bite came on late it was a very successful season for the anglers who stuck with it until the end.

Hickory shad are still showing up in numbers, and a few white shad are due to pile on soon. Croakers are finally being caught in the mid-Bay on bloodworms, and the bite should continue to improve with rising Bay temperatures. White perch are showing up again in the main stem after a lackluster spawning run. Rockfish remain plentifully scattered throughout the Bay, though anglers are doing better to the south toward Chesapeake Beach and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. Rumors, only rumors, of bluefish hereabouts, but they are in Ocean City.

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