Logbooks for bass

On the morning of March 16, Frank Scalish pulls up to a series of floating docks in the back of one of Lake Norman's countless bays and begins casting a Bomber 6A crankbait. For the next hour, nearly every area he tests seems to harbor a bass or two.

In the middle of this nonstop action, the Ohio pro puts down his cranking rod and picks up another tool — a sharp pencil.

Scalish takes out a sketchbook and begins drawing the layout of the bay and all of its various elements — both above and below the water. We're not talking stick figures. By the time the formally trained artist finishes, the elaborate drawing shows the position of the docks, Christmas trees around them, other brushpiles, isolated submerged trees, a small group of stumps, a sandy beach, and contour lines indicating points, humps and bars in this bay.

Brief notes fill in the blanks: "This bay is small, but loaded with prespawners." "Fish seem to be on everything that was in the water!" "Each brushpile had fish." "Dredge 10 feet. Fish on corners. Lizard/watermelon." "Laydown. Fish at trunk fork."

It is unlike any logbook you have ever seen.

The term "logbook" almost seems archaic in these modern times. It creates the vision of the spiral-bound, hand-written notebook of yesteryear. Today, many successful fishermen take full advantage of current technology to efficiently record, organize and retrieve vital information that can pay big dividends in the present and future.

Rick Clunn, Joe Thomas and Alton Jones use a computer to do it.

Shaw Grigsby relies on a small tape recorder when doing it.

Kevin VanDam is doing it in two forms at the present time.

Denny Brauer and his wife do it together.

Michael Iaconelli has accumulated several hand-written volumes from doing it religiously for years.

All of these accomplished anglers use records from previous fishing trips to return to the triumphant areas and tactics of the past to ensure their continued success.

Regardless of its form, a logbook is the track record of past prosperity that helps these fishermen rediscover their most productive areas and reminds them of even the subtlest aspects of productive patterns of the past. Based on their experience with the reliability of such information, these anglers don't hesitate to follow the leads provided by their own recorded words.

A detailed, consistent log basically becomes a seasonal guide that provides the best possible starting point for each and every day on the water. But it doesn't end there. The benefits are as far reaching as the individual fisherman and his degree of dedication to keeping records.

"My logbooks are priceless. I wouldn't sell them for any amount of money," says Iaconelli, three time BASS winner and 2003 Classic champion from New Jersey. "They are key to my success.

"For me, it stems back to my college days. I mean there were guys who can remember things and who knew things on the top of their head. I'm not one of those people. For me, writing it down adds an extra measure of confidence. I'll probably remember it, but now I'm confident because I have it written down. It's in my table now. It's not going anywhere."

Iaconelli is not alone in that assessment. Most highly successful bass fishermen have developed some form of record keeping that enables them to locate and catch fish on their home lake, as well as on less-familiar waters.

For eight time BASS champion Shaw Grigsby, it involves utilizing a small microcassette recorder to create a verbal logbook of each practice and competition day. He then files the tapes by each lake and refers to them before the start of an upcoming tournament there.

Clunn, Jones and Joe Thomas enjoy the full benefits of the organizational and retrieval abilities of a personal computer. Clunn and Jones use its word processing capabilities to compile notes or fill out forms of their own design; while Thomas has long relied on a computer program titled Bytes 'n Bass to do more than just store his fishing records.

"I'm not a real organized person on paper; in fact I'm terrible about keeping records that way," admits Jones, who depended on his logbook to guide on Texas' Richland Chambers Reservoir and now utilizes it for his travels on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer. "My computer keeps me organized and it's easy to use. So I am more dedicated to my log. I religiously filled in information after each guide trip and now on each day of a tournament."

Former Bassmaster Classic champion Denny Brauer takes advantage of the driving time after each tournament to dictate detailed notes to his wife, Shirley. These notes go into a file for each lake, which also includes magazine articles and other information on that destination.

For years, three time BASS Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam relied on his memory to process and store such information. But several years ago he started forcing himself to make notes of each fishing day, and then transferred them to his computer.

The most famous computer logbook belongs to Clunn.

"A logbook does so many things for you," explains the four time Classic champion who was a computer analyst in his former career. "The biggest thing it does is provide seasonal patterns that will put you in the ballpark before you ever leave home. They eliminate three-fourths of the lake for you. It's a lot less intimidating — not to mention more time-efficient — to arrive on a lake with only a fourth of the lake left to explore. That is critical when you consider the time constraints that tournament fishermen and weekend anglers alike are under these days.

"Besides revealing seasonal patterns, a logbook makes you start thinking more seriously about your fishing day. Plus, you tend to analyze your experiences more if you actually write them down."

Thomas, a four time Classic qualifier from Ohio, emphasizes that a logbook in any form provides far more accuracy than the memory. "If nothing else, a logbook can remind me of a certain situation from two or three years ago that I have overlooked," Thomas notes. "And it sometimes comes in real handy by reinforcing some things that I'm thinking or my theory on a particular situation. That's important."

For most bass enthusiasts, the thought of maintaining a fishing log can be daunting.

Learning how much information — and in how much detail — to record is the biggest stumbling block for many fishermen. The amount of material will ultimately depend on each individual's needs. Most anglers recommend avoiding writing so much information that the task of maintaining a log becomes discouraging. It is important to streamline the information so that it can quickly be recorded or analyzed.

"As a rule of thumb, the more detailed notes you make, the more they will help you in the future," Clunn advises. "The information shouldn't be so detailed that it becomes burdensome. But make sure that you write down enough information so that you will be able to understand it months later."

Although the various anglers have their own individual logbook tastes, here is a cross section of the categories of information that they typically record: date (to identify the season); approximate time of each catch; wind direction; air and water temperature; lake level; water clarity; depth of the bass; lure and retrieve; description of the general area; type of cover or structure; sky conditions; moon phase (especially in the spring); size of fish caught (provides a picture of where and how the biggest bass are caught in a fishery); number of fish caught and approximate total weight; strikes missed (supplies information on how the fish were acting and the most productive lure presentations under those conditions); and any unusual occurrences (the location of a school of baitfish or an area where diving birds were active).

Other considerations for maintaining and interpreting a fishing log:

Getting started. "In addition to recording your own experiences, you can start establishing a logbook by doing some research; digging through books and back issues of magazines, like Bassmaster, to get the results of tournaments from your region of the country," Clunn says. "When your local newspaper reports on a tournament, record the results and where and how the top catches were made.

"At the conclusion of a tournament that you have either competed in or watched as a spectator, listen carefully to the top finishers. I have found that fishermen are not very reliable except after they have won a tournament. They tend to spill their guts during their moment in the spotlight. And don't be afraid to ask them about their pattern.

"You will be surprised how quickly you can begin to collect data that will be important in the future. You don't have to have the results of 500 tournaments like I do to gain enough information to start detecting seasonal patterns on a particular lake."

Seeing the overall picture. Jones and other experts emphasize the significance of recording the general weather trend of the week leading up to your day on the water. The overall weather pattern can be more revealing than a single good or bad day.

Keeping an open mind. "It's important not to get so focused on what has happened in the past that you ignore the current conditions," VanDam states. "That happens a lot in tournaments. We tend to get too focused on where and how the tournament was won on this lake the year before. For me, information on seasonal patterns and old tournament results are only a starting point."

The home court advantage vs. strange lakes. As a former guide and top competitive angler, Jones has a unique perspective on the benefits of a logbook in two contrasting situations — a home lake and unfamiliar waters.

"It helped me a great deal when I was guiding on Richland Chambers, and now traveling to a tournament lake that I have never seen before," he says.

"On your home lake, record keeping is really effective. It's good for determining patterns and the spots where they are likely to occur. It also helped me pick up subtle things on Richland Chambers, like fish movements or behavior that is related to some change in the conditions. It's almost scary how accurate and predictable a log becomes for the guy who is keeping records on his home lake.

"It can also be really helpful for a lake that you have never fished before.

You need to learn a few basic things about the lake, like whether it is generally a muddy or clear lake, or a grass lake. With that little bit of knowledge, you can select a lake from your logbook that has similar characteristics, and it will provide you with some basic starting points once you get there."

Learn the bad days. Some useful information can come from the fishing trips that go sour. Even after the rare outings in which he has blanked, Clunn records the same general information — which he supplements with details of areas and tactics both tried and untried (as well as any information provided by other fishermen who were more successful on that day).

That's prime advice from anglers smart enough to depend on a fishing log to follow a path paved by past successes.

GPS and fishing logs

Kevin VanDam and Joe Thomas are sticklers about combining GPS technology with their logbooks.

"These two things were made for each other," VanDam says. "My biggest problem is remembering and coordinating my GPS coordinates with their locations on a lake. For example, when I won a tournament on (Michigan's) Lake St. Clair, I flew in an airplane to scout out the lake and I found a lot of spots out in the middle of the lake. I programmed in the waypoints on my (handheld) GPS unit and recorded them (first on paper and then computer). I would have had a heck of a time trying to remember which coordinates were located where without keeping a log of my flying time.

"Another way it helps me is on a grass lake. There might be a spot where the grass has some rocks mixed in, or a few stumps. So, by programming in a waypoint on my GPS and recording those coordinates, I can easily return to that same specific structural element year after year — even if the grass looks different or no longer has the same height," relates VanDam.

"Basically, what I do is download or log into my computer software the GPS coordinates of certain situations," Thomas adds. "And what that does is allow me to quickly find the GPS coordinates I need without having to turn on my unit and scroll through 150 different waypoints to find what I'm looking for. That's the reason I like to empty my unit, write down the coordinates and log them into my computer after every tournament."

Tim Tucker's Bass Sessions™ 2003 covers the national tournament scene on the Web at www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.