By Marshall Coover II
June 12, 2019 - The granddaddy of all fishing books, Isaac Walton’s The Compleat Angler, is, in part, a collection of a lifetime of fishing journal entries told as stories about fishing, conservation and the environment. In ’76, when I fished 8-10 times per year, it was easy to remember every detail of a trip. By ‘78, I was addicted. With 30-40 trips a year it was hard to recall the particulars. In 1982, a friend returned from London with a gift of a beautiful leather Aspery’s Fishing Journal, so for the next 30 years, I used the Walton method of keeping track of my trips - sort of. The exasperating problem was that after a long day on the water, I had to field 4-5 phone calls from my buddies pressing for details. Mom wasn’t happy going all day without my undivided attention then having to listen as I spent an hour telling the same story 3 or 4 times.
And then there was the interpretive problem: Me- “Where are we going this morning?” Chuck-“ I heard Barry caught a bunch of fish Hi northeast in the Hole on Friday”
Hmmm-the Hole is 9 miles long and 3 miles wide. We wade fish and can effectively cover maybe 40-60 acres in a day. The Hi northeast part of the hole covers about 1000 acres with no meaningful landmarks, and that assumes that Hi northeast means the same to Barry that it does to Chuck and/or me. There’s an excellent chance we won’t hit Barry’s fishing spot.
By 2011, Google Earth (GE) had evolved into a product that was ubiquitous, precise, and user-friendly. I was using it regularly in my business building pictures for real estate and oil and gas deals and presentations. Also, NOAA was reporting real-time tide and meteorological data from dozens of strategically located stations on all 3 coasts (see tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov). We fish a 100-mile stretch of the lower Gulf coast and are never more than 10 miles from a station. If you’re a river fisher, your state probably has an equivalent river and stream flow system. I know Colorado has one.
After about the 4th telling of the days’ story, I had what Jules described as a moment of clarity. Why don’t I just make a picture of my trip and email it to everybody? In August 2011, I mapped my first trip. It was relatively crude but effectively saved 1000 words.
Wait, if I make a map of every trip and store them in a single folder. Then I’ll have a journal. Damn -this is easy.
What was missing on the first map was location accuracy, so the following week I bought a Garmin GPS 78. It was affordable, easy to use with one hand, and had accurate and detailed marine maps software. I figured that if I could accurately track myself, it wouldn’t be hard to approximate the location and path of others within sight. The Garmin and others have the capacity to download a track directly to the computer. I found that it creates a very cluttered picture as every twist and turn of my day is marked. Typically, I enter a mark every time I stop the boat, get in the water, or catch a fish. I start building my map with those waypoints. If there is some other significant point, I can locate it on the track and extract the coordinate.
The next step was developing a standardized pictorial language that my crew understood and that didn’t clutter the picture with minutia. Over time I developed a system where somewhere on the map there is a dialog box with the initials of the fishers in the boat with the boat owner being listed last, the date, the tide level in the middle of the day, met data (wind speed and direction) from the NOAA station nearest to the area mapped, and the visibility conditions. As sight casting fly fishers, these were the important elements to us. Most of the stations have additional data that some may consider important to the way they fish but the tide, wind and sun work for us.
Each regular in our crew is assigned a color (usually his school color). If the tracks are confusing, I may insert initials along the track. The boat I am in is always black. Squiggly lines mean poling, drifting or wading. Long straight lines indicate under power. If there’s another boat from our crew in the same area, I will include an identifier and what I learned about the fish they caught. In the map above BBB, is big blue boat and they caught 5-6 fish at their 1st stop.
Each fish I catch is a numbered waypoint. The color of the fish identifies the species. The fish of others are usually totaled unless I have an idea of where the fish was caught. I try and set up my walk so my boat drifts behind me. Note that the black line connects to a yellow line and then reappears. I got out of the boat, made a short walk, caught 8 fish and got back in the boat which had been following me. The Longhorn (orange) caught a fish out at the east end of his walk and caught his second fish right by the boat. The Javalina (dark blue) caught 16 fish up close to the channel.
Google Earth periodically upgrades the program and last year it added a title and description feature and a legend. This map from last week’s trip has the title feature filled in with the information that previously appeared somewhere in a dialog box in the body of the map. I’ve not figured out how to use the legend feature yet.
Occasionally, we will fish 2-3 places in one day. If there was significant activity at one or more places, I’ll make a map of each stop and indicate the time of day for each. There’s no limit to the information you may choose to display. In most paper journals, there’s a column for flies, bait, lures, etc. We typically change flies several times a day. When the fish are feeding it usually doesn’t matter what you’re throwing so I don’t bother to include a fly description on the map.
In January, I will open a folder for the new year and each new map is placed in the folder. Google Earth keeps them organized chronologically. I then email the map to the crew occasionally commenting on unusual environmental conditions or events observed on the trip. At the end of the year, I will count my fish total and number of trips and label the folder accordingly.
Before a trip, I review the prior maps in the same time frame, looking for insights to success based upon tide and weather. Over time patterns are revealed. We are so fortunate to have such an abundance of options and it helps to narrow the choices based on prior experiences. Somedays I just flip the pages and reflect on the blessing of wonderful friends and the adventures we have shared. Oh, and the blessing of Google Earth.