Hit the man-overboard button!" Capt. Larry Corbett hollered as he pulled in our fourth redfish in 15 minutes. "I want to mark this stretch."
While Corbett tussled, I hit the MOB button on his GPS plotter, then grabbed the net and scooped the 25-inch spot-tail on board. Corbett quickly measured the fish, dropped it into the ice chest and reached into his tackle bag to withdraw a hard-bound high-school composition book and a chewed-up ballpoint pen. He mumbled some details to himself as he jotted them down in the book, pausing only to look at his watch or get the exact numbers off his plotter.
"Keep fishing," he said. "I'll be done in a minute."
Here we were in the middle of a wide-open redfish bite, and Corbett was taking notes?
"The fish are here right now," Corbett told me. He held up the slightly warped book in front of me. "This tells me when they might be back."
Fishing logbooks are important tools to professional and recreational fishermen alike. As I learned on that trip with Corbett so many years ago, some anglers consider a logbook so important they never leave the dock without it.
Federal and international regulations require all commercial fishermen to keep logbooks of both fishing and nonfishing activity for each trip, which they submit to the appropriate regulatory administrations, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). If an electronic logbook is used, then the data is e-mailed. Charter captains holding federal permits must also keep per-trip catch logs that they submit to the Feds. NOAA agents sort, evaluate and factor logbook data into policy decisions (sometimes to the chagrin of both commercial and recreational interests).
Recreational anglers don't have to submit personal logs for scrutiny by federal or state bureaucracies, but these fishing diaries can still serve as vital fishing tools. Anglers and skippers guard them jealously, judiciously recording any information they consider important.
"My logbook is very important to me," says Capt. Gary Cannell of Tuna Hunter Charters (www.tunahunter.com) of Gloucester, Massachusetts. "I record what I caught, where I caught it, the water temperature, sea conditions, and type and size of bait."
"I use my log every day I'm on the water," adds Boston-based skipper Rob Savino (www.cjvictoria.com). "The condition I pay most attention to is tidal movement. I always note the sort of action I'm experiencing, the species and whether it was on the flood or the fall of the tide."
Point of Reference
A logbook offers a simple and efficient way for fishermen to narrow their fishing strategies to those potentially most effective for any given set of conditions. With today's economy pushing the price of a weekend fishing trip higher and higher, eliminating time spent fishing unproductive sites means saving fuel and effort. Captains such as Savino and Cannel keep detailed logs to record reference points that they can rely on from year to year.
Cannel also points out that his logbook helps establish when certain species of fish may be congregating in certain areas.
"Last year, I fished Stellwagen Bank during the summer, and I couldn't catch a single tuna because of all the stripers," he said. "They were so thick, it was ridiculous. By Aug. 15, the stripers were gone."
This year, Cannel checked his logbooks and began checking Stellwagen to see when the stripers would clear out and the tuna would move in.
"[The stripers] were off [Stellwagen] by Aug. 1," he said.