The Value of Keeping a Journal

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody WY, Former National Park Superintendent

As a 12-year-old school boy trapper during the 1948 season a professional trapper was teaching me to trap furbearing animals. He also taught me to keep careful records of my observations, which sets were more productive than others and to maintain those notes forever. Over the years I collected numerous journals of my observations and success or failures on the trapline, hunting, the foods preferred by animals, fishing flies that appeared more productive than others and experiences of fishing in western and central Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1955, during three summers in the northern Adirondacks of my college years, during the years I fished in Yellowstone, the five years I fished the east side drainages of the North Cascades and almost nine years I was in central Alaska.

I had occasion to review those numerous journals of observations I wrote about during a recent research project that involved bison and wild horses. This is when I noticed my records indicated that there were some dry flies that were consistently productive in all the waters I fished from Pennsylvania, the Rocky Mountains, the North Cascades of Washington and Alaska.

On all my fly fishing trips, I used numerous patterns of dry flies that were both traditional, well known, patterns found in many books. I also used patterns I had tied that were slight modifications of those flies and my own creations. I probably cast hundreds, if not thousands, of different dry flies during the many years I fished from the eastern United states to Alaska.

My numerous journals contained records of which flies were more productive than others. That is not unusual due to many variables of time of year, fishing ability, weather, time of day, hatches either in progress or not at all and all fishing produces outstanding days, mediocre days and days when you are skunked for no apparent reason.

However, the records showed the following dry flies produced more fish strikes than other patterns I was using. What is unique about that is they were productive in many different states of America with distinctly different habitats. This might not be very useful information, but it might be a good reason to have these patterns if you are going to be fishing some other state as well as your home streams and rivers.

Those flies were all tied on size 12 or 14 standard dry fly hooks. Three were Humpies; one with a grey body and a brown and dark dun hackle, one with a yellow body and a dun and yellow hackle and one with a dark green body and a dun and brown hackle. Other productive flies were a Quill Gordon, both a light and dark Hendrickson, a Black Gnat with a red tail, and a light and dark Cahill.

One thought on “The Value of Keeping a Journal

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Great reminder Clay. Statistical roll-ups of fly performance aside, in my experience even the dumbest and simplest of things escape my memory without making & later revisiting a few notes. Didn’t I go to that same river in August last year, or the year before? What fly worked best then? How deep? If nothing else it helps me rig a leader right from the start, without having to waste time rediscovering what a previous August outing had taught me.

    Now you’ve done it–going to have to tie up a mess of Humpies…I never fish them but I guess I should’a been. : )

    – Mike

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