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Keeping Records

Keeping Records
By Bob Lusk

What other records should you keep?

Keeping Records

A stack of records from a pondmeister’s file. Invoices, lake reports, permits.

Do you keep good records of what you do with your pond? Fish stocking? Temperature? Weather? Fish lengths and weights? Lures that worked?

If not, please consider doing that. Good records help at the most important times—in times of crisis and in times when you’re thinking about change. It’s unbelievably helpful to sit down with a client who opens several manila file folders full of information. Past invoices from fish stockings, catch records, water chemistry results, and biologist’s reports—all great information to help figure out what to do next. Couple those with a round of sampling, mix it with your goals, and you have the ingredients to make solid decisions.

What records should you keep?

If water health is important, keep your water chemistry analyses. If fish growth matters, track lengths and weights of fish you’ve caught. You’ll be amazed at what those records will tell you over a span of months and years. You’ll see trends in fish growth, or lack thereof. You’ll be able to easily see when it’s time to harvest some fish and precisely what size-class of fish need to be removed to keep your fishery along the dynamic trail of choice.

What other records should you keep?

Keeping Records

This landowner has a hand drawn map noting where he added fish structure, with notes before the lake filled with water.

Notes related to biology and weather. For example, say you noticed last spring some unknown plant was beginning to rear its head. You noted that on April 15, just after signing off and mailing your tax return. Then, in mid-June, those patches of young grasses had become big rafts of lure-plugging greenery, a pain in the joy of fishing. Now, in November, you’re quite frustrated with the whole ordeal. It certainly wasn’t like that last year at this time. According to your notes from three years ago, there wasn’t any plant life at all—the pond was new and you were contemplating planting something to take up the habitat void. Now look—you have a trend and some decisions to make come next spring. Since you noted those plants started to grow around tax time, you’ll make it a point to watch for that stuff earlier in the year. If you see it, you can jump on it early and keep it at bay. If appropriate, you can apply for a grass carp permit now and have it ready early spring if you need it and your state allows those fish. Or, you can have the proper herbicide on hand, to use as needed. More importantly, you’ll have it WHEN needed.

It’s also a wise idea to evaluate yearly biologist reports and compare year to year. That keeps your biologist on his/her toes as much as it keeps you apprised to the changes in your fishery. It also helps you to understand the accompanying recommendations, especially if they include writing a check for something.

What other records? Personally, I like to look at temperature trends and spawning notes. Last spring, for example, most fish spawned late, due to abnormally cold temperatures across the nation. That gave us valuable information to help understand the impact of recruiting young fish in the system as well as seeing how the spawns were affected by erratic plant growth. Not only were the fish late, some plants were, too. We noticed abnormal amounts of filamentous algae compared to other rooted macrophytes. The significance of these facts was seeing baby fish, hatched late, living inside tangled mats of filamentous algae rather than their normal habitat of rooted plants mixed with diminishing algae. This fall, we’re seeing the impact of that springtime anomaly. Smaller young of the year, in larger numbers seems to be a trend. If we didn’t keep good records last spring, some of these conclusions would be more of a puzzle. As biologists, we can see the logic of this fall’s data compared to normal years, simply because we understand the significance of Spring temperatures.

Keeping Records

Catch records, lengths, weights and date are extremely helpful.

Can you overdo record keeping? Sure, you can, especially if you have to sort through too much information to draw conclusions for decision-making. If you have a diary that tells what you caught each fish on, what time of day, whether there were clouds in the sky and the lengths of the fish—that might be more than you need and not quite enough to make choices. If you’re keeping lengths, keep weights, too. Oh, and it doesn’t really matter if your scale is a little off accuracy. As long as it’s consistent, it’s a good tool.

Choose good methods to keep records. I keep a spreadsheet for each client’s game fish. When we electrofish each year, or twice yearly for some of them, we can compare year to year with more confidence when it comes to advising them. Spreadsheets are good for bass lengths and weights as well as temperatures and water chemistry data.

What’s the bottom line for recordkeeping? Lengths and weights over a long period are great data and so is water chemistry. Temperatures? Yes, indeed. Those deserve a spreadsheet. What else to keep? Track your actions—stocking, vegetation treatments, plantings, feeding the fish, fisheries surveys, data collection—all good things for notes, especially when you need information to figure out what you did right, and what’s working. Conversely, records help when things go wrong, too. Tracking what you’ve done makes you a much more efficient pondmeister, especially when you are ready to make some choices.

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