In catching up with my young friend Decker, a six-year-old with seemingly a sixty-year-old’s worth of fishing experience, he walked me through a number of his recent fishing adventures since we left his introduction to fly fishing on the small pond outside of town. In the hurried conversation, he referenced catching a number of “PBs” since that time. Trying to figure out the term or what species of fish he was referencing with the abbreviation, I paused and his mom, a co-worker of mine who saw my confusion, explained it stood for “Personal Best” – an item he tracked very closely for each species he had caught since he started fishing at the age of 3. Being new and dedicated to the world of angling, a number of his records had fallen every year with new catches, including a nice walleye he had landed on a recent ice fishing trip in South Dakota, which he was especially proud of.
With the conversation rekindling the fire in my mind, I explained how my biggest fish were part of my life list and I returned to the days I kept better track of my own bests which were tallied up on a wrinkled sheet of paper at the end of an old fishing journal in my basement office. There, I looked through the fish on my life list and where my biggest ones came in, causing the old ones to be scratched out in pen underneath them and the dates and locations adjusted in various shades of blue and black ink. While fatherhood, work and other demands in life have sidetracked my once-dedicated pursuit of adding to and improving the entries on my life list, the goal of making one or two of those records fall again in the upcoming seasons quickly was moved to the front burner as I sized up the approaching spring.
Life listing – a process originating in the pastime of bird watching – is a helpful tool for tracking not only the great memories of huge fish caught along the way, but also for setting goals for the coming season; a task I took much more seriously in the past but vowed to do better in the coming years as I help my boys establish their own. It seems a fitting restart as the process also runs in my family, coming from my grandmother, an avid birder, who at the back of her Audubon Field Guide which I now possess, cataloged 111 species of birds she observed in her lifetime, a majority of which were witnessed from the picture window on her farm outside of Watford City, N.D.
Akin to the faded vertical avian catalog printed in her fine handwriting, my fishing life list (not nearly as neat or as legible) details species, date, size and location, and with most entries having a single line through the previous record, makes it easy to see when and where some of my best fishing happened. From pike and walleye on spring runs to the northern channels of Devils Lake, to fat panfish deep into the heart of summer at the family cabin in Minnesota, the list details key calendar components as to when some of my biggest fish have come boatside. Broken down into four categories: freshwater, saltwater, ice fishing and fly fishing, the list keeps the pertinent info for each seasonal experience handy and is a great way to look ahead to the coming months to see what PBs are easily broken by a trip to a well-targeted water, and what may have just been fluky big fish, like the 32-inch carp from 2006 on the Sheyenne River that sucked up a small streamer on my five-weight fly rod early one morning before work.
Finally, the list provides a chance to relive old experiences and recall some of the odd fish – like a number of nameless saltwater species that required being looked up in order to officially add them – such as the toothy, annoying sand perch and the puffer caught while dragging sandy bottoms on the Gulf shores near Tampa, Fla. While the near-term excitement of life listing comes from recording an amazing catch and scratching out the old one, the long-term benefits (beyond serving as a memory aid) are reliving the ever-increasing length and weight of the fish and conditions occurring around them. In turn should my goals ever return to a more serious pursuit – as I hope they may this spring – I have a benchmark by which to judge them. For those reasons, life listing is a fun way to add to the angling experience.
(Featured Photo: Some of the author’s favorite entries on the life list include (Top to Bottom) sea trout from the Gulf of Mexico, Sturgeon on the Rainy River, Brown Trout from Minnesota’s Redwood River and walleye from the Sheyenne River. Simonson Image)