I was asked below to explain a bit more how this guide is laid out. This is a very long explanation, so unless you are looking at a copy of the guide and want to know exactly how it works, I'd skip this post.
Here is a quick guide to the layout of version 1.0.0 of the Atlas. I'll put something nicer together later, but I'm not physically able to do so for at least a few weeks. So this'll have to do.
Typical Page: Jugner Forest (Springs) [page 57]
I'll walk you through this entire page starting at the top.
The name of the area appears in three places: centered at the top of the page, and vertically on the left and right. The vertical names allow you to thumb through if you have printed out the guide and bound it.
Below the centered title, there is a map and the screenshot. If the area is reported to have different fish in different locations, the map will include circles/ovals with labels so that you can identify the different locations. Also, if the area spans multiple maps then they have been combined into a single map for use in the guide. As a result of this, the "combination maps" will generally not have the number/letter grids like the simple maps. Finally, if the area spans multiple maps that overlay one another (due to stairs/drops) than they have been combined in perspective views, with vertical lines showing how the maps connect. Blue lines represent two-way connections, while red lines indicate one-way connections (usually drops).
Areas with multiple fishing locations often span multiple pages in the guide. In this case, the area name top and center will include in parentheses the locations covered on that page. Also, areas in the same city or on the same local ferry service (Carpenters Landing, Bibiki Bay) are grouped together.
The screenshot next to the maps in the top right are taken (with great appreciation) from the Blue Elephant Brigade web site. Some of the ferry areas do not include screenshots, and some of the existing screenshots do not show the fishing locations... these I may change in time.
Below the screenshot is the "Getting there" section. This tells the type of area and its region. Connections are also listed, with a distinction made between connections that must be made on foot and those that can be made more quickly, such as by chocobo. If there is a connection to an area with a teleport crystal I've tried to mention this, but this is not done consistently.
Below the "Getting there" section is the "Safety information" section. Basically, this lets you know whether you're going to get aggroed if you go there. Information about notorious monsters is sketchy, so always assume that an unknown mob might be notorious and check it's strength to be sure.
The last header section is "Facilities." Most non-city areas have no facilities; potential facilities include chocobo rentals, airships, teleport crystals, residential areas, fishing guilds/representatives, and auction houses.
Then come the catch tables. There's one catch table for each fishing location with unique catches. Locations in the same area with the same catches are in the same table.
Let's break down to catch tables on page 57:
In the top left is the word "Crystalwater"... this refers to Crystalwater spring. Thus, this catch table only applies to the location identified as Crystalwater spring in the map at the top (J-9).
Reading down the left side in the first column, there are three fish listed. The first is "! Crayfish (7:12)", and the cell is not highlighted. The single exclamation point means that this is a small fish, and that only one exclamation point will appear when you are told that something had bitten the hook. Scanning the fish and the number of exclamation points in front of the names is a quick way to help you understand what fish you might have caught on your line when you get a bite. Note though that you might also catch any item or mob (see below) in addition to whatever is in the catch table.
So, "! Crayfish (7:12)" means that you might catch a crayfish in Crystalwater spring, and if you do it will only have one exclamation point when you catch it. The "7:12" means that the skill cap for a crayfish is 7 (you can't reach fishing skill 8 catching crayfish), and there are 12 crayfish in a single stack. Thus, every fish will have in parentheses after its name a number between zero and 100 followed by a ":" followed by either the number 1 or 12. In some cases, the skill cap is unknown; in these cases "?" replaces skill number.
The fact that the Crayfish cell is not highlighted means that there is no known bait that targets only crayfish (and none of the other fish in the catch table). Reading across to the right, the next three columns are all empty. This means that crayfish will not bite on any of the baits (frog lure, shell bug, giant shell bug, insect ball, lizard/worm lure, meatball, minnow/sinking minnow, trout ball) listed at the tops of the columns. The far right column (headed: little worm, peeled crayfish, slice of carp) contains the following text: "A-D/A-D".
These letters in the main cells of the catch table are probably the least intuitive part of this layout. It helps to understand that some fishing rods are stronger than others, and some fish are stronger than others, and that if a fish is stronger than the rod you are using, there are two different ways you may lose more than the fish (especially assuming you have sufficient skill). If the fish is much stronger than the rod, the rod may break. If the fish is only a very little bit stronger than the rod, the rod may survive but your line may snap. Line snaps are a euphemism for losing your bait. If you are using live bait, this may not be much of a concern. If you are using a lure (especially an expensive one), this may concern you very much.
So as a fisherman, especially one without a Lu Shang or Ebisu fishing rod, often wants to know whether he/she is risking the rod/lure he/she is using in a given location. The "A-D/A-D" is the answer.
The letter or letters before the "/" is how strong a rod you have to use if you want to make sure that the rod will not be broken by this fish. The letter or letters after the "/" is how strong a rod you have to use if you want to make sure that you do not lose your lure to this fish (due to a line snap). The list of each letter and the rods that corresponds to it are listed in the footer at the bottom of page.
In this example, "A-D” tells you that the minimum-strength rod you can use to catch a crayfish with no risk of the crayfish breaking the rod, is a rod of strength between "A” and “D”. What are these? "A" rods are Willow and Yew. The only "D" rod is the carbon fiber fishing rod. In between these are bamboo, fastwater, tarutaru, and glass fiber fishing rods. Which of these rods can a crayfish break? At this point we don't know. Hence the range. If somebody finds out that a crayfish can in fact break a Willow or Yew fishing rod, we would have to amend the crayfish rating to be "B-D".
It's all kind of complicated I suppose, but the point is that for most fish (especially the small ones) we don't really know exactly which of the smaller rods can be broken by them. So we give a range of possibly safe minimum-strength rods, and you can use them at your own risk.
OK, back to the catch table. "A-D/A-D" means that a Willow/Yew rod may be safe along with its lure, but a carbon fiber fishing rod is definitely safe along with its lure. However, this last column also shows that if you use little worms/peeled crayfish/slice of carp at your bait at the Crystalwater spring, then "! Dark Bass (33:12)" may also bite. Dark Bass has a single exclamation point, so you will not be able to tell it from crayfish on that basis. Further, the rating for dark bass is "C-D/A-B". This means... well heck this is a bad example, I think this one is backwards. It should be "A-B/C-D"... the first part is never bigger than the second part. Anyway, what should catch your eye is the "C-D"... it tells you that using an A or B rod here means you may lose something. So at the minimum, you would want to use a glass fiber fishing rod with this bait. If you want to play it a little safer, you would use carbon fiber fishing rod.
Now, if it was the dark Bass that you wanted to catch, you would notice in the left column that dark Bass is highlighted yellow. This means you can target this fish directly. Read over to the right until you find the yellow highlighted cell. In this case, it is the one under insect ball, etc.. Using any of these baits will avoid bites from the other fish (crayfish, red terrapin) in this location.
The catch table for Maiden's spring is next, and follows the same logic.
At the bottom of the page are the "Rare Catches" and "Catchable Mobs" sections. The rare catches are items in certain indiscriminate fish. They will not usually be caught, but may be from time to time. For this reason, if you want to be very safe you should add them to the list of fish that may bite on the bait you are using when trying to determine if your rod or lure are at risk. The catchable mobs are always "!!!" and may also bite on any bait. I don't have any information about whether mobs can break certain rods, so the only thing to note here is the fighting level of the mob. Some of them may eat you for lunch.
That is pretty much it. The way I personally use the guide is to flip to whatever area I am in, look to see what fish can be caught there, use the tables to decide what bait to use, and then use the tables while fishing to help the predict and better learn the behavior of whatever may be on the other end of the line. I also look at the safety information and catchable mobs to decide whether it is safe to fish.
And I scribble all over it with new information as I find it.
Congratulations to anyone who read this far! Enjoy the guide.
Edited, Aug 17th 2006 at 9:05pm EDT by Jehebbyo
Jehebbyo - Valefor
99 Cook / 60 WHM / 57 Fisher
Lu Shang: 7/7/06 Printable Fishing Atlas