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Jim Gronaw: Bass fishing by the dawn’s early light | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

One day last week I stared at my alarm clock as it kept hissing and fussing at me, telling me it was time to get up.

It was still dark out and my aging frame was screaming to “stay in bed, STAY IN BED!”


But, no, I simply fumbled around, turned it off, fell out of bed and rolled downstairs to the comforts of a dimly lit kitchen and a handful of pharmaceuticals to help me make it through the predawn and early morning hours. A bowl of cereal and cup of orange juice were a bonus.

The schedule for the day? Bass fishing. Yeah, that’s right, and I wanted to get it over with quick as I knew that the predicted high of 98 degrees wasn’t going to be my game. Hence, an early morning, even predawn operation was called for.


With water temperatures in the mid 80s and more extreme heat in the forecast, I knew that my best chance of getting on the fish would be the early game. Better for fish, and fisherman, too.

Getting an early start is nothing new to fishermen and other outdoorsmen alike. The air temperatures are cool and comfortable and feeding activity is increased as bass and other species put on the feed bag and then settle into deeper or shaded haunts throughout much of the day.

For the past many years, my summertime excursions have run from 5 to 9 a.m. Sure, overcast, cool and cloudy days can yield productive, midday catches. But for the most part, the early bird gets the worm, or, fish, in the heat.

Last year I ventured out a little too early on one of my kayak trips. I hooked a big bass in total darkness and the thing actually jumped in my kayak and went crazy, slinging gear everywhere. I got the fish, and some pictures, but it was a little dicey and dangerous. Lesson learned.

We’ve actually had a tough year on bass in 2021. Last season our small group of three anglers caught and released three dozen largemouth bass in excess of 20 inches. This year we’ve only boated/banked a half dozen fish of those proportions. That’s OK because some really prime bass-fishing months are coming up and I routinely land my largest fish of any given year during the late fall through early winter, time frames.

Back to the early wake up and the matter at hand.

We have had good success at local small public and private venues by tossing a variety of plastic worms and some topwater baits. The classic 7-inch Black Power Worm and 10-inch Ribbon Tail Worm by Berkley have been standout producers for us. Additionally, stick worms like the famous 5-inch Yamamoto Senko, Strike King Shimmy Stick or the Yum Dingers also produce fish.

Surface baits like buzz baits and various surface frogs can draw exciting blowups from aggressive bass and tend to draw the attention of larger fish. Also, the Z-Man Chatter Baits in ¼ and 3/8-ounce models are good vibrating lures when fished just below the surface during the early hours. Understand that these lures are effective during lowlight conditions and in shallow waters of three feet or less during the heat.


Everybody has their favorite gear for throwing these baits. Personally, I like medium spinning gear with the use of 20-pound braided line secured to a 20-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader with the use of a 50-pound test barrel swivel.

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This may seem a little on the side of overkill, but we fish many venues where fallen, sunken tree branches and tough weed types are holding fish and you need to get them out from these structures. Twenty-pound lines are actually the minimum as the pro boys on the tour use 65-pound braid.

Occasionally, I’ll use my Lew’s Speed Spool Bait Caster to chuck half-ounce spinnerbaits during the dawn. For that I like Yo-Zuri Hybrid Fluorocarbon testing 12 or 14 pounds. Keep in mind that these parameters are by no means the final word in tackle options. Heavier structures and hazards will require stronger lines and gear.

A lot of the bass we catch are in the 1- to 2 ½-pound category with the occasional 4-pounder in the mix. Fish over five pounds do show up, but these are not daily occurrences, even in some of our better waters. A couple times a year we’ll land fish in the 6- to 7-pound range … trophies by our meager standards.

Therefore, the bench mark of a 20-inch bass is a good standard for an excellent catch, in our books. Again, we are not professional bass anglers or tournament professionals by any stretch of the imagination. Our efforts are blue-collar, work-ethic oriented and the early AM trips seem to put more quality fish in our hands, especially during the late summer period of hot, dry conditions.

A word of caution, and conservation, on the late summer/early morning bass gig … don’t keep fish out of the water very long. Keep in mind that water temperatures are mid-eighties approaching ninety in some shallows where bass are cruising. A spirited fight can quickly exhaust a big fish and recovery can be difficult.


Have those cameras and action cams ready and running when that big moment comes. Keep fish in a live well, holding net or even in the water and make the photo sessions quick, efficient and easy on the fish. Yes, I know, Facebook is calling. But the life of a great fish is more important than you or I posting, and boasting, on our multiple social platforms.

Summer bass fishing might not be for everyone. But if it’s for you, then set your alarm.