here is something magical about the very first hints of light when you are on the water. It doesn't matter if you are on the bay, down by the river or at a local pond, the emerging light of dawn has a unique "feel" to it all. Birds are waking with songs, and insects and animals are stirring. And to the angler, the early moments and the following hour can be the most exciting time of the day. Big fish are often on the prowl and senses seem to heighten. Indeed, the dawn's early light can be magical.
To the summertime fisherman, dawn often coincides with an activity level that brings great anticipation. In my boyhood years, I couldn't wait to get up while it was still dark outside and then dad would have us on the fishing hole as the grayness would surround us and we would start our fishing day. Did we always land the big one or make the bulk of our catch in the early light? No, not always. But just being on the water at that time of the day was good enough for me.
As I have aged, not necessarily gracefully, I have found early morning fishing trips to be more to my physical bodies' liking. It's cooler outside and the bugs aren't as active. Frogs and snakes and other critters are doing their thing, and bass and panfish will follow. Yes, I might lose a little shut-eye, but I can always resort to that afternoon "power nap" to refresh my bones and ease the day.
One thing I have noticed over the decades is that summer bass activity can be pretty good, and exciting, when the morning comes. Over the years, I used quarter-ounce buzzbaits with noisy, Lexan props to entice active largemouths from local lakes and ponds. Explosive surface strikes were the norm, but often you would miss the strike, or the bass would miss your bait! Later, we would toss plastic surface frogs to shoreline vegetation to entice bass that were lying in ambush. Summer bass fishing and dawn just go hand-in hand, and if you are a fisherman who likes throwing surface lures, then that is one of the best times to be on the water.
Walleye fishermen as well have long been lovers of the early bite. Since walleyes are a strong nocturnal feeder, low-light periods and late night gigs can be successful. My very best trips for walleyes have been a half-hour before the sun rises with a variety of plugs and crankbaits that would replicate the shad species those fish were feeding on. Coupled with soft bites and the occasional big bass smash, low-light plugging for these gamesters can certainly up the heart rate. My favorite lures for this past year have been Lucky Craft Pointer 100's and the classic Rat-L-Traps in quarter-ounce, both sinking and floating.
Many other species of fish seem to like the early shift as well. Striped bass in both fresh and saltwater often chase bait schools at dawn and can be vulnerable to a well-placed lure or bait. Channel catfish are still on the cruise from the night shift and will take bait or lures. I have seen several 30-inch class cats over the years pound Jitterbugs or buzzbaits before the sun crested over the horizon. Yes, big cats are apex predators in some waters and catching them on lures is by no means rare. Throw in active crappies, feeding carp, rising trout of all species and it's tough not to embrace the early gig.
Are there some drawbacks to early shift fishing? Of course there are. For one, you'll have to set your alarm probably way earlier than you are used to. Morning routines have to be interrupted and changes need to be made. Some folks just won't do it at all, refusing to get out of their 'comfort zones' and making a few sacrifices here and there for the sake of some unforgettable moments. I don't know about you, but I like five and six-pound largemouths, seven-pound walleyes and 10-pound bruiser channel cats — certainly not everyday catches, but some that I have been blessed with thanks to the early bite and my gumption to make it happen. Fishing, like anything else, requires work and sacrifice for success. If you snooze, you just might lose.
So, when the opportunity to hit the water at first light is presented to me, I almost always jump at the chance to enjoy that experience. It's just a magical and alluring time to be in the realm of nature. Catching fish is a bonus. Just being on the water at that time of day is good enough for me…and it always will be.