Beating the Sunrise

Whether you fish largemouth or stripers, lake trout or bluefish, they are all on the feed early and often disappear when the sun gets bright.

kayak bluefish

August is the feast or famine month throughout New England. Depending on where you live, you may think it is the best or the worst fishing of the year. Bright, warm days and warm water aren’t always conducive to great fishing, but there are plenty of opportunities for those willing to put in the work to get on the bite.

When I tell people how much I like to fish, they assume that I’m a morning person—but I’m not. I hate getting up early! I would rather stay out late and fish well into the night than get up long before the sunrises, but the morning bite is too tempting this time of year, so the alarm clock gets set. Waking up early is a fishing skill that shouldn’t be underestimated. This month, whether you fish fresh or salt, there is an early morning bite near you, and the fish will be up and feeding. I’m always harping on the mobility factor of kayaks because we can drop them in places and fish where others can’t. August is time to take advantage of that mobility—a quick launch and a short trip can put us on fish and back off the water before most boaters have left the dock.
Most fish have fixed pupils, meaning that between the warm water and bright sun, they don’t spend much time in the shallows in August. Those fixed pupils are great for low light, sunrise, and sunset, so the fish head deeper as the sun rises. This creates a time around sunrise when the fish go on the feed, and being in the right place at the right time definitely pays off.

First light is a magical time on the water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on really good fishing before sunrise and saw the bite completely die once the sun hit the horizon. This time of year, I make some short trips, expecting to be off the water shortly after sunrise; it’s a chance to get in some great fishing, then be back home early to spend time with the family.

sunrise kayak striped bass

The morning bite happens in fresh and salt, whether you fish largemouth or stripers, lake trout or bluefish. They are all on the feed early and often disappear when the sun gets bright. Different strategies work for different species, but the same principles apply to many of them. Topwater lures are great at first light, but switching to subsurface even before the sun hits the horizon will help bag a few extra fish. Start your fishing shallow, then work deeper as the sky brightens, since many species head up on to the flats and then leave just before sunrise.

One thing about early morning raids—make sure you are considerate of the neighbors. Many of us fish local ponds or have neighborhood saltwater launches that we cherish, but be aware that most other people aren’t up that early. By being quiet and not waking the neighbors, you are preserving those launches for future trips – more than one spot has been closed because of too much noise.

Being on the water and prepared before the bite starts will increase your chances of success, so you may be launching in the dark. Getting organized and out on the water in the dark takes a little planning because you have to know where everything is, and you need the lights to find it. I keep a small flashlight clipped to my PFD and another in my crate. These help me find my gear and see better if I need to tie a knot in the dark. You also need a light in your kayak, and those of us who regularly fish at night use a pole light attached to either the kayak or tackle crate. Don’t underestimate the value of a good light on your kayak for early launches, since some boaters also launch early and may not expect to see kayakers.

Once you are on the water, the bite may come fast and mean a very short window to get some fish. If you’re retying lures or dealing with tangles, you may miss a good portion of that window. Bring multiple rods and rig them with the lures or baits that you expect to use when the fish are on. It’s much faster to swap rods than to change lures, and you can always swap back. Early in the morning, I often swap between topwater and subsurface lures. It’s also handy to have a topwater rigged to throw at breaking fish.

Breaking fish often occur right around sunrise, in both salt and fresh water. Stripers and blues are famous for early morning blitzes, but I have seen white perch and landlocked salmon blitzing as well. On one vacation, I threw small jigs at breaking salmon every morning, even in warm water. They were feeding on top just before sunrise.

Sunrise bites can be very unique because many fish are hungry and feeding, but only for a very short period. Sometimes, you might fish all day and work every lure in your box, and still not catch as many fish as you did at dawn.

August is often a difficult month to find active fish because their feeding windows are so short or they are feeding at night, so the morning bite is for those who don’t like to fish in the dark.

The consolation prize for a bad morning trip is a great sunrise. Even if you don’t catch any fish, you can always take a great picture to share with your family and friends!

3 on “Beating the Sunrise

  1. LOU


  2. Patrick Aponte

    Haha….yeah its tough going to sleep early on family vacation….we vacation on Cape Cod….Wife is usually sipping vino all night and i dont need mich peer pressure to join her. But its vacation time…Steeljeading in Pulaski w the boys, i have no problem getting to bed early and up before dawn….its much easier when the whole crew is on the same page….

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