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Striped Bass Topwater Fiesta

I’ll take a new moon over a full when planning my dawn departures and thank goodness this morning’s played perfectly into this preference. Reason being—the week of the new moon equals the darkest nights of the month, which, in theory, minimizes overnight feeding frenzies. The fish will be hungry come magic hour at sunrise. Conversely, a full moon makes for a bright night, moving baitfish, and very active predator feeding (great for night fishing though!). What does all of this ultimately mean to the angler? Well, if the goal is striking fish at dawn, then the new moon is what you want. And dawn today was a striped bass topwater fiesta!

Add to this the fact that during the Fourth of July holiday, the middle Chesapeake Bay region experienced a cold front and rains moving in with heavy cloud cover. The rain cooled the water yesterday into the night and, by dawn, surface water temperature was a comfortable 75F (down from low-80s). The rain held off, but the cloud cover over the Severn River was near 100 percent. Two more incredibly favorable variables that help extend the window of time for the topwater bite and all fish feeding in general. 

White perch were abundant and active all morning, too.

Tide and current were also favorable with a 1.5’ high tide arriving just after sunrise before ebbing down significantly all morning. Winds were predicted to be under 10 knots from the south, but we’ll get to that in just a moment.

With my tag-along fishing buddy, son Talon, sitting shotgun, we launched at about 5:45 a.m. from the north Severn and headed across the river to a cove with a stretch of shallow flats that drop off into near-20’ depths. Problem was the wind. Predicted to be minimal at 5 knots or so, it was puffing more than 10 from the southeast. And we were on the windward side of the river. This disturbed my plan of fishing the flats for roaming stripers with topwater lures. 

Instead, we found plenty of white perch, most up to only 9” hitting small jigs with micropaddletails. But this was not our target species or presentation. So we moved across the river—specifically to a point at which the wind was gently pushing perpendicular to it, making for a fantastic drift. 

This point has an expanse of submerged aquatic vegetation and fishing the edges of it would prove productive. Upon arrival and setting our drift, we began to see the signs of life we were seeking: scattered bait balls flickering on the surface and topwater rises from larger fish. 

Son Talon with a nice schoolie caught on topwater.

I started with a popper (Stillwater Smack It, Jr.), but sensing the action was a bit more aggressive than the fish wanted, I re-tied with a walking bait (Shimano Coltsniper). The subtle walk-the-dog action was enticing and soon enough a fish smacked the heck out of the lure and missed. I kept the lure in motion. The fish hit again. And missed. I kept it going and the fish walloped the lure a third time, connecting with it fully. He was hooked and gave a nice tug with a small flurry of runs before my son netted him. A healthy near-22” schoolie (which happened to be our largest of the morning). Quite fun. We rested and revived the fish, and he swam away healthily. 

This was the party we came for—during the next hour of fishing, topwater strikes were consistent before dying off by about 7:30 a.m. at which point I tried a silver jerkbait. Fish swiped it several times, but I never did officially connect with one. I think if my patience was more mature, I could have stuck a few more fish. But we moved onward to a couple other sandbar points (with nary a bite) before heading home.

The report: We found fish hitting topwater around a grassy point in 4’ of water adjacent to deeper water. We caught a few of them with a walking lure. The fish were having a ball, feeding with abandon. The variables of a new moon, temperature, cloud cover, tide, and current aligned pretty well for the dawn bite. The river was very active below and at the surface. I’m glad we woke up early to be on the river, before the sun burned off the clouds, and the jet skis and powerboats started revving upriver and down. Have a safe holiday weekend. 

See y’all on the water again, real soon!  

This Shimano Coltsniper walking lure got the day’s strikes.