On May 1st, striped bass season officially reopens in Chesapeake Bay waters. The main stem of the bay is open to trophy catch and keeping, while many of the tributaries remain release only (or still closed until June). Regardless of where anglers are in Maryland’s portion of the Bay, the start of striper season tickles the fancy of all and heralds delights aplenty for the most anticipated of fishery seasons. It’s also when anglers begin to set their alarm clocks to awaken at ungodly hours, long before dawn breaks, in order to be in place, on the water, when those first rays of light crack over the horizon and the fish bite best.
When the pursuit of fishing transitions from simple fun into an obsession, one’s attention, homework, and angling desires inevitably turn to the sunrise bite—the time and place of absolute stillness and peace (weather abiding), when Mother Nature herself begins to stir after a long night’s rest. As the predawn, deep indigo, grape hue skies surrender to darts of pink, reds, orange, and yellow, the birds begin their chatter, critters emerge, and the fish—oh the fish—start positioning themselves to feed. And the fisherman, in his/her ritual of rituals, will be ready to cast.
The predawn and sunrise bite is no mystery to anglers that study their passion. And there is perhaps no better time to wrangle in the most exciting of strikes a fish can and will make—the topwater bite. If you’re gutsy, smart, a little bit lucky, and a lot of crazy (or so your spouse suggests), you’ll rise at least an hour or two before the scheduled sunrise, claim you spot on the trib of choice, have rod, reel, and lure ready to fling, and hopefully see, hear, and feel the most amazing interruption of tranquility that can be experienced. The explosion of a topwater strike at dawn forever changes an angler, and it will become an addiction.
Equally addicting will be the overall experience. The preparation and practice that one puts into a sunrise fishing trip. Striper anglers know this very well. Largemouth bass fisherman too. Those who studiously fish—all in the name of fun, of course—have this addiction. We are the sunrise seekers. And when your target species’ season awakens, so do you.
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to chase the sunrise is also the most simple. There is a moment—a moment when your destination is in sight and the night stars begin to fade away. When a stray osprey zips past you in equal anticipation of what’s to come. When the only break in the flat, open, calm water is your own wake. There’s a slight twinkle along the treetops in the distance. A gull squeaks in the background and the smell of salt and fish and life infiltrates each breath. You throttle down to idle into position. You reach down to your rigged rods and make the first selection that you’ve been scrutinizing and dreaming about all night long. Your forearms motion back to make the morning’s first cast. And as you bring the rod forward, the line unfurls, launching the lure toward an infinite horizon ahead where you see the most gorgeous sun—our sun—rising as if to say ever gently, “You’ve arrived to this moment. Welcome and enjoy.”