Even people who don’t fish have the mental picture of fishermen waking up long before dawn for the legendary morning bite. Is it really worth it? Is driving up to the lake in darkness and launching the boat during the twilight hours really worth the effort? Wouldn’t it make better sense to wake up at a sensible hour and make the best out of daylight? As is often the case in fishing, the answer is a resounding “it depends”! So let’s find out on what.
The prey/predator relationship is a fine-tuned balance. Indeed, in the water or on land, if preys were too good at escaping and evading predation, predators would starve and die. Conversely, if predators were too good at catching prey, they would eradicate them to the last one. Only men have this capacity, in the wild, there’s a natural balance.
It means for fish that the game of hide and seek is won by baitfish a lot of the time. But game fish have learned to recognize those moments when they have the advantage. During the day, and in an average default situation, baitfish have the advantage. But twice a day, at dawn and dusk the strategic and light environment shifts, and rather quickly. The day turns into night and the night turns into day.
In the summertime, when the water gets hot, the oxygen content decreases forcing fish either in deep water or buried deep in grass beds or under overhanging vegetation. At night the surface water cools off and oxygen content climbs back up.
Much like us, most fish have day sight abilities and night sight abilities, and morning and evening are times of transition. We can assume that this transition doesn’t happen at the same speed for baitfish and game fish. Predator fish know this and use it to their advantage and actively feed during these times.
Anyone who’s bass fished at night knows that it’s not necessary to place the lures in tight places in heavy cover. Fish tend to roam around, loosely connected to cover. So in the early morning, fish whether they’re pike or perch will also be feeding in shallow water roaming around looking for food. That’s why topwater techniques are so good because they are very visible, easy to find, and cover wide expanses of water.
The same goes for zander. During the day, they’ll retreat to the deepest pools or hide in the shadiest cover. At night they spot and stalk is shallower water. In the morning they will be active making the best out of the last hour of hunting time.
So yes, the morning bite is a reality on hot summer days. It’s a great time to throw a topwater lure. It’s also a good on pressured lakes because in the morning you can be sure that no one has fished the spot before you. Fish are still “virgin” as far as the day goes. So that applies to the whole year regardless of the season.
Except for the pressure, we saw that what causes the morning bite to be good is oxygen level and light transition. That doesn’t apply in the same way on a late November rainy day as on a hot august day. Yet the light transition still exists but not as sharply, especially in stained or muddy water. So yes, in my opinion, the morning bite still exists, but it won’t be as remarkable or as good as it was a few months prior. I would still wake up early but not with the same expectation.
As the autumn transition into winter, the bite tends to shift to the middle of the day. Even on a clear blue sky day, the sun stays low and light penetration is minimal. Coldwater decreases fish activity, it will take them longer to digest food and they won’t feed as often. That’s not to say it will never happen but more often than not peak activity will happen between 11 am and 4 pm.
It’s hard to pinpoint when the morning bite resumes in the spring. Even though temperatures and oxygen content are not an issue yet, the morning bite is already quite real. Sometimes it’s on sometimes not, morning or not, spring fishing is hard to predict anyway. My rule of thumb is to be out early if the weatherman says the day will be sunny! And even if the bite is disappointing, watching the sunrise on the water never is!
There’s another benefit for the early morning fishing session. As dedicated and passionate anglers we are not afraid or bothered by setting our alarm clock at 5 am or earlier. And we’ve all heard friends or acquaintances tell us “hey can I go fishing with you?”; we know or suspect that that person’s motivation will quickly run out and they’ll ask to go home way too soon. There’s a surefire way to weed out the low motivation type: “sure, I’ll pick you up at 5 am, don’t be late!” Works every time!
With the exception of the dead of the winter, I find that by and large being on the water just before dawn is very important. Not only it’s a good time to catch a big fish, but it’s also important to connect with the water. Get a feel for what’s going on, get your senses going, and feed your intuition. The quiet, the mist, the animal life is so magical to reconnect my hunter’s instinct I wouldn’t miss it!