The Early Worm Gets the Fish

July is here, and with it the heat waves that inevitably mark summer on the Chesapeake. Ninety-plus degrees with a blazing-hot sun will slow the fish. Even if it ­doesn’t, that sun can make being on the water after high noon uncomfortable if not unhealthy.
    The solution is painful, at least for me. We have to get up early. It’s the dawn bite this time of year that pays off. The air and surface water will still be cool, the fish will be hungry, and your favorite spot will be void of boat traffic, at least for a few more hours.
    The first blush of daylight begins at about 5am these days, so you’ve got to be out of the rack at 4am to be on site at first light.
    Dodging the sun’s blast furnace with late afternoon starts won’t work this month nor the next. Fishing toward sundown involves flirting with low light that can disguise rapidly forming summer storm cells. It is courting danger. For the next month or so, if you want a full day on the water it’s got to start early.

Plan Ahead
    Pre-dawn starts bring other problems besides the pain of a zero dark 30 rising. Very few bait shops open that early.
    The surest way to be ready is getting your bait, food, water and ice the night before. Your vehicle and boat should also be fully prepped, gassed and ready to go.
    Always double-check the weather conditions before leaving. You’ll be traveling and launching in the dark, so there will be few visual clues as to approaching or changing weather fronts.
    Have a Plan B before you launch. Arriving on location at 5am, you could discover that the tides are not making up, the fish have vacated the area or the winds are not conforming to forecasts. Be ready to adapt.
    Have alternate locations identified. If the wind is coming from the wrong direction or is blowing too strong, know which nearby areas have a lee or which nearby rivers may offer a better lineup of current and breeze.
    Think through and jot down the alternate sites the night before, plus the tides and currents at those areas. Smartphones and iPhones with tide and map apps can be very helpful.
    If you’re planning on live-lining and suddenly can’t catch suitably sized Norfolk spot, do not waste the morning searching for them. Try using perch instead, bring some fresh menhaden as backup or have the tackle for deep jigging. The bite, this time of year, will not get any better than that at first light.
    You’ve got to be ready when the fish are.