- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

At 4:30 a.m., with daylight still more than an hour away, the Patuxent River appeared to be the darkest place in the universe. There were no shoreline homes with yard lights to brighten the night. A full-moon phase was still a good many days away, and even the commercial crab trotliners who usually get an early start stayed close to the dock before they started their day’s work.

So Dale Knupp and I were the only ones who putt-putted down the river. The boat’s bow and stern lights were aglow, and Dale mumbled something about me being mentally impaired for wanting to get such an early start.

“Do you know where we’re going?” asked Knupp, who then answered it himself: “That’s Sheridan Point I see poking out from that dark land mass. I think it is.”

Then he added, “Next time we go, we’ll start at first light, not in this kind of darkness.” I don’t know why he worried so. He had a brightly lit GPS unit that pretty much showed the way, and his depth finder told him he was in deep enough water to keep from running aground.

Knupp did allow that what we were about to do — fishing with artificial lures for anything that might bite — was worth doing when the temperatures promised to climb into the 90s and the humidity would be so oppressive that a T-shirt that was dry only 10 minutes ago would be sopping wet before you could spell the word “sticky.”

When we found a large cove that had been so good to us in previous outings, Knupp shut down the big Evinrude on the back of his bass boat and slipped a battery-powered trolling motor over the bow, and the two of us started casting 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits or small rattling baitfish imitators toward the still black shoreline.

It only required two casts before both of us fought fair-sized white perch that were immediately put on ice. Why? Because they taste so good.

Then a large channel catfish broke my line, followed by another “cat” that Dale hooked when the first light of day crept over the narrow peninsula that we know as Calvert County.

The point of all this was simply not to sit in a boat or on land in bullish, sunny heat, wilting and suffering, when there actually was decent fishing to be had before the sun baked the water.

The pier fishermen at Point Lookout State Park know this and act accordingly; so do the evening boaters who venture into the Chesapeake to search for nighttime croakers, stripers and bluefish.

Anybody with even a little sense knows that a bright sun and super-heated water (some of the river temperatures in Bay Country reached the 80s during the past week) don’t lend to casting artificial lures into the shallows and actually finding something worth reeling in.

However, when it’s dark or when the light is still low on the horizon, most bait-chasing fish species often can be found in water less than two feet deep, looking for an unsuspecting minnow.

It happened to us on this quiet morning. On Thursday it happened to my old friend Bill Greer as he joined me while we slowly moved along a rock-strewn shoreline in the Potomac River.

The same stretch of Potomac frontage over the years had given up stripers (one weighed 18 pounds, I remember with special fondness), large catfish, many tasty white and yellow perch, as well as a couple of Wrong-Way Corrigan largemouth bass that weighed more than four pounds. What the bass were doing that far south on the river, I’ll never know.

None of these productive outings occurred in mid- or late summer heat and light; all of them happened either in near total darkness or right around a time of morning that deer hunters call the magic hour — the twilight when the first rays of brightness push against the black mantle of night.

This is indeed a magic time for the hunter as well as the angler.

Try it whenever possible. Then when the cool breezes of autumn arrive, you can sleep a little later every day. As the water cools, the fish aren’t as anxious to leave their shallow feeding grounds as quickly.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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