False Dawn: An Angler’s Morning

By Matt Stone @SunriseKayakFishing

        It is three o’clock in the morning. A Saturday. No work looming. Warm sheets. Swollen, tired eyes. The iPhone’s rhythmic alarm tone pulses in my ears, and even though the vast majority of the world will lay soundly asleep for the next four or five hours, it has never been easier for me to wake up. The sheets slide off of my hips, my body rotates, and I peel out of bed. Toes kneading the carpet, I take the first few strides toward the door, and with each step the misty hypnosis of sleep shakes from me like water droplets from a rain-spattered umbrella. There’s fishing to do, and I’ve got three hours and nine minutes until sunrise.

        As the coffee-maker gurgles happily on the kitchen counter, there is a mental wrestling match occurring between my brain, running on four hours of sleep, and my body, running on raw adrenaline. I’ve got a checklist to get through- rods, select tackle boxes, ample water, sun screen, snacks, it’s all there. My two hounds anxiously clamor for an early walk, because in their minds I’m awake, and their walk must be the reason why. There is a moment when I first open the front door and the damp warmth of a summer night rolls across my face when I begin to feel truly alive. This is my day, because as far as I can tell I’m the only one awake for it, and I’m going to wring every last minute from its fabric that I can. The dogs are soon walked, the coffee is hot, the kayak is on the roof, and I’ve got two hours and thirty-six minutes until sunrise.

        I live in downtown Baltimore, about two home runs’ distance from Camden Yards, and these streets never sleep…except for right now. Right now they look like the opening scene of a zombie movie, and I’m the unsuspecting civilian catching all of the green lights through an empty, silent neighborhood, which will soon wake to post-apocalyptic chaos. But right now it’s only me, and that’s just how I like it. The desolate emptiness of a typically-buzzing city is cathartic, and I speed south on I-295, nothing in front of me but a blank slate of undefined memories created by doing what I love.

        The hour and ten minute drive is an opportunity to take stock of the morning’s plan. Days ago, the momentum of this trip began building, and I picked the target species and boat launch based on season, wind, temperature, and desire. Now the micro-details are fine-tuned: the first shoreline to work, which lure gets the opening cast. Just like that, everything is set.

        Interstates dwindle to side roads, then narrow into back roads, and underneath a moonless sky pin-pricked with stars I arrive at the water. The day’s first goal has been accomplished: I’m the only car here. I am not entirely sure why, but for me, being the first car at the boat launch is important. Maybe it’s a small reward for the recklessly early alarm I set, or the satisfaction of knowing that, despite the huge expanse of fishable water, no one has caught the fish before me on that day. Like I said, I’m not sure why it’s so important. But it is, and I’ve got 58 minutes until sunrise and a kayak that needs rigging.

        Bungees hook into pad eyes, rods slide into their PVC cylinders, a life-vest is clicked snugly around my chest, and it’s time for push off. This is it. Right here. That moment. The one I’ve been waiting for. Clumsy carp leap and splash as I paddle into a space devoid of a horizon, existing somewhere between sky and water. The paddle dips in sync with my eager heartbeat, cracking the water’s glass surface. I slow, glide, stop, and look. Splashes of creamsicle and lavender bleed through the silhouette of trees, hinting at the coming day. There’s enough light to cast by, the braided line peels off smoothly, launching my lure into dawn’s gaping chasm. I hear a satisfying plop as it lands. I don’t know what happens next. But it’s my day, and there are  still two minutes until sunrise.