Cold fronts are the bane of anglers everywhere. Whether you're chasing walleyes, crappies, or bass, few things kill a hot bite faster than the arrival of a severe front that causes air temperatures to nosedive and once-aggressive fish to sulk with their jaws wired shut.
Technically, cold fronts are just the tip of the spear, leading the charge for punishing masses of cool air that roust warm weather from the area. As a front approaches, fish may go on a rampage. But suicide bites fade fast. In their wake, fish activity falters, and many species hunker tight to bottom or bury themselves in thick vegetation.
Often associated with bluebird skies or wispy clouds, along with a spike in barometric pressure and cool temps, the post-frontal landscape leaves many anglers scratching their heads. Fortunately, there are ways to tip the cold front fishing odds back in your favor. To conquer cold fronts and catch fish when others can't, check out the following tips for multispecies success in the wake of a frontal apocalypse.
Bluegills: Punchbait Attack
When summertime bluegills play hard to catch on the heels of a brutal front, veteran panfish hunter Scott Glorvigen punches petite plastics through thick cabbage canopies to tempt slab bluegills hunkered far below.
His go-to spots lie on weed-capped points and humps, often with a bit of coontail in the mix. To fish them, he wields a 7- to 8-foot, medium-power St. Croix Panfish Series spinning rod spooled with 10-pound superbraid mainline. The business end of the rigging includes a slipfloat, ¼-ounce bullet weight, small swivel, and 12-inch mono or fluorocarbon leader, tipped with a panfish-sized jig like a Northland Tackle Mud Bug, Gill-Getter, or Hexi Fly. A variety of plastics take panfish, but when the chips are down, a 1.25-inch Northland Mini Roundworm, rigged wacky-style, is hard to beat. You can also try it on a size 8 hook.
Make a short pitch, let the bullet sinker pull the rig down through the canopy to the base of the weeds, then twitch and pop the float in place to animate the plastic. With a long rod and the float close to the boat, vertical lifts are also deadly options.
Bass: Jungle Warfare
When cold fronts force largemouth bass to lay low, competitive bassin' standout Scott Bonnema plays the green card, plying thick vegetation ranging from shallow slop, rushes, and reeds to deep, cabbage-crowned points and weedline fringes in 15 to 18 feet of water.
Shallow bass are plucked from their lairs with a ½-ounce grass jig tipped with a 4-inch beavertail softbait like the Trigger X Flappin' Grub. You can also rig the same bait weedless on a 4/0 to 5/0 heavy, wide-gap hook, with a pegged, ½- to ¾-ounce bullet sinker. Pitch the bait into a pocket, let it sit for a few seconds, then lift it six inches off bottom, give it a shake and lower it again. Repeat two or three times per pocket and if you don't get bit, move on.
To search deep weeds, Bonnema advises switching to deep-diving crankbaits like Rapala's DT16. Make a long cast, reel the bait down, and begin a slow retrieve. 'œKeep your rodtip close to the surface but off to the side, at about 2 o'clock,' he offers. 'œOccasionally move the tip to 12 o'clock, so it points to the bait. This makes the lure stop, pivot and hang there, which often triggers a strike.'
After catching a bass, Bonnema makes additional casts to the same area. 'œYou can often catch multiple fish from one spot,' he explains, noting that he often switches to a jig-and-plastic combo to fully exploit a hot zone.
Crappies: Tightline Fever
When a cold front crushes the prespawn crappie bite in fast-warming shallows, don't throw in the towel. Take a tip from veteran crappie guide Barry Morrow of Eufaula Lake, Oklahoma.
Look for slabs gathered around structural sweet spots such as patches of grass, brush, or stumps along a channel break or shoreline drop-off. Use a loop knot to attach a 1/8- to ¼-ounce leadhead jig to 8- to 10-pound mono mainline. Tip the jig with a soft-plastic grub body (Morrow likes Lindy's Watsit and Fuzz-E-Grub) and hover the combo just off bottom.
Trout: Softbait Finesse
In stable weather with a breeze blowing against the bank, hungry rainbows, browns, and lakers cruising shoreline shallows are easy marks for casting or longline trolling swimbaits, spoons, and stickbaits. But when a front passes and bright sun beats on glass-calm waters, the bite fizzles.
'œAggressive tactics are out,' says high-country guide and longtime salmonid stalker Bernie Keefe, of Granby, Colorado. 'œBut that doesn't mean you quit fishing.' Keefe copes by finessing softbaits such as 4-inch bass-style tubes and 5-inch Berkley PowerBait and Gulp! Jerk Shads.
He threads subdued-colored softbaits on similarly drab leadheads up to half an ounce in weight. The heft helps fuel long casts and engenders easy bottom contact. 'œPush the head tight against jerkbaits and deep into tubes, so the jig burrows into bottom,' he advises. Make a long cast, let the jig settle, and begin a slow, bottom-oriented retrieve. Keep the rodtip at about 2 o'clock, alternately dragging, twitching, and pausing the jig. Pauses may linger 10 to 15 seconds.
Prime lies include the same flats, points, and inside turns that gave up trout before the front arrived, in depths of 2 to 15 feet. 'œI like fishing sand, gravel, and mud, mainly because rocks eat rigs dragged along the bottom,' Keefe explains.
Muskies: Green Party
During the early summer period, muskies commonly cruise fast-warming, soft-bottomed bays, especially those offering emerging greenery. In fair weather, you'll often enjoy the best action fishing along weed edges or over weed tops. Cold fronts change all that, pushing toothy giants deep into the jungle.
To extract sulking dragons from the salad, esox ace Pete Maina ties on a jig and dips it into the thickest, freshest cabbage around. He favors ½- to 3/8-ounce, single-hook leadheads sweetened with beefy softbaits like a 6-inch Berkley Gulp! Grub, 7-inch Gulp! Saltwater Jerk Shad, or 8-inch PowerBait Grub, rigged on a 12-inch wire leader and 65- to 80-pound Trilene Braid mainline.
'œDon't be afraid to get down in the weeds,' he says. 'œIf you just reel a jig over the canopy, you're making a mistake.' Animation varies. 'œI have no set cadence,' he says, explaining that experimenting with varied rips, twitches, and other strokes allows him to quickly determine what muskies want at the moment. Two constants, however, are a slow-falling jig, and responding to snags by snapping the rodtip. When you hang up, snap the jig to rip it free,' he says, noting that such maneuvers often trigger violent strikes.
Walleyes: Cold Front Campout
'œCold fronts and barometric pressure changes shut down walleyes — with large fish being more affected than small ones,' says veteran guide Jon Thelen. 'œWalleyes are tighter to structure and less active, so you need to slow down your presentation and camp out over any fish marked on sonar. Many times, you have to put the bait in front of their nose to get them to bite.'
Thelen favors the iconic Lindy Rig. He likes the 72-inch original version in clear water and over smooth substrate, while shorter options work wonders in snaggy conditions. Sliding sinker weights range from ¼ ounce in the shallows to 3/8 ounce in deeper water. Standard walking sinkers are great on bare bottoms, but he opts for Lindy No-Snaggs when water hazards are a factor.
Leeches and minnows are top choices for post-frontal rigging. 'œWhen I'm working classic summer structure like the edge of a mid-lake hump and spot a fish on my graph, I hit the brakes and hover over the fish, letting the bait do its thing until it eventually entices the fish to bite,' he says.
If Thelen encounters a group of walleyes schooled in a small area, he may add jigs to the presentational mix. 'œA Lindy Jig tipped with a minnow can be deadly,' he says. 'œDuring a tough bite, a slow drag-lift-drop approach often outfishes more aggressive jigging, although it pays to experiment.'