March 03, 2017
It happens all the time, much to the chagrin of bass anglers nationwide. A cold front passes through, air temperature drops, high pressure and clear blue skies overtake the region. It's great for boat riding, tough for fishing. But don't throw in the towel too soon. With an understanding of how cold front bass respond and some tactical adjustments, you can salvage the day.
For starters, it's important to note that while all fish have high and low thresholds for livable water temperatures, they're well equipped to handle the typical range for their region. Chilly water can certainly reposition fish, but by the time truly cold weather arrives, bass have acclimated and made their way to suitable areas for winter.
Cold fronts also turn on the big fan and lakes can get bumpy. That hinders boat travel on big waters, but bass can handle sloppy conditions. Waves can create feeding opportunities.
The main challenge that a cold front delivers is the cloudless bright sky that accompanies the high pressure that rides the frontal system's backside. The day after a cold front's passage is bluebird time and it's gonna test your mettle.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
A lifetime outdoorsman, FLW Tour pro Mark Rose of Arkansas says that while subtle shifts in weather patterns can stimulate aggressive feeding by bass, sudden, harsh changes seem to suppress their activity level. While the fall season typically finds bass feeding well ahead of winter's arrival, cold fronts can throw a wrench in patterns.
"It shocks the fish and gets them off feeding mode," Rose says. "Bass tend to feed best and most predictably during stable conditions. We humans can control our environment with a thermostat. Fish have to deal with what nature gives them."
Fronts of late spring and fall have similar effects, but particularly in southern waters, they typically react less dramatically to vernal changes than to those of autumn. California ace Ish Monroe has faced the bluebird blues coast to coast during his years on the Bassmaster Elite circuit, FLW Tour, and PAA events. When those conditions occur, he expects bass to reposition. "Basically, they hunker down," he says. "They either hold tighter to the cover or move farther underneath it."
Of course, bass hug cover in non-frontal conditions, too, but the atmospheric clarity of a bluebird day sends maximum solar radiation, which affects shallow-dwelling fishes. There's motivation to seek shady surroundings.
Monroe notes that not every bass in a lake heads shallow in fall. In his home state, fall finds plenty of fish living deep in lakes like Shasta, Oroville, and Folsom. "Bass in deep water are not as affected as shallow fish," he says. "If they're in 50 to 60 feet, a bluebird day doesn't affect the bite much at all."
In that shallow zone, Rose thinks it's the abrupt changes brought on by post-frontal days that affect bass the most. "The bite can be good with gradual change," he says. "But drastic shifts in light levels, water temperature, barometer, and wind do put them off."
As Rose notes, bass may be schooling in a feeding fervor as the front moves in, but when the next morning dawns brilliant and blue, the likelihood of a hot morning bite is slim. "You typically have to slow down and go to more of a finesse presentation."
Less is More
With a few exceptions, post-frontal lure adjustment should be "smaller and slower." Smaller lure profiles appear easier to catch for bass that don't feel much like moving. Rose favors a shaky-head jig in most finesse situations. On bluebird days, though, he downsizes jig weight so it's just enough to reach bottom and stay put.
Texas and Carolina rigs—both viable options for bluebird days—benefit by downsizing to a smaller worm, lizard, or creature bait. And at times, dipping tails and pincers in chartreuse or red can gain you a few more bites.
Bass fishing legend Denny Brauer is fond of Strike King's Rage Craw trailer for his signature Strike King Premier Pro Model flipping jig. In post-frontal conditions, though, he switches to the more subtle Rage Chunk. Sometimes he opts to retain the action of the craw trailer, but reduces size of the package by biting off half of the craw's body.
When bass seek shelter under dense weedmats found on the California Delta and elsewhere, Monroe doesn't bother with coaxing. It's all about forced entry. "When bass move far back under the mat, punching is the only way you can reach them," he says. "They won't be as aggressive as they are in stable conditions, however."
Monroe typically downsizes his punchin' rig for bluebird conditions, reducing sinker weight from a 1½-ounce River2Sea Trash Bomb to a 1-ouncer, as long as it can still penetrate the cover. And he switches from a Missile Baits D-Bomb to a Baby D-Bomb or sometimes the slender Missile Craw.
For subtle worm presentations in stable weather, Monroe fishes a Texas-rigged 8 3/4-inch Missile Baits Tomahawk. But in post-frontal conditions, he switches to a shaky-head jig and Missile Baits Fuse, 4.4-inch finesse worm with slender craw pincers.
With any lure, slowing the presentation increases your odds since it gives sluggish bass more opportunity to bite. From creeping a finesse football jig to slow-rolling a spinnerbait just fast enough to keep the blades turning, baits should be easy to catch under bluebird skies.
This approach seems counterintuitive to some anglers. A slow bite makes them want to cover more water and find active fish. But experts suggest that you help yourself more by giving fewer fish longer looks at your bait than by buzzing it past dozens more. This takes discipline. Some anglers go so far as to switch reels, using one with a 5.3:1 gear ratio rather than something of 6:1 or higher. The idea is to force yourself to slow down and "paint the bottom."
Continued after gallery...
Stephen Johnston finds that bulging a spinnerbait at high speed sometimes causes bass to bite, even when they ignore slower presentations.
River2Sea Trash Bomb with Missle Baits Mini D-Bomb
Ish Monroe downsizes punch weights from a 11„2-ounce to a 1-ounce River2Sea Trash Bomb, matched to a Missile Baits Mini D-Bomb instead of a D-Bomb. river2seausa.com
Storm Arashi Silent Square 3
Strike King Premier Pro-Model Jig with Rage Chunk — Denny Brauer
Strike King Premier Pro-Model Jig with Rage Chunk — Denny Brauer's smaller profile setup for bluebird days. strikeking.com
When to Wind
Post-front bluebird blues don't last forever. Texas pro Phil Marks looks forward to the late afternoon hours on post-front days. That's when the bite typically picks up, as the water has had time to warm and light levels are reduced.
"Lipless rattlebaits are best in colder water and windy post-frontal days," Marks says. "Wave action helps break up the light, but even on slick post-front days, bass get more active in the evening. A Strike King Red Eye Shad can save the day under those conditions."
Along with lipless baits, squarebills including Strike King's KVD 1.5 and 2.5, Storm Arashi Silent Square 3, or Koppers Threadfin Shad Baitball come on strong with afternoon warming. Texas pro Stephen Johnston also takes advantage of the late-day perk-up by casting a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait. "Sometimes it works to burn a spinnerbait just below the surface on a 7:1 reel," he says. "The speedy retrieve seem to make bass react. Make a long cast and stick the tip of your rod in the water and wind as fast as you can. It virtually wakes the surface.
"A lot of times, especially if it's cold, bass come up and mouth the spinnerbait. You don't feel a bite, but only sense the blades halting. When that happens, set the hook."
Coping with cold fronts involves patience, bait adjustment, and altering retrieves. Part of mental preparation involves downsizing your expectations as well. Key, too, is the confidence to painstakingly probe thick cover, being ready for the slight tick that means you've fooled a bass.
*David A. Brown, Tampa, Florida, is a freelance writer and president of Tight Line Communications. He is a regular contributor to Bass Guide.