During the late fall and early winter, brisk cold fronts push south and east through the southern states, lowering water temperatures and often severely impacting bass activity. Picking the right waters and techniques are vital for catching chilled bass. Despite the sudden cold weather conditions, anglers using the right strategy still may have an excellent opportunity to catch bass.
Cool-weather success can be unpredictable because late fall days vary from week to week and year to year in most southern states; some cold fronts may be harsh and others mild. Daytime highs may be very tolerable, but brief cold fronts can drive water temperatures down and generally turn off the bass. Warm snaps shortly after the front usually do the opposite, and on these days some of your bigger bass can be caught. The productive angler’s chances depend primarily on knowing the keys to catching post-frontal bass—basically how the weather affects the bass, their food and the total bass environment in each lake or river.
A lot of things happen with the onset of repeated cold fronts and cooler water temperatures. Algae, moss, grass and other cover in most lakes is thinned out, concentrating the bass even more. As the bass metabolism is slowed, so is the activity rate of most of his favorite meals. Bream, crappie, shad and shiners are less active right after a fall cold front than at any other time of the year except in the winter months. Crayfish, frogs and insects are dormant with the chill. Freshly hatched fish of all species have mostly disappeared.
Not all waters are hit by old man winter at the same time, though. One strategy for finding and catching cold front bass a day or two after the frigid weather has blown through is to drive south—if you go far enough, you’ll outrun the cold front. This tactic is primarily effective when the direction of the first few fronts are mostly eastward.
Often, the earliest cold fronts don’t fully penetrate the deep south. A handful of the early fronts won’t even make it to south Texas, Louisiana or Florida. Even in late November, many turn off and scoot into the Atlantic without impacting central Florida at all. The impact of the early fronts may be minimal on states along the Gulf thanks to its still-moderate water and land temperatures.
Certain bodies of waters also have characteristics that may separate them from others more prone to a deep chill. The warmest waters usually are most productive for post-frontal largemouth action. If you can’t or don’t want to drive too far south, then look to deep reservoirs and deeper natural lakes near you. Water temperatures in the depths remain fairly warm after brief fall cold fronts, but shallow waters can be affected quickly. Also consider waters that have a warm water influence, such as natural springs (which may introduce waters of 70 to 72 degrees year around), rivers, power plant discharges, or shallow, relatively short and clear watersheds that can quickly recover after a couple of full-sun days. Stay away from cold, muddy waters.
A water temperature gauge (or a sonar unit that has one built in) can be invaluable, so definitely keep an eye on it. In relatively clear waters, you’ll often find the temperature at 8- or 9-foot depths to be within a degree or two of the surface reading. But, in waters having visibilities of 1 to 3 feet, you may locate a productive deeper hole having minimal temperature fluctuations. Such places attract bass, which take up a position around structure or near a thermocline in the water column to escape the rapid shallow water cooling when a cold front blows through.
Still another way to locate warmer waters and more active bass is to find those with fairly clear waters having heavy vegetation growth. Weeds and other aquatic growth hold heat in, and as such, generally offer warmer water temperatures during the early cold fronts. Several lakes may still have some aquatic vegetation in the fall (although its presence is normally reduced with each passing cold front). All of these factors though may have an impact and resulting in an angler locating more active bass.
EFFECTIVE SOFT-PLASTIC RESPONSE FOR FRONTS
There are several lure strategies to consider for post-frontal success and slowing down your retrieve is right at the top of the list. A very slow-moving bait will attract semi-dormant or inactive fish, but you’ll need to be alert at all times. A fish striking your lure down deep in cold water telegraphs very faintly to the angler above. In the fall, bass can last a week on a good meal before requiring another, and they will seldom chase after a fast-moving lure. After a front, bass tend to reserve energy and wait for an easy meal. Leave your fast-ratio retrieve reels at home, unless you know how to really slow them down.
Naturally, soft plastics that can be slowly dragged along bottom structure or a deep drop-off can be very effective. Finding a good concentration of bass that have moved deeper to a warmer haunt can be a real find. Plastic worms, soft jerk baits, flukes, tubes, grubs, stickbaits and other small plastic lures are often productive. Use a Texas-rigged plastic bottom bumper in mid- to deep waters or a Carolina rig on heavily-vegetated or brushy bottoms. Scale down to a pencil worm, like a 5-inch red shad or June bug Yum Dinger in smaller, clear waters, and employ either a Swimming or Wacky rig. A drop-shot rig is a wise choice for deeper and rocky clear waters.
Similar lures, such as jig-and-eels, jigs with plastic trailers and soft plastic swimbaits, such as a 3-inch Egret Baits Vudu Shad (Silver Mullet color) or a 3 1/2-inch Storm 360GT Searchbait (Smoking Ghost color), are also very effective in waters deeper than 10 feet and those having temperatures below 60 degrees.
The successful angler tossing soft plastics should position his boat so that they can cast the lure beyond any drop off into shallower water. Then on the retrieve, they will allow the bottom-bumping lure to descend down a drop off or fall off the ledge, which may garner the strike. In cooler waters after a front, bass will strike a soft wiggler as it slowly falls on a slack line into the depths. The angler should be ready to set the hook when they notice the line twitch as a fish sucks in the bait.
SUCCESSFUL SPIN & SWIM STRATEGIES
Other great post-frontal lures that are effective in more open water that may have inactive or sluggish bass positioned near a thermocline or topographical change with minimal cover are swimbaits, spinnerbaits and in-line spinners. After the cast, the lure is allowed to free-fall toward the bottom. Once it impacts the bottom or reaches a target depth, the lure is popped upward, and it is slowly but continuously retrieved while the angler gently raises and then lowers the rod tip. The steady, slow pumping retrieve, or slow roll, allows the lure to brush structure near the bottom and allows the angler to have a little better control of the hook set.
Any one of the three bait types, when using a fluorocarbon or braided line, should transfer a light vibration to the rod as it slowly moves along. A large double-bladed spinnerbait with both a rubber skirt and grub plastic worm behind the jig head can be retrieved very slowly, and the bait’s slow-sinking qualities and flash can trigger strikes. The slower the bait moves, the more difficult it will be for the angler to detect the vibrations and strike when a bass inhales the lure. If the lure stops or meets resistance, the angler should set the hook. As long as the lure is retrieved at a fairly constant rate, it should not get hung up.
Post-frontal bass are a little more discerning than those more active fish in the spring and summer. The amount of light available after a front affects lure selection. If the water is murky, spinnerbaits with larger spinners and tandem blades may be used. This extra vibration can be important for fishing waters with restricted visibility, while a small Road Runner jig-and-spinner, such as their 3/8-ounce Swim-N-Runner or their 1/2-ounce (slow-descent) Buck Tail Pro in a shiner or bluegill color, may be more effective in clearer waters.
In fact, muted and natural colors tend to be more productive on most lures when the sun follows the front. If the skies are still overcast and you’re fishing deeper waters, then dark colors on spinnerbaits and inline spinners and on the soft plastics can be successful. Of course, deeper water usually dictates lighter line, as does cold, clear water. A clear, minimal-stretch line like Trik Fish Fluorocarbon in 10- or 12-pound-test transmits even minimal lure vibration, doesn’t stiffen in cold water and has negligible visibility underwater, characteristics which are all advisable when chasing post-frontal bass.