November 08, 2017
For a bass fisherman, there are few phrases that strike more fear into the heart than to look at the calendar where we've marked a few days off to head for the water, only to hear the TV weatherman utter the term cold front in his evening forecast.
A virtual death blow at times during the spring, cold fronts aren't much more welcome to anglers in the fall.
Unless they happen to be Bella Vista, Ark., pro Mike McClelland, a top-shelf angler who has made quite the career of turning tough fishing conditions into a winner's check complete with a big trophy headed for the fireplace mantle.
"The big thing that I've always felt (about fall cold fronts), is that as long as you've got a little bit of a breeze when these cold fronts roll through, it helps," said McClelland.
"If there's a little ripple on the water, there's still going to be an opportunity to catch fish," he added.
"It's the day that gets bright, slick and calm after a front that it gets really, really tough."
Such days typically happen on the second and third day after a frontal passage according to McClelland, a veteran Major League Fishing Cup Series angler and a regular champ on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail.
The Arkansas pro says when such conditions present themselves, he tries to keep a positive frame of mind, put a good bait in his hand and go cover as much water as he can until he figures out a way to make the fish bite.
In other words, he isn't afraid to put the blinders on, turn the trolling motor on and go grind it out, a mindset that has served him well in a Bassmaster Elite Series fishing career that includes eight BASS wins, 10 Bassmaster Classic appearances and more than $1.6 million in career earnings.
That same mindset also has served McClelland well during his Major League Fishing career, guiding him to the first ever Championship Day final round at the Challenge Cup contested on Texas' Lake Amistad several years ago.
In fact, in the final MLF Cup event filmed each fall, grinding it out is something McClelland says he must do quite often since these events typically are scheduled on Southern waters during the month of October.
That being the case, the Arkansas pro doesn't seem to mind since he's become something of a fall specialist, if he can put himself in a key area where at least a fish or two are willing to bite.
"All of my career, I've played well in fall events, whether it's Major League Fishing or Bassmaster Elite Series," said McClelland. "Whatever it is, fall seems to be a good time of the year for me because I'm not afraid to grind.
"I understand that there are those days (at this time of the year) where you're going to go fish for six, eight or 10 bites a day," he added. "(But that's ok), because that's kind of how I grew up fishing."
Baits like a shallow- to medium-running crankbait or lipless crankbait resembling local baitfish can be a key to catching post-frontal bass in the fall. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Would McClelland rather face a stiff cold front in the fall or during the spring?
"I think I would definitely rather face a cold front in the fall," he said. "In the spring, especially when you're dealing with Florida strain largemouths, a spring cold front can make you feel like it's (all but) impossible to get a bite.
"But during this time of the year in the fall, this is the period when the fish know that it's time to feed a little bit before it turns into winter. And as it starts cooling off, I think these fish adjust a little quicker to these fall cold fronts more so than they do in the spring."
For many anglers, fall fishing is often regarded as really, really good as bass gang up on schools of baitfish. But that's usually in the final portion of the season when waters cool well down into the 60s.
Before that, when water temps are still well up in the 70s, the fishing can be more problematic. So how does McClelland find fish to target on a post-frontal day in the autumn season when the water is still warm and the bite is tough?
Simple; he looks for concentrations of bait in a lake's or reservoir's main creek channels.
"That's always the thing that you tell someone in the fall," said McClelland. "Where do you start in the fall? You always start with the bait.
"You start running and you keep looking, hoping that you will find that area where the bait is starting to push up into a creek, starting to get shallow or starting to put those fish (bass) into a position where you can take advantage of that scenario."
In other words, angling during such warm water and mile weather situations requires covering water and exercising some patience.
"When you have some pretty warm days, the water temperature may not have gotten to that magic number yet to really make Mother Nature start to take its course," said McClelland. "The shad may not be moving hard into the creeks yet (if it is too early)."
Even so, that's where he'll start his mid-autumn search.
"At this time of the year, you've got to go into the creeks and you've got to see if the bait is starting to move into them," said McClelland. "If not, you start working your way out from there (back towards the main lake)."
If a patient search for baitfish is one key, so too is the willingness to slow down and pick up a flipping style bait.
But the Arkansas pro notes he will have other baits laying on the front deck, key lures that have brought plenty of tournament success to McClelland including his specialized trio of a Spro McStick jerkbait, a Spro Rock Crawler shallow running crankbait and a War Eagle spinnerbait.
Such lures have filled McClelland's trophy case and bank account over the years since his very first BASS win – an Invitational tournament on the Arkansas River in late October 1996.
In one of McClelland's career Elite Series victories, he bested a bass fishing Who's Who list of top Elite Series and MLF pros that included Mark Davis (2nd place), Greg Hackney (3rd place), Aaron Martens (4th place) and Kevin VanDam (5th place).
Add in Edwin Evers in sixth place, Jeff Kriet in seventh place and newly minted 2017 BASS Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk in eighth place and that's some stiff competition with multiple AOY titles, Classic wins and MLF trophies.
In the mind of this writer, that's proof anglers reading this story need to heed McClelland's advice here because he's a great bass fisherman who can go up against and beat the game's very best, even when conditions are tough.
Including those days where a good ripple of wind is flowing from the north after a mid-autumn cold front has come and gone, doing its dead level best to make the bass quit biting.
But with the grinding mindset of Mike McClelland, not to mention some of the baits that he will use at this time of the year, the door is never completely shut and opportunity always awaits for a bass to quickly make a hungry and/or opportunistic grab.
And bring that powerful rod bending surge at the end of our line that we're always looking for as anglers, autumn cold front or not.