November 19, 2020
By Ken Duke
Southern anglers are lucky, but you already knew that. There's great weather and you can generally fish year-round except on the rare days when lightning or extreme wind keeps you off the water.
In fact, the "worst" weather this time of year is usually associated with the cold fronts that announce the arrival of winter. These fronts often drop air temperatures 20 or 30 degrees, and water temps fall with them—though not as drastically.
While from a meteorological standpoint, a significant drop in temperature hardly compares to a days-long blizzard or an ice storm, it essentially spells the end of productive bass fishing for the year, right?
Not so fast. Three of the South’s best bass anglers actually look forward to late-fall cold fronts, and they expect the fishing to get better—not worse— when the fronts pass.
As it turns out, the combination of fewer boats on the water, a passing cold front and the transition from fall to winter patterns can work to your advantage as a bass angler. It can make the fish more active and dramatically increase your catch. Of course, you need to plan for all that, but we’ve got your marching orders right here.
THE TRIGGERING FRONT
Edwin Evers has climbed most of professional bass fishing’s biggest mountains. The Oklahoma resident has won the Bassmaster Classic, the Bass Pro Tour points championship and Major League Fishing’s Redcrest championship. And he loves fall cold fronts—he calls them "triggering fronts"—for what they do to the fish.
"Both before and after these big fall cold fronts, the bass are going to bite," Evers says. "Bass usually get active before a front, and at this time of year they get active after the cold front, too, because they’re feeding up for winter."
When such a front passes, Evers points his boat up a tributary and seeks dingy water. "After fall turnover and the breakup of any stratification that took place in the hottest months, bass and baitfish will migrate up rivers, creeks and pockets with some flow to find water with higher oxygen levels. They’re not necessarily looking for moving water, but these better conditions can often be found in moving water," Evers says.
Once in these pockets and the upper ends of tributaries, the bass will use the shallow water to their feeding advantage by hemming up shad and other baitfish. To catch them, Evers opts for a square-bill crankbait or topwater walking bait.
"My favorites are the Berkley Squarebull in Sexier Shad and J-Walker 120 in Bone," Evers says. "They’re great for covering water and are big enough to attract quality fish."
He throws the Squarebull on 14-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS KVD Signature Series 100% Fluorocarbon line spooled onto a Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum Signature Baitcast Reel (8.3:1) mounted on a 7-foot, 1-inch medium-heavy Platinum Signature Casting Rod. For the topwater bait, he likes the same reel (but with 50-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS Hyper Braid 8 line) on a 6-foot, 9-inch medium-action Platinum casting rod.
"By this time of year," Evers says, "the bass have seen every bait on the market. It’s time to fish fast so they don’t get too good a look at things. I’ll crank the Squarebull as fast as I can wind it—running it into things and trying to generate a reaction strike.
"For the J-Walker, I’ll experiment with my retrieve until I find what they want. Sometimes they want it fast and steady. Other times they want the bait to be paused after a few twitches. Generally, the shallower I’m fishing, the more pauses I’ll work into my cadence."
A LITTLE DEEPER
South Carolina’s Andy Montgomery is known as the best skipper on the Bass Pro Tour. There are few places he can’t put a jig, but after a fall cold front, the jig takes a back seat to jerkbaits and the castable umbrella rig.
"After a front," Montgomery says, "the fish are really keying on bait. It’s all about the shad, and it’s a great time to watch for birds. If you see gulls or herons, you know you’re in the right place."
His favorite jerkbait at this time is the Strike King KVD Deep Jerkbait in Crystal Shad. He fishes it on 12-pound Strike King Tour Grade Fluorocarbon, a Lew’s Custom Lite SLP casting reel (7.5:1) and a 6-foot, 8-inch Team Lew’s Pro LFS-X5 medium-action rod.
"I throw where I see birds," Montgomery says. "I’ll look for bass and shad on my electronics, too—in the backs of creeks, on points, in pockets—but I don’t expect to find them relating to structure. At this time of year, the bass are using the baitfish as their structure."
Montgomery fishes the jerkbait fast, rarely pausing for more than a second or two. He believes most anglers waste time by pausing the bait too long. If the fish are a little deeper than his jerkbait will reach (about 10 feet), he picks up the castable umbrella rig. Montgomery is a fan of the rig even though he can’t use it in competition.
"I make my own rigs that have nine baits and lots of blades to look like a school of shad. I put 3 1/4-inch Strike King Rage Swimmers in Sexy Shad on 1/8-ounce jigheads and make long casts to areas where there are birds or where I see baitfish on my electronics."
For the heavy umbrella rig, Montgomery uses a 7-foot, 6-inch Lew’s flipping rod and Lew’s BB1 Pro Speed Spool casting reel (6.4:1). The real trick, however, is his line. Instead of heavy braid, Montgomery opts for 25-pound Strike King Tour Grade Fluorocarbon, saying he gets more bites on it than braid and that it makes working the bait easier.
"I use a slow, steady retrieve with that slower reel," he says. "If you jerk it or twitch it on the retrieve, you might tangle the whole thing."
THE FLORIDA FACTOR
But what if you fish in Florida? Don’t Florida bass "turn off" after a cold front? Not so, according to Sunshine State native Bernie Schultz.
"Cold fronts can be good in the fall," he says. "They can stimulate bass to feed, move fish to predictable locations and make them easier to catch. Those first few cold fronts of fall are positive events. Even an extreme front that drops the air temperature 40 degrees can be good, but it might take a couple days before the fish get aggressive again."
To find these post-frontal bass, Schultz looks for areas where fresh water is coming in—ditches, canals, creeks or rivers. The bass move into these areas looking for good water quality with ample oxygen and to follow baitfish. To catch them, he likes a pair of baits that mimic shad.
"A shallow-running crankbait like the Rapala DT6 in silver is great in this situation," Schultz says. "I crank it fast and target schools of bait. If the lure ticks the tops of submerged weeds, that’s perfect."
For the crankbait, Schultz uses a Shimano Metanium MGL 150 B (7.1:1) spooled with 12-pound Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon on a Shimano Expride A 7-foot medium-action fiberglass casting rod.
His other bait is a Rapala No. 7 Skitter Pop (silver), which he throws on 15-pound Sufix Advance Clear Monofilament, the same model Metanium casting reel and an Expride A 6-foot, 10-inch medium-action rod.
"I fish the popper fast if the bass are schooling on top but slow it down if they’re not," says Schultz. "An important key with either of these baits is to be patient and extremely thorough. I make multiple casts to the same area if I know there’s bait there, often changing my angle a little from one cast to the next to see if it makes a difference. If there’s a school of shad near the surface, I want my bait to break them up as it passes right through the middle of them. When the lure scatters the shad is often when you’ll get bit.”
Stay WARM AND DRY on the water
Two foul-weather outerwear systems for when the conditions turn snotty.
Clad in Mossy Oak’s Elements Marlin pattern, the Hydrovore jacket and pants feature fully taped seams to keep out the cold and wet as you blast around the lake. This lightweight combo lets anglers layer beneath and shed clothing as the day warms. (jacket, $119.99; pants, $99.95; onyxoutdoor.com)
Gill Winter Angler
With 2-layer fabric construction and 100-percent polyester insulation, this set is meant to be worn without the need to layer up underneath. Both garments feature a durable water repellent finish and have fully taped seams. The jacket has adjustable outer cuffs with inner seals for watertight comfort, while the bib boasts full-length zippered legs, articulated knees with abrasion-resistant panels. (jacket, $325; bib, $250; gillmarine.com) — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn