Putting Up With Fronts

Barometric pressure can be a pain for bass.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

When a cold front moves through an area, bass-fishing success in lakes and in impoundments drops off-way off. Why? I've heard numerous theories over many years, and some of them make a lot of sense. Perhaps it's a combination of factors that makes fishing so tough after those drastic weather changes that are inevitable in winter and early spring. Here are a few of Uncle Homer's reflections on the subject.

SULKING FISH
The most prevalent belief is that bass are extremely sensitive to the slightest change in water temperature. When a northern cold front drops the air temperature from, say, the 70s down to the 40s and lowers water temperatures by a few degrees as well, bass become lethargic and their appetites don't return until the weather warms.

That's part of the story, but not all of it. I think cold water does put bass off their feed, but the increase in barometric pressure that follows the passage of a cold front also plays a vital role.

I recall a time many years ago when I helped out Glenn Lau while he was filming his video classic, Bigmouth. Our "stage" was Florida's Silver River, where about a billion gallons of water spew out every 24 hours and the water temperature stays an almost constant 72 degrees.

The severest of cold fronts can't affect this volume of water, insofar as temperature is concerned. Yet at one point in our filming, a cold front turned off the lunker bass that we had been catching. The temperature of the water just a few inches below the surface hadn't changed, so I pondered what else could have caused the big mood swing in the fish. I asked Glenn to try to determine where all the big bass had gone. He went scuba diving for more than an hour. When he returned, he wore the smile of one who knows something the rest of the world doesn't.

"You wouldn't believe what happened to the bigger bass," Lau told me. "They were bunched tightly around cypress tree roots, just sitting there not moving-like they were stuffed. I saw one big female literally draped over a root, so stressed she couldn't maintain her equilibrium."

So there it was. The water wasn't any colder than before the front arrived, yet the effect on the bass could not have been more dramatic had somebody dropped a giant ice cube in the water. It took three days for normalcy to return, and fishing improved as the barometric pressure abated.

I think that in areas where the water temperature already is cool, the effects of a passing cold front on fishing are even more dramatic. Nowadays, I alter my fishing approach whenever the barometric pressure rises radically after a front. For the most part, I ignore the dormant lunkers for at least a day or two and go for smaller bass, which will remain active to varying degrees.

During the down time, when bigger bass are more or less inactive, I use smaller ¼- to 3/8-ounce floating crankbaits offered by such companies as Mann's, Rapala, Bomber and Bandit. I like the ones that have maximum vibration even when I retrieve them slowly, which seems to be the speed at which most bass want them. Single-blade spinnerbaits fished along the bottom also have a deserved reputation for producing post-front bass.

AN EXCEPTIONAL DAY
It's better to fish a lake before a cold front arrives, presuming you know that one is on the way. After the cold front, good luck. Don't expect to catch many big bass, if any, although there are exceptions to every rule. I recall another time when I was fishing with Lau at a lake in northern Florida after a cold front. We happened onto a trove of bass holed up in a mixed bed of hydrilla and peppergrass along about 200 yards of shoreline. We caught 40 bass weighing between 2 and 6 pounds by casting unweighted soft jerkbaits into the cover and then letting them sink to the bottom in 5 or 6 feet of water. The most important thing we did with the lures was noothing. We didn't move the baits at all for a minute or two. Then we slowly lifted up on our rods, and, if we felt a tightness or twitch, set the hooks. If we retrieved the lures in normal fashion with slow, steady jerks, the bass ignored them completely.

If you can find the small place in a lake where big bass congregate after a cold front, you can catch fish when nobody else does. The first job is to locate the thickest cover along any sort of drop-off. Then position your boat over it and fish with a tube bait, a drop-shot rig or a grub and jighead.

Work the bait so slowly that you can barely stand it. In fact, just let the lure settle on the bottom and leave it alone. If the bass are there, they will let you know when your impatience finally forces you to move the lure.