The days of rainy fronts, chilly temperatures and dreaded bluebird skies are upon us. But fish still have to eat — here’s how the pros catch ‘em.
The year’s conclusion brings many pleasant moments, with Christmas parties, festive decorations, grandma’s homemade holiday goodies and the like.
But bass fishermen know that amid all the seasonal cheer, meteorological factors can throw a monkey wrench into rod-bending pursuits.
Yep, we’re talking about cold fronts — those blustery, sometimes rainy systems that stimulate the bite on the front side and all but stifle it once they’ve passed. Fishing offers few absolutes, but the inescapable truth of cold fronts is that the post-frontal conditions — flat winds, bright bluebird skies and a sharp temperature drop — can give bass a bad case of lockjaw.
Now, opinions vary on the severity and longevity of post-frontal impacts, but consider this point: Fish gotta eat.
Think of it like a set of balance scales: On one side, you have the fish’s aversion to sharp temperature changes and on the other, you have its appetite. At the onset of post-frontal conditions, the scales are equally balanced and the fish doesn’t need to budge — but as the fish’s appetite increases, the scales tip toward feeding.
Just don’t expect the fish to immediately return to full activity. Bass that were chasing down full-sized crankbaits and spinnerbaits are going to watch those baits go right by them. And the topwater bite will yield to long-pause jerkbait tactics.
Here’s a handful of pointers that may convince those bass to warm up to your bait after a cold front.
Cover is king
Catching a post-front fish in open water is not impossible, but for most of that first day, the bright conditions and high pressure will have them tucked under lily pads, inside grass lines, or somewhere amid shady laydowns and brush piles. That means you’ll do well by probing those cozy, dim areas. Major League Fishing pro Greg Hackney finds his Strike King Hack Attack Fluorocarbon Flipping Jig fitted with a Strike King Menace trailer does a good job of reaching into and out of cover. A scaled down version of the original Hack Attack jig, this one offers a smaller profile that’s easier to sell post-front fish, a smaller hook diameter for easier penetration when using stealthy fluorocarbon and a narrow head for better movement in cover.
“Louisiana is a target-rich environment, and southern fish love heavy cover after a front,” Hackney said.
Junk in the trunk
FLW Tour pro James Niggemeyer’s also a devout jig fan, especially in post-frontal conditions. For him, trailer selection is one of the most important elements of this game.
For the active period before and during a front’s passage, he likes a Strike King Rage Craw because it’s ultra-limber pincers and side appendages wiggle with maximum motion. A larger profile trailer with lots of water displacement, this one’s an easy sell to active bass.
However, as fish start to feel the impacts of a passing cold front, Niggemeyer tones down the action a little with a Strike King Rage Bug. The more streamlined form still gives a sizable profile, but the appendages display less flair, so fish see a more subdued look.
As the water temperature falls and calmer conditions increase clarity, moving to the modest Strike King Menace grub is Niggemeyer’s next step. And in the coldest, most difficult times, the Strike King Rodent offers him a good option for an appealing profile with minimal movement.
With this one, he may opt to thread the trailer on his jig hook or cut it down to within three segments from the appendages and pin it like a chunk-style trailer.
Just a little tease
Worm fishing is how we all learned to catch bass, but after a cold front, you need to choose wisely. Clearly, this is not the time for the foot long baits of summer, but FLW pro Kyle Cortiana offers some deeper insights. His favorite is a Gene Larew Tattletail worm on a homemade ⅛-ounce jighead with a wide gap hook.
“That entire bait is pretty motionless and it will not alarm a fish when it comes sinking down there,” Cortiana said. “The whole bait is pretty much paralyzed except for the very tip of it. It’s the perfect amount of movement to convince the fish that it’s alive and he wants to eat the bait, it’s easy pickings.”
If he needs an even smaller profile with a slower fall, Cortiana switches to a Gene Larew Inch Worm on a Ned head jig. With a meatier head and stumpy body, this bait mimics bluegill and crawfish — both well-established in the bass’ diet.
One more strategy: Cortiana typically uses the 7-inch Tattletail worm, but there’s also a 10-inch version. When he needs to slow his fall rate, he’ll rig that finesse jig with a 10-inch worm, cut down to the 7-inch length.
“Because that 10-inch worm has a wider diameter, it has a slower rate of fall,” Cortiana said.
Beyond these two specialized worms, he offers this thought on other options: “If I had something working for me going into the front and it stops working, I’ll try that exact same bait, but I’ll downsize everything.”
As a side note to this point, don’t hesitate to reach into your crappie tackle box during the toughest post-frontal times. Often, that ⅛-ounce jighead with a little shad tail yo-yoing slowly in front of a weed edge or shot under a dock is just too easy for a bass to refuse.
Hold it right there
Now, if there is one bait/rig with year-round applicability, it is the dropshot; and this modest finesse rig truly earns its keep during post-frontal days. Rig it with a small finesse worm or even a grub like the Strike King Menace that Hackney favors; just don’t overwork the rig.
“You’re fishing for inactive fish, so you want to use a bait profile that matches their mood,” Hackney said. “A dropshot is not overpowering; it’s an easy meal for inactive fish to eat.”
Notably, Hackney said he avoids a round dropshot weight because it has “shoulders,” which tend to hang up too often. The narrow cylinder weights or tear drop shapes are his choice, as both do a better job of sliding in an out of cover.
A key point to consider for post-frontal fish is that they might be pinned to the bottom. Therefore, unless you’re marking fish higher in the water column, keep those dropshot leaders short. Maintaining a vulnerable presentation is the name of the game, so dial in where the fish are biting and that depth should remain fairly consistent until the weather stabilizes.
No doubt, the savvy angler has many tools at his/her disposal when post-frontal conditions make for tough fishing. Whatever you chose, keep it slow and outlast the fish.
They gotta eat — and reality rewards resolve.
Stick it in the middle
Across the board, one of the most consistently productive rigs for any tough-bite scenario is the wacky rig — basically, a soft stick worm or finesse worm with a hook set through the center of the body, or tucked under an O-ring. When a cold front rocks the bass’ world, meals have to be super easy or they ain’t interested.
The wacky rig is designed to fall slowly and wiggle at both ends; kind of a dying or cold-stunned baitfish look. Highly vulnerable, not likely to dash away — the ideal snack on a day when excessive movement is not on the schedule.
Pro angler James Niggemeyer’s a big fan of the wacky rig, but he swaps the traditional short-shank finesse style hook for a 1/0 Owner long shank, cutting point hook — which gives him better hook-up success. This beefier hook also gives him more confidence that he’ll keep a fish buttoned up while he’s trying to separate it from cover.
For pitching his finesse rig around brush piles, vegetation or laydowns, Niggemeyer fashions a homemade weed guard by forming a V-shape with saltwater leader wire, pushing both ends through the hook eye — front to back, wrapping the ends around the shank and securing the ends with fly tying thread. He’ll seal the connection with Super Glue and finish with black fingernail polish. Cutting the bottom of that V creates a two-arm weed guard.
Now, if you want to give those fish a different look, add a nail weight to the head of the worm and now you have a Neko rig. The biggest variation in performance is a faster-sinking rig with a nose-down posture. Some feel this mimics a shad or bluegill feeding on the bottom. Let that image wander too close to a sulking bass, and it’s an easy catch.
One subtle change that some anglers employ is to switch from a perpendicular hook alignment where the point pierces the bait laterally, to a parallel placement in which the hook aligns with the bait — backside facing forward. You can use an O-ring or run the hook directly into and out of the worm. Either way, this arrangement offers you the ability to fish this nose-down version of a wacky rig with an in-line orientation, similar to a Texas rig.