Waking up the other morning, the thermometer outside read an even 30 degrees, frosty numbers that would have made my duck hunting and deer hunting soul very happy a few weeks ago.
But not now, not when there are big March Madness bass to try and go catch on area waters.
Knowing that such chilly temperatures are liable to knock the local largemouths off just a bit, what’s a Red River Valley angler to do when a strong cold front roars in?
Simple, go fishing anyway.
Case in point was an evening trip that my friend Andrew Means took on the same day that the sub-freezing low temperature mentioned above had actually occurred on.
The result? “My wife and I went out for a couple of hours after I got off from work and we slayed them,” said Means. “We caught 15 bass and our biggest five were close to 30-pounds. My wife caught a four plus and I caught a seven, a six and a five-pounder on back to back to back casts.”
For those in the “Photos or it didn’t happen!” crowd, Means sent along several pictures to prove that his fish tale was indeed true.
In reality, that’s not all that surprising considering a conversation I had last spring with Rob Woodruff, an Orvis endorsed Lake Fork fly fishing guide based out of Quitman, Texas.
“A cold front doesn’t make me as hopeful as I might have been otherwise at this time of the year, especially if I’ve had a solid pattern going on in recent days,” said Woodruff (www.flyfishingfork.com; 903-967-2665).
“It can certainly reshuffle the deck on the first day after a front. And sometimes, the second day after a front can be even worse. But that doesn’t mean that the game is over either.”
Woodruff notes that the preponderance of Florida-strain largemouth bass genetics in the region can certainly knock the fish off just a bit after a frontal passage.
But then again, it’s still the middle of March, the moon was full this past weekend and the big bass are wanting to go shallow.
“Down through the years, I’ve learned that there are a few things that you can do to still have a chance to catch a few fish and maybe even a big one, cold front or no cold front,” said Woodruff.
For starters, slow down your presentations, whether it’s with a fly or with conventional lures.
“Colder water slows down the metabolism of a bass and the jump in barometric pressure after a front makes them more lethargic,” said Woodruff.
Why is that? Because higher atmospheric pressures affect the swim bladder of a fish, making them less comfortable.
“You can really see that if you watch fish at an aquarium somewhere after a front,” said Woodruff, a three time finalist for the Orvis Guide of the Year award. “Before a front, they seem to almost hang effortlessly in the water. After a front, it affects their balance and throws it out of kilter for a little while, so they are not as apt to feed.”
A second adjustment is to pay attention to the size of lure that you are presenting.
“If you’re just looking to catch fish, then it might be a good idea to go to a smaller lure or fly,” said Woodruff. “But if your goal is to catch a real high quality fish, they’re still going to be looking for big meals.”
A third key is to adjust locations, especially early in the day when overnight lows have chilled the water down several degrees.
“Location can be very important after a cold front, especially if there’s been a relatively warm afternoon the day before,” said Woodruff. “When that’s been the case, I start off a day by looking for areas that are going to hold heat from the previous day, places like concrete retaining walls, areas of rip-rap and especially private boat ramps that haven’t had a boat launched off of them on that particular morning.”
Also understand that in post-frontal conditions, an angler needs to adjust their boat position to be able to locate fish that have backed their way off the bank.
“The fish usually won’t go too far away, but after a spring cold front, they’ll often back off just a bit,” said Woodruff. “So if you had found bass in a couple of feet of water before the front, you might back off to the first good breakline off the bank in four to six-feet of water on the days after a front.
“Creek channels with a quick drop-off adjacent to spawning flats are also good spots to look because the water temperature doesn’t change as much as you increase the depth.”
Keep in mind on a chilly morning that the fishing often picks up as the day matures.
“It pays to stick with it because often, your chances get better as the day goes along,” said Woodruff. “The fish adjust to the barometric pressure change, the sunshine warms the water up a little bit and because of all of that, you don’t want to quit too soon.”
That’s especially true in the heat retaining areas that Woodruff mentioned above, particularly those that are protected from windy conditions where waves can mix the water and cool things down.
“The fish catching action may not be as good as it is on other spring days, but you can still catch a few numbers here and there in such warmer water spots,” he said. “In fact, those kinds of areas are so important that I’ve got a few milk runs on Fork that we’ll hit on a post-frontal kind of a day. And sometimes, you can be surprised by the kind of action that you’ll find.”
Why is that?
“Some theories are out there that the really, really large fish in a lake don’t realize as quickly that it’s gotten cold,” said Woodruff. “And that might help account for the kind of days where you may have a 1,000 anglers on the water that only catch a few fish. But several of those fish might be giants, the fish of a lifetime.”
Since such fish are often the targets that springtime anglers hit the water seeking, that leads to Woodruff’s next suggestion.
“After a front, you may not get the kind of hit that will jolt you out of a daydream, so you’ve got to really try and stay focused on each cast,” said Woodruff. “A big fish may only make a halfhearted swipe and not take a lure or fly like it does on a classic warm spring day.
“Because of that’s it’s easy to get lulled into just going through the motions of making a cast and not paying attention,” he added. “And then boom, there’s finally an attempted take by a good fish and if you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to blow that shot.”
Another post-front adjustment that Woodruff likes to make is to tweak his color selections: “When fish are on the spawn, I really like bright colors like oranges, reds, light olives, chartreuse, etc.,” he said. “And of course, a fire tiger pattern is almost a must if the water is stained.”
Why such colors? Woodruff says that he thinks such hues “…make bass think of bluegills and I don’t think they like bream very much at this time of the year since those sunfish will often raid a spawning bed. I think that bass react aggressively on those colors right now, even at times on a strong post-frontal day.”
How long do post frontal effects linger on area waters after a front passes through?
“A lot of that depends on how high the barometric pressure goes, how strong the northerly winds are and how low the water temperatures drop,” said Woodruff.
“The easy answer is really how long is it until the wind turns back out of the south, the barometric pressure starts dropping again, some cloud cover returns and warmth begins to reappear. Sometimes, that’s the day after a front and at other times, it’s three or four days down the road.”
The bottom line here is that cold front or not, now is the time to get out on the water if a big bass is your angling goal for the spring of 2017.
“You can’t catch a giant bass if you don’t go and if you don’t have your hook in the water,” said Woodruff.
And those are some of the truest words that an angler will ever read in this space.
Just ask Andrew Means – he’s the one currently sorting through a selection of big fish photos taken earlier in the week.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for the Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and lives in Denison, Texas