Bass Fishing: The Effects of a Cold Front Are Universal

While fishing the 2015 FLW Forrest Wood Cup August 20-23 on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas, I ran into a set of conditions I never faced before in my life…sort of. How can this be? After all, I’ve been bass fishing my whole life and have been doing it professionally since 1995! On the other hand, that’s one aspect of fishing that makes it cool – trying to figure out the unknown!

During the practice days leading up to competition, the weather had been extremely hot and steamy with surface water temperatures in the low to mid-90s by afternoon. Living in Minnesota all my life, I don’t have much experience with this sort of extreme, which can be unsettling for my confidence in making decisions and adjustments in strategy. Nevertheless, on a lake with an extremely tough bite, I was getting enough quality bites through practice to make me feel like I could contend for a win. A well-known and talked about strategy for Lake Ouachita in the summer is to fish shallow with top waters. Many of these shallow bass are patrolling bream bed colonies. I had this working for me and was excited about my chances!

Jim Moynagh (Photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors)
Jim Moynagh (Photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors)

Then, of course, this is bass fishing and things change! A big cold front moved through on the day immediately preceding the four-day event. I’ve experienced my share of cold fronts and normally know how to adjust, but then I started thinking about the extreme water temperatures. Perhaps a cool down is exactly what would trigger greater activity from the bass. I really didn’t know. I just hadn’t found myself in this situation previously. Confidence is sooo important in tournament fishing and mine was unsettled.

As soon as I launched the boat on the first morning of competition, I noticed the surface water temperature read 10 degrees cooler. Hmm. I wondered what this going to do to the fishing. Was this a good thing? The first hour of fishing answered my question. This had been the best period each day of practice and after that hour had passed that morning, I knew I had to scramble. Sure enough, the cold front had killed my surface bite. Zero bass went for my top water, whereas during each morning of practice, I had caught several. Indeed, the chilled waters showed little life where I was fishing. I wasn’t even seeing the same number of small yearling bass or bream. What the passing of the cold front did to this lake is the same thing it does to any lake at any time of year – it suppressed their activity and willingness to chase.

So now I know, HOT water or cold water, the affect is the same. Never again will I second guess the affects that a cold front leaves in its wake. Cooling the lake from the mid-90s to the mid-80s overnight does not bode well for fast and furious fish catching! This is especially true for top water action.

So what is the best strategy under such conditions? It’s fairly textbook — fish tight to cover that provides shade. This is a strategy that universally works after the passing of a cold front. Whether it’s Florida, Minnesota, Arkansas, or wherever and whenever it seems, figure out where bass can snuggle up in the heaviest shade and present a lure in their face. Heavy shade usually means thick vegetation, brush piles, laydown trees, or boat docks.

Brad Knight Wins Cup and $500,000
In the case at the Forrest Wood Cup in Arkansas, the winner, Brad Knight of Lansing, Tenn., caught many of his fish holding tight to wood. Brush piles were key for others that finished near the top. Soft-plastics placed right next to this wood were a common theme. There still were some top water fish patterns, but they were not as strong.

As for me, I finished 34th out of 50. I finished with 12 fish in the two days and they weighed 15 pounds, 7 ounces. Once I learned the top water bite wasn’t working for me that first hour, I began fishing deep grass and caught a 3-pounder immediately. Awhile later, I bounced a 2-pounder off the top of the boat’s gunnel as it shook the hook free mid-air while I was flipping it into the boat. Yup, it bounced the wrong way and went bye-bye.

I didn’t even practice this deep grass strategy during pre-fishing because my top water bite was so strong. After a couple more hours of deep grass fishing without any more success, I gave up on it hoping for an afternoon top water bite to kick in. I did get two strikes, one missed, the other (a 2-pounder) I landed. The amateur with me also caught one.

By the second day of competition, the bass had rebounded a bit; and the top water bite produced a small limit for me. But this was still far from the results experienced during the days preceding the tournament.

So yup, a cold front’s lingering effects remain the same even in the extreme Arkansas August heat. Now I know to treat it like any other post cold front situation – find the heavy shade bass are snuggling up to, and place a bait right on their nose!

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