Coaxing bites and reactionary strikes during a dreaded summer or early autumn cold front
A lot of anglers believe that the fishing turns off once a cold front passes. Most fish don’t feel that way, so don’t stash that fishing rod and tackle box just yet, lest you lose a precious day of fishing.
Oh sure, the fishing can be tough after a front, but that’s what defines our angling abilities. Coaxing a fish to bite is what angling is all about, right?
Working harder at catching fish after a cold front is still better than a day at the office, right? Just have be open to a few adjustments and pay careful attention to the conditions of the lake, river, or reservoir you are fishing.
What’s worse than anglers worrying about cold fronts, is anglers who don’t worry about unstable weather. In many cases, adjusting to unstable weather is tougher than even the worst cold front because most anglers never notice it.
I learned about cold front fishing, and the difference between fishing fronts and unstable weather, from the godfather of fishing himself: “Tackle” Terry Tuma Through numerous trips on the water with him, I gathered a rich understanding of the subject.
Tuma and I chatted about it 11 years ago as we fished an unstable weather pattern on the Mississippi River, then fished a south metro lake a few days later. His advice was invaluable, and has resonated with me over the years in my constant quest to be a better angler.
The difference between a cold front and unstable weather is simple. A cold front is when a mass of cold air collides with warm air. There is a change in wind direction, a drop in the barometric pressure, and cooler air temperatures. After the front passes, the barometric pressure rises, the air becomes less humid, and the temperatures usually stay cooler. The sky clears up and there are fewer particles in the air meaning light penetrates deeper into the water.
Unstable weather, on the other hand, emerges from all sorts of conditions, not just a cold front. It also usually has a bigger effect on fishing. Unstable weather can mean wind changing directions or intensity from one day to the next. It can mean changes in cloud cover or total sunlight. It can reflect changes in the humidity, barometric pressure, or surface water temperature.
In most cases, these conditions produce a tougher bite.
The most common remedy here is to downsize your lure or bait and pay more attention to the subtle details. The water is warm out there, and fish metabolism is strong enough that they need to eat. But they’ll likely be pickier than usual.
One strong rule in fishing is when the weather conditions are variable, all rules are off. If downsizing isn’t producing results, try the opposite. Go with something larger that might produce a reactionary strike from a fish. The fish go after it not to eat it, but because it’s an annoyance to them and they are just trying to get it away from them.
That doesn’t mean throw the entire tacklebox into the water, one lure at a time. Dig into the corners of your brain to locate the fish and how they’ll react. There are so many variables that you have to look at the conditions and adjust accordingly.
Consider the activity of the forage base. Panfish and perch usually don’t leave your livebait or plastics alone, but if so, expect a tough bite.
“Pay careful attention to what the fish are telling you,” is classic Tuma advice. If they are just picking up the lure and dropping it fast, you likely need to set the hook faster. It could also mean you need to let them hold it longer. You won’t find out unless you experiment.
When the bite is tough because of changing weather, hit locations that produce the most confidence, but if those don’t produce give some other potential areas a look.
Sometimes in those unstable weather tough bites you should sit on an area you like and work it, then try a run-and-gun approach on other spots. In both cases you are targeting the fish in less of a negative mood than the others.
Remember that you probably aren’t going to pattern fish on those tough bites. If you caught that first fish on a leech and plain hook, don’t necessarily stick with that presentation all day. Don’t be afraid to try something else. Fish a technique until it seems like it’s fading, then switch around until another one bites. Patterns might exist, but don’t get complacent.
There is never a smoking gun when it comes to fishing unstable weather. The key: Keep trying and keep working it. Even if you don’t catch anything, you can still walk away having learned a lot. And you might just catch more fish in the future.