By David A. Brown
“You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”
That memorable tune from South Pacific finds Tonkinese mother Bloody Mary counseling Lieutenant Joe Cable on the pursuit of true happiness with her daughter Liat. But you have to wonder how the lyrics might’ve varied had the scene taken place around some western hemisphere bass factory like Lake Ouachita, Guntersville or Toledo Bend, instead of overlooking Bali Ha’i.
Maybe something like:
“You gotta have a stump, if you don’t have a stump, how you gonna catch a bass post-front?”
Broadway aside, there’s undeniable logic in knowing the likely spots where bass will seek refuge in the harsh conditions on the backside of a cold front. Raymarine pro Stephen Browning knows well this game and, in his estimation, fishing after a cold front is generally the toughest scenario a bass angler will face.
LIVETARGET's selection of medium-diving crankbais and lipless rattlebaits, thrown on St. Croix Legend Glass rods, are effective pairings before a cold front.
Browning confronts this daunting scenario with a well-conceived game plan based on forethought and strategy. But first, let’s look at how the scene unfolds.
As a weather system approaches the area, winds increase, skies turn cloudy, rain becomes more likely and the falling barometer spurs intense feeding. As the front moves through, the action continues and fish act like they want to eat the motor off the transom.
Then the front passes and things get weird. Wind goes flat, temperature drops, high pressure pushes every streak of cloud from the sky and the dreaded “bluebird” conditions can have you wondering if someone stole all the fish overnight.
Actually, the fish didn’t go anywhere; they’ve just tucked in close to the nearest cover. Remember, the only way bass can shield their eyes from intense post-front sunlight is to utilize shadows. Similarly, the solid cover they seek radiates absorbed heat — a biggie for shivering fish.
(For clarity, some bass winter on deep offshore spots, but, as Browning notes, a good number remain in mid-depth ranges and even push surprisingly shallow to feed.)
KNOW WHERE TO GO
Browning’s adept at locating bass when starting from scratch, but he also knows that bites can be hard to coax in post-frontal conditions, so less time looking means more time earning those bites. Therefore, he likes to attack these tough times with a hit list.
“What really helps me more than anything for post-front fishing is relying on my Raymarine DownVision, SideVision and RealVision 3D sonar to identifying isolated pieces of cover,” Browning said. “That may be a stump, the tip of a laydown, a small brush pile, different size rock and subsurface transition areas. All those things are where I start looking to target where those fish should move to.
Stephen Browning’s Raymarine AXIOM PRO 12 reveals a large pile of brush and laydowns. RealVision 3D technology depicts the cover in red, fish holding tight to the cover in blue, green, orange, and yellow spheres. Browning says RealVision 3D is especially helpful in revealing not only where the fish are in relation to the cover—but how deep in the water column. Also note that Browning’s placed waypoints at the beginning and end of the brush pile for precision casting.
“The cold front is going to put those fish directly onto those targets. I think that is the key — identifying the target and making presentations to that specific target. If you have stable weather, you can catch them in a lot of different places this time of year, but once that cold front hits, I think there going to jump in there beside that stump; they’re going hang out in that little cluster of rocks; they’re going to bury up in that tree top. That’s where your electronics can really save the day.”
WHAT TO THROW
When the front is approaching or passing, Browning gets much of his work done with Live Target mid-range crankbaits, or the Golden Shiner lipless crankbait. Remember, this is the period when bass have the feed bag on, so covering water with reaction baits is the way to go. Spinnerbaits and Z-Man ChatterBaits also fit this plan.
Now, when the front passes and the fish put on their pouty face, Browning says it’s time to slow down, refer to the waypoints he’s marked on his Raymarine Axiom and turn to the targeted presentation plan.
“On these days, I’m throwing two different baits: I’m throwing a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce Jewel football jig and I’m throwing a ball head shaky head jig with a 4- to 7-inch finesse worm,” Browning said. “I would rather catch a fish on a football jig because I feel that fish is going to be a little better quality.
“But if I really think I’m around fish, but they’re not taking the (larger) jig, that’s when I fall back on the shaky head. It doesn’t put out a lot of vibration; it is a super finesse style of fishing, even during the winter time.”
As for football jig trailer selection, Browning offers this advice: “I use a Z-Man Turbo CrawZ during times when I think the fish are feeding actively. When the front comes through and the fish are less active, I’ll use the more subtle Z-Man Bat WingZ, which is the standard split tail trailer. I’ll trim my jig skirt up really tight and try to make it a really compact profile.”
Emergent stumps are easy to spot, but Stephen Browning relies on his Raymarine unit to show him the deeper structures that will harbor post-frontal bass.
MIND THE DETAILS
Yeah, we have a general outline of what to expect on every page of the calendar, but nature bristles with variables; many of which can determine how greatly a weather system impacts a bass fishery. Among them:
Seasonal Severity: Simple math. If you have a full bag of M&Ms and I take a quarter of them, you still have plenty. But if your candy bag is only half full and I take 25 percent, you’re not going to be happy with me.
Apply this to a cold front and it’s easy to see that a mild fall/winter can absorb event a stout cold front if air and water temperatures have remained moderate. It’s those years when fall sees early and significant temperature declines that see subsequent cold fronts seriously denting the bass fishing scene.
When post-frontal conditions find fish lethargic and evasive, slow down and target specific cover with jigs and shaky heads.
Frontal Intensity: Expounding on the previous thought, a front’s impact is largely measured by how much the temperature drops. There’s no one-size-fits-all cold front formula. Some are mere irritations, others straight-up game changers. Also, the amount of rain a front brings can become a temporary factor, as runoff will stain the areas with concentrated inflows.
After Hours: Daytime temperatures certainly matter, but overnight lows can be the real bite killers. Consider that the pace at which a morning’s action unfolds directly correlates to the temperature deficit the sun must overcome. Other words, if the pre-front water was, say, 55 degrees and it dropped to 50 between sundown and sunup; it wouldn’t take too long for the the next day to reach a temperature at which the fish might cooperate. However, when the night of a cold front’s passage delivers a double-digit decline, you can take your time at the launch ramp — it’s gonna be a slow start.
Ultimately, each year and each cold front shapes up a little differently. There’s only so much predictability you can count on; and often, you simply have to hit the water and make a firsthand evaluation.
Of course that’s always easier when you have a place to start — and maybe find your dream come true.