Effects of Cold Fronts on Freshwater Fishing

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Across North America, the arrival of fall usually means a sharp increase in the number of cold fronts. These powerful weather systems affect fish behavior and can have major impacts on fishing. Cold fronts are often fast moving systems that bring sudden drops in temperature, low barometric pressure, cloudy skies, and rain or snow.

During the fall season, cold fronts can trigger a number of environmental changes. High winds, sudden temperature changes, and precipitation often carry an influx of leaves and other organic matter into streams, creeks and ponds. This sudden introduction of materials into aquatic environments can affect ph levels, visibility, oxygen levels, and other factors.

Cold fronts can also drive temperature inversions during the fall season. Inversions occur when sustained high winds cool and transport surface waters across estuaries. As surface water is pushed across an estuaries, Water from below is pulled upward. This process, called upwelling, can benefit ecosystems by bringing nutrients, plankton and baitfish closer to the surface.

In many instances, fair weather follows a cold front. When anglers return to fishing, they typically find decreased visibility, cooler water temperatures, and other changes.

Before a front arrives, fish often feed aggressively. Species such as largemouth bass, striped bass, pike, and others are known to prey heavily on schools of baitfish as a cold front approaches. Some species even feed in the worst weather, including rain squalls or snowstorms.

After a cold front passes, anglers often complain that fish have scattered and refuse to bite. In some cases this assumption is true, but in many waterways, fishing opportunities still exist. When surface temperatures drop, fish may move into deeper water and suspend until conditions improve. Locating fish in these conditions can be easier for anglers that have fish finders and water temperature readouts.

Cold Front Fishing Techniques

Although many species become less active, many can still be taken on lures or baits. Largemouth and smallmouth bass anglers often switch from surface lures to slow moving, deep rigs such as Texas rigged worms, dropshot rigs, football jigs.

Perch, sunfish and other panfish can also be caught during or after cold fronts. Like other species, these small but tasty fish often move into channels or along drops during bad weather. Some anglers target them by vertically jigging small spoons, jigs, or other lures. Others switch to baits such as insect larvae, grass shrimp, nightcrawlers or other choices. During low visibility conditions, scent or color may be critical factors for both lures and baits.

When targeting ponds, lakes, and other smaller impoundments, anglers may have the luxury of covering a wide range of habitats and experimenting with a variety of techniques. This method works best when a weather system is moving out and fish are still scattered.

Habitat to be covered may include shallow grassy areas, overhanging limbs, dropoffs and other areas. In situations where direct sun has returned, fish may avoid open areas but may orient nearby to take advantage of warm currents.

As clear skies return and winds subside, visibility may increase considerably. These periods can bring a host of changes to fish habitats and can trigger fish to feed heavily. When anglers find these conditions, fishing can be excellent.