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Cold Shoulder Bass
By Wayne Ek


Author: Wayne Ek

If youíre a tournament angler youíve been there. After a great day of pre-fishing for the upcoming tournament youíre sitting around working on tackle and re-spooling reels when the weather report comes on.  You really arenít paying that much attention to the report until you hear, ď A large cold front is moving in from the northwest this evening, it should bring clear skies and cooler temperatures for the weekend.Ē Now they have your undivided attention as you realize your game plan will probably change drastically and you will be fishing for ďcold shoulder bassĒ.

A couple of things can happen at this point. You can become resigned to a poor day of fishing, lose focus and confidence and end up losing the tournament before you even launch the boat. Or you can think, YES! This front has just cut the playing field in half and I can win this thing.

Letís look at a couple of ideas that may help you cash a check during a cold front tournament. First believe me when I tell you ď fish bite during post-frontal conditions.Ē As a guide Iíve watched my clients catch too many fish on post-frontal days to buy into the ď fish wonít bite after a cold frontĒ malarkey. Active or neutral fish may become negative and their strike zone may shrink way down for a few days, but they will bite.

Do You Go Deep Or Shallow?
There are a couple of different theories here. One says that larger game fish will move deep after a cold front and hug the bottom. The second says that game fish will become negative and move extremely tight to heavy cover. I think both theories are accurate and here is why.

Deep Fish
Most of our guide trips are for walleye. I knowÖ I love to chase bass and all my tournament fishing is for bass, but the walleye is the most popular fish in our area, so we fish for walleye 90% of the time. Prior to a cold front moving through we can slip-bobber, troll or crank shallow breaks and be quite successful on walleye. But after a cold front it becomes strictly a live-bait bite, mainly leeches fished ever so slowly at the base of deep breaks, adjacent to large flats. Itís during these times that my clients catch some very respectable bass, from areas that normally do not hold quality bass. I have to believe that the bass holding on the edges of the adjacent flats had to transition to the deep breaks to weather the post- frontal conditions.

Shallow Fish
Iíve always found it hard to believe that the whole bass population of an expansive, shallow, weedy bay would migrate out of the bay after a cold front, looking for a deep-water sanctuary. The pontoon boat tied up to the dock in front of our home has proven me right time after time. Our home is located in a large, shallow, weed-choked bay, which is loaded with panfish and small bass. You can walk down to the dock on any warm sunny afternoon, stomp on the pontoon boat and see good numbers of small sunfish and bass scoot out from under it, but rarely any really large bass, until a cold front moves through the area. Then you can stomp on the pontoon and see the regular sunfish and small bass along with a number of large bass. Those fish are in less than a foot of water on a mud bottom, tucked way up under the pontoon boat. The larger bass only seem to go there after a cold front.

What Do Others Think?
Captain Chris Johnson, owner/operator of Fishcrazy guide service ( targets both smallmouth and largemouth bass around the Door County Peninsula of Wisconsin. Chris is also a professional tournament angler fishing the Pro side of the Bassmasters Weekend Series in Division 24 ( Wisconsin ) and is on the field-staffs for Strike King Lures, Sufix Line and Zebco/Quantum.

When chasing smallmouth on Lake Michigan after a cold front, Chris said he likes to target offshore humps. ď I like humps with ledges or lips, the down current side of these humps usually produce the best when dealing with cold front conditions.Ē When I asked Chris about which line he uses for tough post-frontal bites Chris indicated that he stays with his normal 10-pound braid with an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. However, he does downsize his lures and weights for cold front conditions. For largemouth Chris said, ď I like to look for areas that draw heat, mainly rocks or wood.Ē  After a front moves through the area his lures of choice for largemouth are the Strike King Zero, fished weightless or small crankbaits dragged along the bottom.  His main point, ď More important than the line and lures is the mind-set. You have to force yourself to fish very slow and be patient.Ē

Howie Lee is a well known tournament angler in the upper Midwest . He is also the owner of North Star Jigs ( Howieís main point was downsizing. ď When fishing cold front conditions I like to downsize my lures. I will stick with a jig but tend to use a 3/16 oz like the Sumpín Sumpín. For trailer Iíve been using the Zoom Speed Craw or a Yamamoto Twin Tail Grub.Ē If confronted with an early spring cold front Howie said he liked to move out to a little deeper water and fish a jig real slow.

Brad Leifermann is a very well known and respected professional tournament angler in the northern region. He fishes numerous tournaments  including the Silverado and Bassmasters Weekend Series in Division 25. Brad won the regional championship on Lake Patoka in 2006. Here are some great points brought up by Brad. ďThe inevitable cold front is sure to arrive on a tournament day. The key to catching fish after a front has moved through is making the mental adjustment before you even drop the boat in. You know the fishing is going to be tough and itís going to be slow fishing with light line and small lures. When I pre-fish I always try to locate both deep and shallow fish, then if the weather changes I have alternatives. It seems to me that cold fronts affect deep fish less, but shallow fish can sometimes be easier to catch if heavy weed clumps such as coontail exist.  Iíve found that some fish will move tight to these clumps and can be caught with a jig later in the day as the front passes. If all else fails, docks can always produce a few fish if the angler just slows down and works the docks with smaller baits.  For the most part, after a cold front you can forget the top-waters, crankbaits and other fast moving baits. The drop shot, jig, senko or dead sticking worms are my choices when confronted with post frontal conditions. If itís possible, I try to fish the windy side of a lake after a front. If Iím on a river I look for current areas that will hold fish, such as wing dams and side channels with current breaks.Ē

Donít Panic, Downsize The Bait And Slow Down
All three of these professional anglers spend hundreds of hours on the water each season and I thought it interesting that the majority of their points on dealing with cold front conditions were similar.

So, when youíre confronted with the dreaded cold front donít panic, be prepared to make some reasonable adjustments to your game plan. Remember, be patient and think about slow presentations.  No power fishing this time out. Put away the big baits. If youíre chasing bass youíre going to have to go to small subtle baits. If itís a fun fishing day or you have kids out fishing, then go to live bait. Even during a cold front itís hard for a bass to pass up a tantalizing leech. But more important than anything else is to keep a positive mental attitude, believe that the fish will bite and expect them to bite. This will put you ahead of half the tournament field before the first boat is even launched.

As always, stay safe and we hope to see you on the water.

Wayne Ek is a fishing guide, tournament angler and writer living in Alexandria Minnesota . For more information you can contact Wayne at