Dreaded Cold Front - 5 Tips

5 Tips For Fishing The Dreaded Cold Front

UNDERSTANDING THE SITUATION

We have all heard the stories: “Not one bite all day—cold front came through,” or “We’re into a cold front, don’t bother goin’ out!” Or, most famously, “Ya should’a been here yesterday.” So, what is really happening?

Basically, it’s about changes in barometric pressure—both in air and water—and the effect these changes have on an ecosystem. Normal barometric pressure is considered to be about 30 millibars or 760mm of mercury on a barometer.

Before a front, the pressure drops (decreases), and after a front, the pressure rises (increases). Fishing is typically amazing during the prefrontal low and a disaster during the post-frontal high.

The explanation lies at the very bottom of the food chain with microscopic animals called Zooplankton and their primary food source Phytoplankton. Understanding how this works will help you tremendously the next time you face the dreaded cold-front when fishing.

The lifespan of most Zooplankton is only about a month. Consequently, they need to reproduce quickly and often. Under favorable weather conditions, populations can increase by as much as 30 percent each day. A typical adult female can produce eggs every 24 to 36 hours.

It’s a constant battle to perpetuate their kind because as quickly as they reproduce, they are consumed every minute of every hour of every day by aquatic insects, small fish, and crustaceans. That’s a good thing because if factors like weather and predation didn’t regulate the population growth of Zooplankton, it’s estimated that they would cover the entire planet to a depth of 1 meter within 130 days.

So what’s all this have to do with your fishing?

PREFRONTAL CONDITIONS: Let the party begin!

A slight prefrontal drop in pressure, as little as a millimetre or two, affects the buoyancy of these tiny microscopic creatures, making them unstable and pushing them up towards the surface and out of their comfort zone.

This totally messes up their reproduction cycle and makes them much more vulnerable to predation. All of this signals the dinner bell for just about every other living organism in the water column; it’s time to put on the feed bag.

When tiny baitfish gather to start feeding on them, it starts a chain reaction.

So begins a feeding frenzy. Once that party starts, it’s all over but the catching, because the fishing is typically incredible. First to line up at the buffet table are the macro-invertebrates like larva and freshwater shrimp.

Feeding on them are aquatic insects that are eaten by crawfish and small shore minnows who, in turn, quickly fall prey to panfish, perch, and small game fish. And last but certainly not least, are the predator fish that anglers target who are now feeding voraciously on everything that moves. This frenzy can last as long as 4 to 6 hours.

 

THE EYE OF THE STORM: Batten down the hatches!

As the pressure and temperature continue to drop, things go from really good fishing to really bad, really quick! That is where the term “Ya should’a been here yesterday” comes from. Thankfully, this period is relatively short.

This mass feeding binge causes a huge depletion of Zooplankton, which, in optimum conditions, represents the most abundant biomass in any given body of water. Remember what I said earlier: As this microscopic life form continues to become unstable, so does their reproductive cycle, resulting in the deterioration of the primary food source. In other words, the shelves in the grocery store are now near empty, and the supply chain has been interrupted.

This is when Mother Nature performs her magic. Instinctively, each level of predator fish starts shutting itself down in anticipation of this temporary food shortage. Why waste valuable energy when refueling is going to be at a minimum? So predator fish take their foot off the gas pedal and hunker down.

POST-FRONTAL CONDITIONS: In the zone! 

It’s important to note that shutting down does not mean they won’t eat; it simply means that their energy consumption meter has been dialed down to C for “Conserve.”

During this period, which could last anywhere between 24 and 72 hours, the feeding zone of a mid-range predator like largemouth bass or walleye can go from several hundred feet to as little as 6 inches in a matter of hours.

A good angler can take advantage of this by understanding what is happening down there.

There is a common misconception that when a front moves in, the fish disperse and go into the deepest part of the lake and become impossible to catch. Nothing could be further from the truth; all they do is go to their comfort zone and stay put.

That could be deep water, open water, shallow water, weed beds, rock ledges, or undercut banks, to name a few. Wherever they live and feed before the front is where they generally are during the front. The biggest difference is they tend to look for places that offer shelter from other predators but still have the potential for ambushing a quick meal.

Remember, energy conservation is in effect, so they will NOT chase baits. Their strike zone has been reduced by as much as 99%; what used to be 6 feet is now 6 inches.

FAST AND FURIOUS  

So, here are a couple of simple rules to follow. During prefrontal conditions, fish fast and fish horizontally; cast or troll to your heart’s content.

The fish are going to be all cranked up and chasing down anything in sight. The faster you fish, the more furious the bite. Use reaction baits like topwater baits, crankbaits, swimbaits and spinnerbaits, to name a few; the faster, louder and gaudier your presentation, the better.

These are the days all anglers dream about and hope will never end–but unfortunately, always come to a grinding halt.

SLOW AND METHODICAL

When they do end, and you are in the eye of the front, fish vertically and fish slowly. Vertical presentations into good cover or deep structure will usually result in some of the best fishing days you could ever experience.

You are now angling for individual fish, not schools. This is when patience and precision can really pay off. Presentations like jigging, pitching, flipping, or drop shotting are vital. If you must troll, it needs to be as slow as possible; this is when back trolling or drift trolling can really pay off.

Dragging Lindy rigs, Carolina rigs or tube jigs in, around, or through cover like boulders, weed edges, or wood will pay big dividends. But if you’re not fishing slow and tight, you will not get a bite.

BACK TO NORMAL

Once the front has moved through, it usually takes 2 to 3 consecutive days of stable barometer readings to bring the Zooplankton back to normal levels of reproduction. Once that happens, everything is good in the neighborhood. All fish get back to their regular routines and, for the time being, the dreaded cold front is nothing but a distant memory.

As Canadian anglers, we need to make the best of our northern weather patterns. Seldom in this part of the world will we go much more than a week before the weather becomes unstable, and we get a drop in barometric pressure—which means the dreaded cold front once again.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FISHING A COLD FRONT

  1. A cold front is your friend.

    There are three distinct parts to a frontal movement: prefrontal, the frontal eye, and post-frontal. Understand the effects these patterns have on fish. These can be some of the best fishing experiences you’ll ever have.

  2. Prefrontal = horizontal, fast and furious presentations.

    Fish are extremely active and will bite almost anything you throw at them. During this period of extreme feeding, their strike zone expands to its maximum size. Predators will throw caution to the wind and chase down even the most unnatural baits; the bigger and flashier, the better.

  3. Eye of the Front = time for transition.

    Although there doesn’t seem to be a set time for the transition from fast and furious to slow and methodical, it starts the minute the barometer bottoms out. From my personal experiences, it happens very quickly. I’ve seen cases where actively feeding Northern Pike go from 100 to zero in a matter of a couple of minutes. It can happen that quick. Being aware of changes in fish behaviour is very important under normal conditions, but during cold fronts, it’s monumental.

  4. Post-frontal = vertical, slow, and methodical presentations. 

    Fish tend to stick very close to cover or structure during this phase and will not move for food. Therefore, a vertical presentation becomes vital to catching fish during this period. Your bait must fall right into the fish’s wheelhouse to get a reaction. A couple of inches off and it will not hit. Even when you do manage to get it into the sweet spot sometimes, it will take forever for the fish to actually bite.

  5. What goes up must come down and vice versa. 

    Remember, a cold front is indicated by a falling barometer—meaning a low-pressure system is moving in and pushing out a high-pressure cell. Zooplankton do not require a high-pressure system in order to function properly. In fact, a rising barometer has an unsettling effect on their reproductive cycle as well, although nowhere near as extreme as a falling barometer. Generally speaking, a perfect world for all aquatic life means a stable barometer for 3 to 4 days. I don’t know about you but I can’t remember the last time we had stable weather for 4 days, meaning more often than not you’re probably fishing the dreaded cold front!

 

23 Replies to “5 Tips For Fishing The Dreaded Cold Front”

  1. In the article, you referred to some fish food as freshwater shrimp! Conversations with a Local Conversation Officer I was informed that these, in theory, were not shrimp but creatures are known as “Scuds”. Please advise!

    (The wife always beats me)Barry

    1. Thank you for your question on the Cold Front blog I wrote. When I spoke of freshwater shrimp I was referring to a grouping of crustacean which includes Mysis diluviana or opossum shrimp, which is a transparent shrimp-like crustacean, and the invasive spices Hemimysis anomala more commonly referred to as Bloody Red Shrimp but scuds or Amphipoda would also fall into that same category.

  2. I’ve been in a Still Water Brook Fishing for Spec’s out of a canoe, and when it started to Rain Hard, The Trout went Crazy, One catch after an other until the rain slacked off. Why did this Happen?

    1. Hey Rick my guess is that the barometer bottomed out about the same time the rain stopped. I’m also going to guess that the weather system (the rain) moved in very quickly that day and probably moved out just as quick, in other words is was short and sweet (less than 1 hour). So what probably happened is that the rain started at the pre-frontal (initial dropping of the barometer) period and ended in the eye of the front which sometimes happens.
      Having said all of that, it may have been none of the above, chalk one up to Mother Nature.

      1. Actually that has little to do with the actual raining as such, but more so to the barometer pressure , as it drops this triggers certain insects to hatch and the trout know this and begin a feeding frenzy. Fly fishermen, & [women] know and take advantage of this phenomenon. Even other types of fishing benefit from this just before a low pressure or certain moon phases can trigger this .

  3. Amazing! Angelo Viola the Fishologist and now a Metor-Fish-ologist. His professional credentials keep adding up. Cranking up the “forecast” with an amazing array of Aquatic Craniate Meteorologic Phenomena at breathtaking speed. It has many Anglers caught up in a “whirlwind” of atmospheric configuration. His “biosphere” of numerical weather predictions is unsurpassed in climatology technology.

    ExponMeteorologists are scientists who study and work in the field of meteorology. Those who study meteorological phenomena are meteorologist in research while those using mathematical models and knowledge to prepare daily weather forecast are called weather forecasters or operational meteorologists. Either way Angelo , your analysis is a brilliant exponent of “atmospheric convection”.

    With that in mind, let’s get back to the front or vise-versa, as Angelo has stated. How do these atmospheric advection patterns affect fish. Well, let’s take trout for an example.

    Trout respond very favorably to subtle changes in the relative temperature common for winter and summer. Trout prefer mid-temperature ranges where the water isn’t too cold or too warm. During the heat of summer, for example, trout are searching for the coolest water they can find. If the regular air temperature is 85 degrees F, even a subtle dip in air temperature by 4 degrees can really spike trout activity.

    That is for subtle temperature drops. What about larger drops in temperature caused by the arrival of a cold front where as much as 30 degrees can change within hours. Trout react to these drastic swings in temperature by hunkering down, slowing their feeding activity, and generally locating deeper pockets of warmer water. Likewise, in the hours before the cold front arrives, trout will feed aggressively to take advantage of the robust prey availability and to gorge themselves in preparation for the “leaner” times ahead with the colder weather.

    Once the cold front rolls in, most trout will hunker down for the first couple of hours but then resume feeding activity. Although they will continue to feed the duration of the cold spell, most of their activity-level will be docile and sluggish. Their activity levels will spike during the early afternoon when the air temperatures are warmest and if there is any break in the cold spell.

    Some of the best fishing for trout, and frankly, most species of freshwater fishing is in the days and hours preceding a cold front. This is because prey items like plankton, invertebrates, and bait fish will be out-and-about taking advantage of the remaining warm weather and trout will follow-suit. They will be eating as much as they can from this buffet line before the cold sets in and prey activity-levels dip down. If you get word of an approaching cold period in the weather, go hit your local stream, river, or lake, as fishing can be very successful during this time. Trout won’t stop eating once the cold sets in but they will slow way down.

    The actual cold front itself may only linger for a couple of hours as it is really the transition from the retreating warm weather and the advancing cold. During this transition period, you will be a rather abrupt change in the air temperature and oftentimes, a lot of overhead cloud cover reducing sunlight. During this time of transition, trout will hunker down and remain relatively stationary in deeper water. You can catch trout during this time but the bites will be very tough to come by. It is my recommendation that you wait at least 2 hours after the start of the cold front to start fishing. You can catch trout but you will have much better success a couple of hours later.

    Once the initial cold front passes, fishing will begin to pick back up again. Trout will feed throughout the duration of the cold spell, which could last days or even a week. They will not stop eating but their feeding activity level will slow down and their willingness to chase prey will greatly reduce. Instead, trout will focus on eating easier prey that comes to them. If you are going to fish with lures like plugs and spoons, slow down your approach. Trout will hit these but their bites will be very subtle and they won’t chase these baits down.

    Flies and live bait are tremendous options for these colder windows as trout will readily consume these more natural baits. Furthermore, the current will often draw these baits to the fish, which is exactly what you want when fishing docile trout.

    5 Tips for Trout Fishing Around Cold Fronts

    1. Flies, Lures, & Bait in Hours Before Cold Front :
    In the hours preceding a cold front, trout will be feeding aggressively in preparation. Feeding will not stop once the colder air pushes in, but their activity-level and prey availability will reduce. Prey items will hunker down tighter to cover and the bottom making them less vulnerable during the cold front. Take advantage of the remaining warm hours before the cold front by tossing flies, small lures, and live bait at trout. This is when they will most aggressively feed.

    2. Wait 2 hours After Cold Front Moves In :
    Once the initial wave of the cold front moves in, give trout about 1-2 hours to adjust before fishing for them. That first wave of cold air will be a shock to the entire system. Trout will often not eat anything until at least an hour after the cold front so do not fish for them when they won’t eat.

    3. Fish Slow During Cold Front :
    Trout will be more docile during the cold front. They will continue to eat but their bites will not as aggressive and decisive. When a trout takes your bait, they may not hold onto it. You have to watch your line for subtle bites and set the hook as soon as you see the line twitch or you are likely to miss them. Furthermore, you need to slow down your presentation. Fish flies slower and let the bait sit longer.

    4. Following the Cold Front, Fish Midday :
    Trout will be most active during the warmest parts of the day once the cold settles in. Most often, midday through the early afternoon is the warmest periods. Even temperatures 3-5 degrees warmer will really spike up trout action.

    5. Nymphs and Sinking Baits for Cold Weather Trout :
    Trout will often hunker down near the bottom when the weather turns cold. As a result, present them with baits like nymphs and sinking spinners or spoons to reach these fish deeper in the water column.

    In conclusion, Trout fishing can be very successful in and around cold fronts. Fishing action will be hottest before the cold front but during and after can be good as well. Just make sure once the cold arrives, you slow down and be ready to set the hook quickly on indecisive fish.

    Oh yes, do not forget to consult your local Fish’n Canada Fishologist before you head out this year.

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