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Fishing A Cold Front – Everything You Need To Know

Water temperatures have a large effect on fishing conditions. The arrival of a cold front will see water temperatures drop and can create challenging conditions for fishing. However, understanding cold fronts and their impact on the different types of fish can still see you catch.

You can fish during a cold front, but be prepared to fish more slowly and accept that you will catch fewer fish. A cold front will see cooler water temperatures, slowing the metabolism of fish. They will become less active and will need to feed less, presenting more challenging fishing conditions.

Fish are mostly cold blooded creatures, and therefore their body temperatures are determined by the temperature of the surrounding water. Cold fronts usher in cooler temperatures, and in this article, we’ll look at what constitutes a cold front, and how it impacts your chances of successful fishing.

What Is A Cold Front?

A cold front is a transitional period marking the arrival of a cooler air mass. The front is the leading edge of cooler air, replacing a previous mass of warmer air. The cooler air is denser and pushes up underneath the warmer air, resulting in cooler surface temperatures.

The denser cold front sees a rise in air pressure and is usually associated with the arrival of drier, colder air. The front is often brought in by winds from a northerly direction in the northern hemisphere, and these winds can be strong and gusting. Temperatures can drop by as much as 15 to 20 degrees.

How Does A Cold Front Affect Fishing?

Cold fronts are notorious among anglers as a time when fishing can grind to a halt. The main reason for this is a drop in water temperature, which makes the fish less active and looking to conserve energy.

Being cold blooded, the body temperature of a fish is dependent on the surrounding water. Each fish species has a preferred range of water temperatures, but once the water becomes too cold many types of fish will head to deeper water, searching for warmer conditions.

You will often find fish huddled together when water temperatures drop during a cold front.  To conserve energy, they become far less active and will not travel far in search of food. They will feed intermittently, but overall the cooler water makes fishing more challenging.

The rise in barometric pressure can be an issue, too. Normally fish prefer higher pressure levels as it relieves pressure on their swim bladders, the organs that help with buoyancy in the water. However, for species like game fish that prefer shallow water, higher pressure can see them head to deeper water and become less active.

Do Fish Bite During A Cold Front?

Fish will bite during a cold front, but you will need to be patient. As the water temperature falls the fish will become less active as their metabolism slows down, although they will still need to eat to survive. However, they will be far more reluctant to travel distances to find food sources.

Even when you locate the fish, they tend to react slower in colder water. It will often be a case of dangling the bait as close as you can and having the patience to wait until a fish decides to take the bite. You may find steep channels and drop-off spots are good places to target, where the water is deeper and temperatures are more stable.

6 Cold Front Fishing Tips

1. Slowly Does It

You will need to slow your fishing down to match the slower metabolism of the fish you want to catch. The fish are in no mood to go hunting down a fast moving lure. Instead, you will be looking to slowly drop your bait right in front of their noses, hoping to entice a bite. Precise presentation of bait, with no sharp movements, is the order of the day.

2. Opt For Live Bait

As you are looking to slowly dangle bait in close proximity to the fish, live bait is often the best option. You should work the bait in slowly and vertically, accepting that patience is certainly a virtue in these conditions. The quicker movement of a lure could spook an inactive fish, as both the fish and its food source move more slowly in colder waters.

3. Go Deeper

Fish can head to deeper waters during a cold front, looking for warmer and more stable temperatures. Therefore, you need to be prepared to fish at a deeper depth than you may normally, and this could even be right on the bottom of the waterbed.

4. Fish Downwind

A cold front often brings in strengthening winds, so fishing downwind along a shoreline can prove beneficial. Food sources can be pushed toward the shoreline by the wind and currents, and the churned up water can sometimes be warmer. Game fish will also be more likely to move to these areas if this is where the bait fish are lured during a cold front.

5. Prepare To Fish At A Different Time Of Day

Although you may know a certain body of water normally fishes at its best in the morning or maybe toward early evening, this can change during a cold front. Now you may find the best time is midday or early afternoon, as this is when the water is at its warmest for the day and more likely to induce fish to feed.

6. Smaller Lures

If you still prefer to use a lure, look to downsize. The fish may not be interested in a large lure while they are relatively inactive, but could still be tempted by a smaller sized lure. A two to three inch lure is more likely to have success alongside a lighter line, as this set-up is less likely to spook the fish. Scenting artificial baits may also help entice the fish to bite.

How Do Cold Fronts Affect Different Types Of Fish?

Some types of fish are more sensitive to changes in water temperature than others, and a cold front can therefore have a greater impact on these fish too. The feeding habits of game fish will also be affected if their food source relocate to find warmer waters. Examples of fish that are particularly sensitive to water temperatures include:

  • Redfish
  • Salmon
  • Grayling
  • Barbel
  • Pike

Trout

Trout prefer a mid-temperature range where the water is neither too cold nor too hot. The temperature range can also vary between the different species of trout. Trout adapt quite well to small changes in temperature, but larger changes caused by a cold front can see them hunker down and become relatively inactive.

Trout will still eat, but they will not hunt for food as they would normally. They may not take a bait at all in the first couple of hours during a cold front, but then could be tempted by bait placed right on top of them. Trout will be more likely to feed as the water warms slightly during the early afternoon.

Bass

Different types of bass can react to cold fronts in slightly different ways, but this can be advantageous as they are predictable once you know their preferred refuge spots. Like most fish, bass will become less active and travel less in the water. Similar to trout, you will need to cast with precision, landing your bait right on top for a bite.

Bass will move during a cold front, but they will head to the same type of locations. Largemouth bass tend to be impacted most and may head to structures such as channel bends and bluff banks to take cover. They may also simply move to the bottom of their normal cover amid the weeds.

Smallmouth bass are not quite so predictable as they are not as inclined to shallow water, and tend to be affected less by a cold front. Whichever type of bass you target, you should not need to move around as much as normal when fishing for them. Once you have located the bass you can bombard the area with multiple casts to try and induce a bite.

Carp

Sudden drops in water temperature prompted by a cold front will also slow down a carp’s feeding habits. They will take a bite, but this will be much less frequent, and they will be pickier in their strike. However, there is a situation that can cause an exception to the rule.

While cold fronts are usually a precursor to drier, clearer skies, they can initially cause thunderstorms as they drive the warmer air up. This heavy rain may create areas of runoff into ponds, lakes and rivers. Sometimes you will find a sizable group of carp moving to these shallow areas of runoff as food sources are washed in by the rainfall.

Walleye

Walleye will also react to a cold front and quickly abandon their usual warmer water locations. When the weather is stable you will usually find walleye feeding in long stretches of shallow water or around underground features such as rises on the bed and sunken islands.

However, once a cold front hits, walleye will retreat to the nearest deep vertical drop off point. This is when local knowledge of the layout of the waters or a map showing the contours will help you locate the most likely refuge spots during a cold front.

Similar to other types of fish, walleye may huddle in groups during a cold front, and once you have located them a slow fishing style may entice at least one of the fish to bite.

How To Fish After Cold Fronts

Fishing can remain slow even after a cold front has passed through as it will be followed by a cooler air mass. The degree of fish inactivity depends on how cold the water temperatures become following a cold front, but in general a lowering of the temperature will make for more challenging fishing.

But challenging does not mean impossible. While the fish may be reluctant to feed during the cold front, they will need to eat again to survive. Fishing will likely improve two to three days after the cold front has passed as fish look to feed once more.

Eating Less Than Usual

However, fishing will still be comparatively slow. Fish are cold blooded, and their metabolism will slow down in colder water, so while they will need to eat, they will still be eating less. Most fish feed more in warmer waters, so the passing of the cold front is unlikely to bring an immediate feeding frenzy.

So, it can be a good idea to continue to monitor water temperatures and fish when the water is at its warmest. This will often be between midday and midafternoon. Fish looking to feed after a cold front will be more likely to do so during this period when the water is warmer.

Fish like bass will still be relatively slow and inactive after a cold front has passed, so your fishing needs to reflect this. Continue to fish slowly and present bait vertically. This will provide more chance of tempting a bite from a fish still looking to conserve energy and travel minimal distances.

Using Live Bait

Anglers tend to be reluctant to fish during a cold front, but this can play to your advantage if you switch to using live bait. Fewer anglers means fewer artificial lures, and what food the fish have been feeding on has been natural bait such as worms, washed in by any rainfall ahead of the cold front.

Fish can also become a little fussy when they are feeding less, and dangling live bait could do the job. Offering their natural food source may be more likely to tempt a fish than an artificial lure, particularly a big lure when the fish are eating less.

Where To Find Fish After Cold Fronts

Anywhere where the water is likely to be warmer is always a good place to start when trying to locate fish after a cold front has passed through. On lakes this can be anywhere there is protection from the wind, or on the western side of the lake which receives more sunlight through the day.

Underwater structures such as rocky outcrops are also good areas to try, as are areas of vegetation. This might not seem to offer much additional heat, but the few extra degrees water temperature they can offer is enough for a cold-blooded fish looking to regulate its body temperature.

Understand The Local Geography

Deeper channels of water can also be warmer and are places where fish like trout look to relocate during and after a cold front. Having a good understanding of the geography of the area prior to fishing will help ensure you know where such channels and any other deeper pools are to be found.

If you’re sea fishing, you will find fish also move to deeper water, where the water temperature will drop more gradually, allowing more time for fish to adapt. Fish may also head for warmer areas such as sheltered inland waterways, canals and even waters around power plant outflows. Basically, anywhere where the water is likely to be warmer, fish will seek it out.

As the days pass after a cold front, you may start to see fish on the surface sunning themselves for extra warmth. This could even be in the shallows. However, fish will remain easily spooked, so while they might take a bite, casting a heavy lure could still frighten them off.

Final Thoughts

Cold fronts offer more challenging fishing conditions, but with planning and adjustments to fishing methods employed, you can still catch fish. The drop in water temperatures make fish less active and feed less than usual, but understanding the water you’re fishing can allow you to still catch.