Angler Education

Knock 'Em Cold: Fishing During Late-Winter Blasts

During a recent test my partner and I had done just ok on our first day of fishing. We decided to give what looked to be a promising point one last try. Unbeknownst to us (and unreported by the weatherman), an intense storm system was heading our way. We had fished the point once again unsuccessfully for about 10 minutes when the storm hit. In an instant the sun was blotted out, the wind picked up and the air temperature plummeted. And then all bass fishing fury broke loose. As though on cue, the bass came out of nowhere, eager to feed. The first bite came within seconds after the front hit and never let up for the next 30 minutes.

Then the front passed and the fishing died down. And it stayed dead: for the remainder of that day, and two days after that. It was almost as though the bass, again on cue, went to play dead for a while.

So what makes bass respond to weather fronts like that? The elusive answer has yet to be found. That's not to say bass anglers are without ideas on the subject. In the world of fishing, theories abound about everything, and this subject is no exception. Perhaps the most popular notion links the bass' behavior to changes in barometric pressure. Others attribute the response to changes in temperature, light, or some as-yet-undiscovered factor.

The problem I have with the most of these theories is that their explanations are frequently based on single environmental factors. Given the complexity of Nature, that makes little intuitive sense to me.

To me it seems obvious that whatever triggers the bite has to be fast-acting. This means direct sensory input that can respond within milliseconds. Good candidates would be a sudden decrease in light levels accompanying heavy cloud cover moving in, and/or a rapid increase in ambient noise, due to stronger wind-driven wave action. These rapid changes could serve as direct instinctive triggers, spurring higher behavioral activity levels. Or, the bass could simply be reacting with learned behaviors. For example, perhaps bass learn early to associate sudden decreases in ambient light, or increases in ambient noise, with momentary confusion among their prey. No magical formula involved, only a bunch of hungry bass out looking for an easy meal.

Sudden temperature changes would be an unlikely candidate for activating bass feeding frenzies. With water's high thermal capacity, even air temperature drops of several degrees would have little immediate impact on water temperature. Moreover, this would be restricted to the upper foot or so of surface water. Bass dwelling in deeper waters would hardly feel any effects at all.

Similarly, bass feeding frenzies would not likely be triggered by drops in barometric pressure. The effects of pressure changes on the fish would be minimal.

Besides the physical limitations on temperature and barometric effects, their net effect would be more likely to suppress feeding than stimulate it. Bass generally don't take rapid changes well, either up or down. They much prefer to stay constant or slowly drift toward a more comfortable regime. Sudden changes tend to stress bass out.

So the next time you're out fishing and a big storm front is heading your way, as long as you can get to a safe spot, let your rods feast on the good fishing while you can. The days of famine are soon to follow.