It was mid November when I arrived on the shores of the huge lake on the Texas/Louisiana border for a day of largemouth bass fishing. A cold front the bane of all bass fishermen had arrived the day before. Over the years, I have become accustomed to fantastic bass fishing the day before a cold front moves through followed by extremely difficult fishing for several days.
Many times I had been told by many good bass fishermen that largemouth bass seek deep structure when a front moves through and are practically impossible to catch for three or four days. I had no evidence to prove this theory wrong until last year. It was chilly and windy that morning and I was not surprised when my long time fishing partner Hank Williams, of Shreveport, LA was not at the landing at the scheduled time.
Even though I had traveled several hundred miles to fish The Bend, I decided to telephone Williams and cancel the fishing date. However, when I reached him I was surprised by what he told me.
"You just wait there, " Williams said. "I've got a little business to take care of, but I should be there by ten or eleven."
"Look, Hank," I replied, "I know the conditions are bad. If you want to forget about fishing, that's fine with me. We'll get together the next time I come this way."
"The conditions aren't bad, " Williams responded. "These
were just the conditions I was hoping for. You just meet me at 11 A.M. and we'll catch some bass."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but over the last 10 or 12 years this occasional guide and tournament fisherman had never steered me wrong. However, I was very skeptical.
Six hours after we started fishing, I was convinced. We had caught and released 55 largemouth bass between one and four pounds and had broken off two bass that were obviously bigger because of their strong pull. Not only that, but there were times that the action was so fast that we caught eight and ten bass from the same location without moving the boat. Several times we both had fish on at the same time.
That is not the kind of fishing I have come to expect after a cold front moves through. These fish were not only very active, but were suspended where they could be caught easily without the tedious bottom fishing usually associated with post cold front bassing.
Was this one of those unexplainable flukes? Several times over the last 30 years I have ran into situations where I slaughtered (actually I released all but a couple) bass. Then when I went back to the same location under the same conditions at the same time of year, I couldn't buy a bass.
Williams claims there is nothing fluky about this situation.
Over the last four years, Williams stated that every one of his post cold front bass trips on Toledo Bend has been productive. Some were better than others, but they were all good.
"It's more reliable than the neighborhood mailman," Williams said. "I don't know why it happens, but I know what happens every time a cold front moves through in the fall.
"In October, November or December, depending on the weather, largemouths collect on the points with good woody cover at the mouths of feeder creeks. You can catch them there with jig and pig, plastic worms or crank baits. They will be scattered out, but if you keep moving you can catch two or three off just about every point. Then when the cold front comes blowing through, the fish move. But they don't head for deep structure. They suspend and school in the middle of the mouth of the feeder creek. They may be in 15 or 18 feet of water, but the bass will only be four or five feet deep.
"Most fishermen will fish deep after a cold front and blame the cold front for there lack of success. Actually, they are fishing way underneath most of the bass.
"When a cold front comes through you just back off of the points and cast crank baits, like the Bomber Model A, that only dives seven or eight feet. It is as dependable as fishing gets."
Williams stated that he has no idea why the bass suspend, but guesses it might be the current from the feeder creeks or perhaps the bait fish (shad in this case) move to these locations. For some reason they pile up at the mouths of some creeks like cord wood.
Water temperature doesn't seem to be a factor in this pattern unless the water is so cold that the bass have already moved to their deep winter cover. Last December, Hank found and caught suspended fish when the water temperature was 53 degrees.
He has been successful when the water temperature was as high as 70 degrees in the fall.
"The only things constant are the cold fronts and those feeder creeks or ditches," Hank pointed out. "They'll head for the mouths of those creeks and suspend every time."
There is more to being successful at this cold front fishing than pulling up to the mouth of a feeder creek and casting crank baits.
First of all, it helps to know the water ahead of time. You have to know where the creeks are, where the creek banks are, and where the points are. All it takes is a little common sense and a depth finder, but you have to do your exploring prior to the cold front’s arrival.
These bass are so close to the surface that you could scatter them by running your boat up on top of them. You might be able to guess where these submerged feeder creeks are by looking at the tree lines, but it is more prudent not to be guessing. You could be wasting a lot of time fishing a break in the tree line rather than the mouth of a feeder creek.
It is also beneficial to know where the bass were holding before the front came through. If there were no bass in the area before the front, there will be no bass after the front. They don't move that far. It may be no more than 20 or 30 feet.
You should work these feeder creek mouths from as far out as possible. You want to hold your boat so that you can make a comfortable cast 15 to 20 feet inside the mouth of the creek. Presentation of your lure is also extremely important. After you make your cast beyond the bass, crank down quickly to get the crank bait at maximum depth (no more than seven or eight feet) than slow down. After a couple of turns on your reel handle, stop your retrieve and the lure will flutter towards the surface.
After about a three second pause, make two or three more turns on the handle and stop again. Repeat this procedure until you have a strike or the lure is back to the boat.
Don't underestimate the importance of this stop and go retrieve. I caught a bass on a straight retrieve and got the idea that Williams was just trying to make this fishing seem more difficult. After he caught and released six bass while I was catching none, I began working on my stop and go retrieve and began to catch bass regularly.
Hank has another tactic he uses when the bass are a little finicky. When he stops his lure, he will move it to one side or the other with his rod. This alters the straight upward fluttering of the lure and will entice the bass to strike.
Don't give up on a cast just because you don't get a strike in the key location in the mouth of the feeder creek. Keep working the stop and go retrieve right back to the boat because they will often follow the lure quite a distance before striking.
I have had them strike right at the boat when I was ready to pick up the lure and make another cast.
And don't expect these largemouths to yank the rod out of your hand. They hit the lure when it is rising in the water and sometimes you only feel the slightest tic on the line. Other times the line just feels heavier than it should. Sometimes, you just see the line moving off to one side. In any one of these situations, get the slack out of the line and set the hook firmly.
Don't work the mouths of two or three feeder creeks and give up while thinking this cold front pattern isn't working today. You may have to fish ten or more locations before you find fish, but when you do, you could get your limit of bass from one spot.
Lure color is important to Williams. He uses Bomber Model A's in fire tiger bass, baby bass and rainbow trout patterns. All these colors work for him on Toledo Bend, but he has no explanation why bass hit the rainbow trout pattern. He knows these bass have never seen a live rainbow trout.
Don't be afraid to experiment with colors. If you have a pattern that works for you at other times of the year, it could work on these cold front bass. Colors do make a difference, but the main thing is for the angler to be confident in the color he is using. More than one pattern will work at any given time. Like most bodies of water, Toledo Bend can range from clear to muddy. Most anglers change lure colors to combat these conditions, but Williams changes the size of the lure for this fall fishing. His rule is the murkier the water the larger the lure and conversely the clearer the water the smaller the lure.
In the murkiest of conditions Williams will use a Bomber Model 7A and when the water is clear he will use a Model 5A or 3A.
Unfortunately, the fishing tackle industry has never considered it necessary to have a universal sizing system. Some use ounces, some use inches, and some use numbers or letters or combinations of letters and numbers to identify lures. The sizes above are Bomber sizes. If you want a comparable size in your favorite crank bait, you could do a little research in your local tackle store or a mail order catalogue. While considering size of alternate lures, be sure to keep in mind that you want a lure that will not dive deeper than seven or eight feet.
When Williams and I began this bassing venture last November, we were forced to fish the Sabine River above where it flows into the reservoir because the wind was blowing too hard to fish the lake. However, when the wind died down in the afternoon we were able to move out on to the lake.
The interesting thing is that Williams cold front pattern worked just as well in the lake as it did in the river. The bass were suspended in the mouths of feeder creeks in the lake just like they were in the river. The big difference is that you can see the feeder creeks in the lake.
The big question is does this fall cold front pattern for bass work everywhere or only in Toledo Bend. Logic dictates that bass are creatures of instinct and they react to the same stimuli in the same manner in whatever body of water they exist. However, the structure is not the same in all bodies of water. Therefore, the significant structure in this case feeder creeks may be the important factor.
Hank has not personally tried the fall pattern in any other body of water, but he claims there are a few fishermen that know about this fall cold front fishing and they are not doing much talking.
One of the other fishermen who knows about this fall pattern is Stan Mitchell, of Fitzgerald, GA, who popped on the fishing scene in 1981 when he became the youngster angler, at 21, to win the Bassmaster's Classic on the Alabama River. In a interview he gave credit to his knowledge of this cold front pattern as the reason for his success in the big tournament.
"I think it will work anywhere," Mitchell stated. "It's worked everywhere I've tried it."
When question further, Mitchell agreed that the feeder streams in rivers and lakes were a constant factor in this fishing.
"I'll also pick up some single fish deep on jig and pig during cold fronts, but most of the fish are suspended and take crank baits," he added.
The fact that Mitchell and Williams are in agreement on this technique is not surprising. Although they have never met, Williams admits that he learned from Mitchell through mutual associates in the bass fishing fraternity.
This fall, watch the weather maps. When you see a cold front heading your way, grab your tackle and head for the lake or river. You could be in for your best largemouth bass fishing of the year.