Strategies for Fishing Around Cold Fronts
November is the time when the seasons truly begin to change. And, from year to year, it is almost impossible how quick and drastic that change will occur. What is a certainty is that throughout the month of November, there will be several frontal systems of varying strengths passing through the Texas Gulf Coast. As a result, fishermen wanting consistently good results as fall turns to winter must be proficient fishing under a wide variety of conditions.
BEFORE, DURING & AFTER FRONTS
Pre-frontal fishing often results in some of the year’s most memorable fishing trips. The best pre-frontal fishing usually occurs prior to a fairly strong front. But, other factors beyond storm strength influence the fishing quality. One factor is the length of time since the previous front. The more warm days leading up to a front, the more fish will be found in the shallows prior to the arrival of the oncoming front. Second is the weather conditions prior to the fronts arrival. At times, fronts are preceded by extremely strong south winds or heavy thunderstorms that make fishing the immediate pre-frontal time period difficult.
The best pre-frontal setup is a warm, calm day prior to a strong northern that dramatically drops the temperature. Under these conditions the majority of fish will be shallow and looking to feed heavy in ahead of the weather change.
As a rule, anglers should concentrate on shallow flats near deep water access prior to a frontal passage. Once cold fronts start moving through the coastal region, fish don't stray far from the safety of deep water. How far they stray from deep water depends on how many warm days there are between fronts. The longer the warm spell, the further up on the flats they'll move. But, usually they won’t be more than a couple hundred yards from the nearest channel or deep drop.
Most fishermen avoid fishing while a front is pushing through. But, depending on the strength of the front, fishing can remain decent so long as anglers can find protected water. This is particularly true for redfish, which will often be in midst of a shallow water feeding frenzy during a front. Trout will generally already be stacked in channels and deep holes once a front hits. These fish can be tempted into biting, although the water they are in is often unreachable as the strong frontal winds typically make open bay waters choppy and rough.
A common misconception is that fish won't bite following a cold front. But, while post-frontal fishing may not offer the non-stop action pre-frontal conditions do, fish will bite in the days following a cold front.
The first few days following a front, fish will be hunkered down in deep water. Anglers should look for deep water with shallow water nearby. Areas with both deep and shallow water features will be productive through this time period, as fish prefer areas that they have been within a short swim so they can transition back and forth as fronts pass through.
When reds and specks are in deep channels and holes, they are usually densely packed. So, if you catch one, you most likely with be able to catch many more without moving. After a few warm days fishing will begin resuming a more "normal" pattern. Fish will start moving back onto flats, redfish first, trout a little later, and the whole cycle starts over again.
ADJUSTING TO CONSTANTLY CHANGING CONDITIONS
Thanks to the ever-changing strength and direction of winds before, during and after fronts, late fall is full of contrasting and constantly changing conditions.
When drifting flats or mid-depth water during high wind, you need to use drift sock to slow the drift and stabilize the boat. This is especially true when working slow-sinking, suspending or finesse baits. At times, especially when fishing over deeper structure, it is probably best to set an anchor (assuming it's safe enough to fish the open water, remember fronts can make the open bay dangerous in a hurry).
A lack a wind usually means less ability to cover water. When fishing on the flats, it is necessary to cover water. If the wind isn't sufficient enough to push the boat, anglers should pole, wade or utilize a trolling motor. When fishing over deep water structure, calmer winds can be great because you don't need to anchor. Instead, you can slowly drift over deep structure and still work the area thoroughly.
As is always the case when fishing off-color water, dark colors are best. Scents can also make a difference. Bigger baits will cast a larger profile. Vibrating baits are also good choices, as the vibration helps fish find the bait in low visibility. One bonus to dirty water is fish will be far less spooky than they are in clear water.
As water cools, the bay water becomes clearer as there are less blooms and algae. So, even though the water may be stirred and muddy during and immediately after fronts, it will clear quickly. When fishing clear water, light or natural colors work best. It is also best to go with smaller baits and flies. Stealth is also key to success in clear water. Anglers need to avoid making unnecessary noises and make longer casts -- even in mid-depth water -- as fish will stay a good distance away from any large object they can see.
HOW THE FISH ARE AFFECTED
Most fishermen are aware that trout are the most temperature sensitive of the Big 3. So, they will usually be the first of the species to change location and behavior based on weather changes. They are also the species which tends to make the most drastic transitions.
As long as the weather is mild, trout will stay on the shallow flats. However, they will begin transitioning to flats with muddy or mixed (mud and sand) bottom. And, they will be increasingly closer to the safety of deep water. So, anglers looking for specks should target soft-bottom flats with easy access to deepwater holes and channels.
When fronts begin pushing through, trout will be found in these deeper channels and holes. Depending the depth of the water and the severity of the temperature drop, they may be hugging the bottom or suspended in a thermocline. On the backside of fronts, as the weather begins to warm, look for trout to be relating to the edges where the deep and shallow water meet and feeding on shallow shelves adjacent to deep water.
As fronts become more frequent and the average temperature continues to drop, look for trout to begin spending more time in the deep holes and much less time on the flats. Once this occurs -- which can be anytime between the second week of November and the end of the year based on the prevailing weather conditions -- trout will have fully transitioned into their winter pattern. This means they spend the vast majority of their time in deeper water, over muddy bottom. Once they are in a winter pattern, they rarely venture onto the flats unless there is a stretch of days with warm weather and bright sunshine. When this happens, trout will begin to venture onto the flats during the midday hours.
Redfish are not as affected by the up-and-down temperatures of late fall. During November, redfish will be found in one of two areas -- Gulf passes or shallow flats. Later in the month, many of the fish that had been in the passes during the fall spawn will begin moving back into the bay.
Throughout the month, redfish in the bay will usually be on the shallow flats. Like trout, redfish will begin to spend more time on flats adjacent to deep water. But during long stretches of mild or warm weather, redfish can be found high up on the flats, way away from deep water channels or guts.
When a front passes through, redfish will move into the nearby channels. However, this is often due more to a drop in water level within the bay than a drop in temperature. While experiencing super-low tidal conditions following a cold front, fishermen will often find redfish stacked in a channel or deep hole. Usually, these fish will be feeding aggressively despite the cooler temperatures. Once the water returns to normal levels, redfish will usually move back onto the flats.
By November, many flounder have already begun moving out of back lakes and marshes up and down the Texas coast. With every frontal passage, more and more flounder will exit the back lakes and marshes. So, throughout the month of November, the mouths and drains entering main bays from these backwater areas will be likely spots to find flounder, as will be adjacent stretches of shoreline. But, it is usually late November when flounder run really kicks into high gear. The largest movement of flatfish usually occurs following the second significant front of November, which normally happens around Thanksgiving. Once the full migration begins, anglers should look to intercept the migration along shorelines, channel edges or lines of spoils leading out of the bay.
Without a doubt, fronts will impact fishing over the next month or so. However, for anglers in tune with the fishing patterns throughout the frontal cycle, angling action can remain hot even while the weather and water cools.