Cold Shoulder: How the MLF Pros Handle Fall Fronts
By Lynn Burkhead
October 2, 2017
To a bass fisherman, the term cold front is often an unwelcome one.
And that includes even the Major League Fishing pros, the sport's best who have found their way to bass rich Lake Eufaula in eastern Alabama to try and win the 2017 MLF Challenge Cup.
With steam coming off the early morning water, I asked MLF pro Mike McClelland how he avoids being depressed after a strong cold front arrives like the one that came roaring in earlier in the week.
"Let's not even talk about being depressed," laughed the Arkansas pro. "I was trying to put that completely out of my mind and then you come up and talk about it. I was just trying to show up at a lake and go fishing and think that they were really biting."
McClelland agreed that even in the fall, the passage of a big front can affect the fishing, especially on the dreaded second and third day after it passes through.
But a big key in his mind is to stay mentally tough and positive, especially if the local flags are still flapping a little bit on the flagpoles.
The reason is that such a slight wind can help an angler in the first real battle of fighting a fall cold front.
At least when it comes to not getting psyched out before even hitting the water..
"The big thing to me, if you've got a little bit of a breeze when these cold fronts roll through, it helps," said McClelland. "I noticed a little while ago that we're looking at 7 mph winds out of the north/northeast this morning.
"If we've got some ripple on the water, you can still find some active fish. It's those really slick, calm days after a front where things can get tough."
McClelland took a look at the sky and then noted: "At least I'm fishing on the second day after a front this week and not the third day after that front."
For Oklahoma MLF pro Jason Christie, how deep the autumn season actually is on the calendar can also help determine how the fishing is going to be after a front.
"I think when you get into the first or second front of the fall (season), it can affect them more than normal," said Christie. "They (fronts) can kind of knock them in the head. But by the time you get to the third or fourth front of the fall, they (the bass) kind of get used to it."
In fact, as the autumn season deepens and frontal passages happen more frequently - even once or twice a week in some locations - the effect on bass can be reversed.
"A lot of times by then (later on in the fall), it (a frontal passage) will actually trigger them to bite," said Christie. "Maybe not the first day, but it kicks everything (into gear) and they start moving because they know that winter is coming and they've got to eat."
While history on a body of water is something that the MLF format usually tries to take away from an angler - they don't know where they are going to be fishing until they actually arrive at the boat ramp each morning - Lake Eufaula is a bit different.
That's because most of the anglers here this week have fished the famous big bass water at least once or twice on the other circuits that their careers chase.
And because of that history, McClelland feels more at ease even though he's hitting the water after a frontal passage.
"The little bit of history I've got on this place, I feel like I at least have a little bit of an idea (about what to do despite the front)," he said. "That helps."
Even so, McClelland doesn't want to get locked into his knowledge of Eufaula - an angling security blanket, if you will - after the frontal passage.
"Typically this time of year, you want to put (some kind of bait) in your hand and cover as much water as you can in the first couple of hours," he said.
"You just have to try and get a few bites. And in these post-frontal conditions, I figure that a guy is going to have to slow down and pick a flipping bait up, things like that.
"Be willing to put your head down and grind it out all day (if necessary)."
That helps pros like McClelland and Christie formulate a pretty good game plan when facing post-frontal conditions in the fall.
And that's the idea of putting oneself in areas where an angler is confident in their abilities based on past experiences, picking baits that can be flipped and pitched tight to cover where fish are more apt to be holding on post-frontal days.
Then it comes down to slowing down the presentation and covering as much water as an angler can to get that bait in front of the right fish or two.
Perhaps most of all, a big key in making such a game plan work is to not lose the cerebral battle upstairs before the day even begins.
"A front (in the fall) can change the style of fishing that you're doing," said Christie. "But overall the fish are generally going to (still be) in the same areas."
And armed with that knowledge, an angler like these two pros can grind it out, confident that eventually, their bait is going to find its way in front of an active and hungry bass.
"For me, a grind it out kind of affair is probably going to be better," said McClelland. "The only thing is that you've got to be in a zone where you think you can see a bite to be successful."
Because in tough post-frontal conditions in the early fall, staying mentally positive and focused is a big key.
Just like accepting the idea of a grind it out kind of day can also be.
"Fall seems to be a good time of the year for me because I'm not afraid to grind," said McClelland. "I understand that there are those days (in the fall) where you're going to fish for those six, eight or 10 bites a day. That's kind of how I grew up fishing.
"Hopefully, this is one of those days where I can catch a few of them, grind it out and stay in the hunt," he added.
Which is pretty good advice after a front in the fall, whether an angler is fishing for a big Major League Fishing Challenge Cup trophy.
Or just for fun on their own local water, hoping to do little more than gain bragging rights over their buddies.
Cold front or no cold front.