Bass pro Pete Ponds has a very interesting take on cold-weather fishing.
“When it’s really, really cold, blowing and windy, stay home and lay on the couch, or get in a deer stand,” Ponds said, emphatically — but with a grin. “But on most days, if you get the chance, you really should go fishing.
“There are times in December, then even in January and February, when the fishing is as good as it gets all year, and to wuss out just because it isn’t 75 degrees is a big mistake.”
Those days, when Ponds recommends doing “honey do chores, or taking the wife and kids to the show or anything but fishing” are those days when a cold front blows through.
“That day it arrives, man, those days can be brutal,” said Ponds, who is from Madison. “Even here in Mississippi, winter cold fronts can be miserable — miserable fishing and miserable conditions. But the other days involved with that front can be fantastic. That includes the days on the front end as the front approaches, then on the back end after a day or two of its passing through; those can be good, too.
“Fish behavior changes with each front. They want to be feeding in the winter because they want to fatten up in advance of the spawn, and they sense that there will be a lot of days when it’s just too cold to do anything but be lethargic. That’s why the fishing can be so good around the front.”
Heres how Ponds fishes around a cold front.
Ahead of the front end
Fish don’t have to have access to The Weather Channel to know that bad weather is approaching.
“They can sense it, and it starts with a falling (barometric) pressure,” Ponds said. “That usually flips a switch on a bass’s feeding senses. The weather is warm, the pressure is falling, and they will get very aggressive. I will start by running three-quarters of the way back into a pocket before I stop and fish. It’s important to locate and know the course of any ditch or creek channel in that pocket, because in the late fall and winter, the fish will always relate close to that channel. On warm days, like right before a front, they will leave that ditch and go out on a flat to look for food.
“That’s when I usually turn to a search bait, and that means either a lipless crankbait,” said Ponds, who uses a BooYah Hard Knocker for aggressive fish or the one-rattle BooYah One Knocker for not-so-aggressive fish) — or a Bandit 200 crankbait. “Those are lures that I can use to cover a lot of water. Bass are following shad into the pockets, and I look for a ditch or creek channel that they will use a migration corridor.
“I also have a 5-inch Yum Dinger worm tied on, weightless, hooked as in a Texas-rig. If I miss a fish or see a fish swirl, then I throw it in that spot, and that slow-falling action is deadly. It’s also good for when you locate a school of bass holding on a spot, like a ledge.”
Ponds is never in a hurry, even on warm days
“Heck, I don’t usually start fishing until noon or later in the winter, unless it’s a tournament or something like that,” he said. “Even on the warmest days, the water is still pretty cool early, so the later in the day you start, the warmer the water will be.
“If I do start earlier, then I always look for a west bank. The sun rises in the east, so the west banks will be exposed to the sun earliest and longest through the day.”
Riprap banks are always a best bet, if they are available on the west side of a lake.
“If I start in the morning, 90 percent of the time I am going to start with a jerkbait, like a suspending Rattlin’ Rogue,” Ponds said. “I like to fish a deep bank with a quick drop, like a dam face. That’s where I start.”
Ponds varies his presentation until fish show him a pattern.
“On warmer days, you can be more aggressive with the presentation and take an angle that allows you a little bit more coverage shallow,” he said. “On cooler days, you have be a little more methodical, and change your angle to concentrate on a deeper strike zone.”
If the jerkbait doesn’t produce, Ponds will also try cDeep-Running Flat Maxx Deep or a Bomber 7A, in the same location.
“That’s the only time I use a deep-running Flat Maxx, but it’s deadly in that situation,” he said. “The tight wiggle, like that of the Bomber, is what fish want in the winter.”
Whichever bait he’s using, Ponds starts with a slow retrieve, very similar to working a Carolina-rigged soft plastic with a sidearm motion, using the reel handle only to take up slack.
“Vary your start and stop times until you find what the fish like,” he said. “Sometimes, they don’t like a pause at all; sometimes you have to pause it for a while, like 10 Mississippis. I know it isn’t easy, but that’s what you have to do sometimes — let it sit.”
If he notices a surface temperature rise of a degree or two, Ponds is quick to abandon those patterns and hit the flats with the lipless crankbait and look for aggressive fish.
“The Hard Knocker works because they’re following shad into the pockets,” he said. “I like to work on banks that are protected from north winds. This is the time of year when I love to use a yo-yo retrieve because it resembles a shad that is in trouble, like the cold water is killing it.”
Front and center
Even in the deep South, the arrival of a fast-moving cold front can bring dramatic weather. Hard north or northeast winds, spitting rain or sleet can be the norm, followed by a sudden arrival of blue-bird conditions with the dreaded sudden rise on the barometer.
That’s the time to either be in a deer stand, in a duck blind or, better yet, on a couch with a fire roaring in the fireplace.
“No doubt,” Ponds said, “but there’s always somebody wanting to fish whatever the conditions, and there are some things you can do. For me, if I’m just fishing, then I pick up the jerkbait, and I never put it down. Never.
“I’m going to be fishing in deep water, preferably on a dam or jetty wall, something with rocks that will hold a little more heat to transfer to the water. A dam gives you that little bit of shallow, warm water with a quick drop. That’s when I really like to throw the Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue.”
It’s tough stuff, and it certainly isn’t for everybody.
“Two things make it difficult,” Ponds said. “One is, you are not fishing for a lot of bites. You have to know going in that you are looking for a bite or two or three or, if you’re lucky, maybe five. The upside of that is usually it’s going to be a quality bite.
“The other thing that turns off a lot of people is the technique needed to be successful with a jerkbait in cold, high-pressure situations, and that’s the long pause between sweeps. Once you cast, you reel hard to get the bait down, and then you slow down. I mean, you really slow it down.”
Once he gets the bait down to the desired depth, Ponds moves it only by sweeping his rod back to the side, parallel to the water.
“It’s the pause that most people just can’t handle,” he said. “There are days when you have to stop the bait for as many as 10 Mississippis, and that isn’t easy. The lure just sits there in the sight of a suspended bass until the fish realizes it’s an easy meal without a chase or a lot of effort.”
The bite isn’t always detectable, and in fact, sometimes it isn’t noticed until the angler starts his next sweep.
“Sometimes they will knock it out of your hands, but most times they will get it without you noticing even a twitch in the line,” Ponds said. “I don’t know why, but I kind of like that.”
If Ponds does decide to change, it’s only in lures not location. “I will go to the tight-wiggle crankbaits like the Flat Maxx, and I work it exactly the same way in the same place,” he said.
After the front
The weather will start improving a day or two after the front’s passage, and with every minute, the fisherman’s odds improve. It doesn’t always happen quickly, but Ponds knows that it’s only a matter of time.
“It depends on how severe the front was or is, how cold it got,” he said. “More than any other time, this is when I try not to start fishing earlier than midday. The water really needs to have a chance to start warming.”
Ponds said there are two ways to go on post-front days. You can either start where the fish went when it was brutal — the deep pattern along the dam or other structure — or where you think they want to go — the back ends of the coves. It basically depends on how much time you have to spend eliminating water.
On the first day after the front passes, start deep, and with each succeeding day, move a little shallower.
“Hopefully, there’s another week or 10 days — or even two weeks — before the next front,” Ponds said. “That gives you a lot of days to hit the aggressive fish on the flats, and you can have some tremendous fishing. I have seen bass blowing up on shad in December a lot of times, and even in January. Remember, they want to be feeding, and if the conditions allow it, they will be extremely aggressive.
“If you remember last winter, we had a very limited amount of fronts. I think it was the mildest winter I can remember, and the fishing was fantastic in December, January and even February.”
Deer and duck hunters didn’t like it, but bass fishermen sure did.