The Effect of Pressure on Fish
All fish come equipped with a lateral line. You can see the line as the break in the scale pattern right down each side. This line is, in fact, a sensing organ that others in the animal kingdom do not possess. It is with this organ, a barometer of sorts, that fish sense changes in pressure.
A Biologist's View
Just as our ears pop because of pressure changes when we come up or down a mountain or on a dive, fish measure pressure changes in their environment. Fisheries Biologist Jim Freeman indicates that they adjust their air bladder for neutral buoyancy. All things being equal, when pressures change, they adjust.
Any cold front that comes through is preceded by a significant drop in pressure followed by a fast increase in pressure. The low-pressure system that brings the cold also usually brings wind, rain and disruption. That, in turn, usually means muddy or at least cloudy water.
Jim says that fish react to a falling barometer. Knowing the water will cloud and feeding may be difficult, they tend to feed almost to a frenzy just before the front hits. The thought is they feed up before the front and then sit out the windy weather without feeding. Whether the reasoning is correct could be debated. But the reality of fish not biting after a front goes through, cannot be debated.
It Can Happen to You
You may have experienced this phenomenon. I certainly have. Even thunder cells in the summer, which are miniature low-pressure systems in themselves, trigger a feeding frenzy as they approach.
So, how do we handle these cold fronts? The easiest way to deal with them is to plan your trip to coincide with the front side of a cold front, not the backside. Fish will be feeding, and fishing should be great. The only thing to watch for would be the wind and weather as it deteriorates.
How to Fish the Front
- If you arent fortunate enough to be able to fish before the front, take heart. There are some things you can do to help overcome the situation. They dont always work, but in my experience at least some of them have worked for me.
- Find some protected water. That means being back in an estuary or creek out of the wind. Water there tends to stay cleaner, and fish move there to find that clearer water.
- Plan to fish the tide that is later in the morning. Shallow water warms more quickly and fish will be looking for that warmer water. Wintertime fishing on the mud, grass and oyster flats is almost always an afternoon proposition.
- Remember that the fish are somewhat lethargic in a high-pressure situation, and the backside of a cold front is about as high as the barometer gets. If you fish with artificials, plan to slow down your presentation and move to much smaller lures. These high-pressure fish wont want to be moving and certainly dont want to put out the effort to chase a larger fast moving lure. Small baits and slow presentations, whether artificial or natural baits, are the key.
Knowing I cant fish before the front arrives, I sometimes take stock the situation and make a different plan. Perhaps the backside of a front is a good time to clean and repair tackle or equipment. The cooler temperatures certainly make doing those chores more reasonable now than in the heat of the summer.
But, if you simply have to fish under these conditions, take a shot at these suggestions. They may make the difference for you.
How about you? Do you fish in cold weather? Tell us about it on our Reader Submission Page, or on our Saltwater Fishing Forum!