Sunny vs. Cloudy Bass Strategies

Story by

Chad Morganthaler

On sunny days, fish tight to cover with a natural-looking lure. Illinois pro Chad Morganthaler bumped a submerged log with a swimbait to bag this bass.

The weather plays a huge role in bass fishing, and is one variable over which we anglers have absolutely no control. Still, gaining a better understanding of the weather’s impact on bass location and behavior is bound to make us more effective fishermen.

While we can’t actually see changes in such weather factors as barometric pressure or humidity, we can see whether the sky is sunny or overcast. Many bass anglers voice a strong preference for fishing in either clear or cloudy weather. Since it’s impossible to control sky conditions, the best pro anglers and guides have learned to catch bass regardless of whether they’re casting under bluebird skies or dense cloud cover.

Shedding Some Light

Doug Hannon, AKA the “Bass Professor,” has caught over 600 bass weighing 10 pounds or more. A lifelong student of bass behavior, Hannon has kept meticulous records of his bass outings for four decades, and his findings dispel some of our sport’s most pervasive myths. “Most of my giant bass – fish exceeding 12 pounds – were caught during, mild, stable, sunny weather,” he indicated. “This should come as no surprise since the bass, as a species, is primarily a sight feeder, and its ability to see forage geta better as light penetration increases. Under sunny skies, bass are able to easily spot even highly camouflaged prey species like crayfish. Of course, this also means they’re able to discern flaws in our lures or presentations that tell them a potential meal isn’t real, and therefore dangerous to eat.

Unlike Hannon, who targets big bass exclusively, pro anglers (and most weekend fishermen) strive to get as many bites as possible from so-called “quality” fish – those 2- to 4-pounders that make for a fun outing (and that win most tournaments). As you might expect, opinions on sunny vs. cloudy conditions vary greatly among the pros. Retired Oklahoma pro, former fisheries biologist and 1991 Bassmaster Classic champ Ken Cook says he always scored more bites in tournaments during cloudy weather. “It’s not cloud cover alone that makes bass bite, but rather the entire package of weather phenomena that accompanies the clouds,” Cook indicated. “Cloudy skies are associated with unstable weather. When it’s been sunny for several days and then turns cloudy, you can predict that weather, and fishing, conditions are about to change dramatically. Often there’s a shift in wind direction and a drop in barometric pressure, then a storm blows in. These unstable conditions get prey species moving around, which increases bass feeding opportunities and leads to a more active bite.”

Arizona pro Dean Rojas finds sunny-weather bass are far more predictable than bass on cloudy days. “When the sun’s shining, I feel confident they’ll be way back under overhanging trees or buried in the grass,” Rojas said. “Getting at these fish often requires a high-skill presentation like skipping. They’re in places most anglers refuse or don’t know how to fish, and will usually bite if you can get your lure to them.” Rojas is best known for his prowess with a surface frog. “This bait style catches bass when it’s cloudy, too, but I feel super-confident about using it when it’s sunny. I’ll skip the frog under flooded bushes and shoreline overhangs, and retrieve it with quick, frantic twitches. Bass in heavy cover will eat it without hesitation.”

Dustin Wilks

Under cloud cover, bass tend to roam farther from cover, and covering lots of water with a surface lure can produce savage strikes under these conditions. North Carolina pro Dustin Wilks caught this cloudy-day lunker on a buzz bait fished down the middle of a shallow cove.

Texas pro Byron Velvick says bass are adept at surviving and thriving under all types of sky conditions. “Like Hannon says, they’re predators, and they’ll do what it takes to survive in a constantly-changing environment. As sunlight increases, bass hold tighter to hard objects and hide within grassy cover to conceal themselves from their prey. Therefore you’ll usually catch more bass on sunny days by fishing lures like jigs and square bill crankbaits close to hard cover, and by penetrating grassy cover with weedless baits.”

But when it clouds up, bass roam farther from cover, Velvick has found. “Now is the time to throw search baits, lures you can fish faster with a horizontal retrieve. Examples include lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater lures and swim baits. These are better suited to covering big pieces of structure, like flats and points, than they are for probing cover. Under overcast skies, bass will actively prowl these structures in search of a meal.”

Velvick summed it up this way: “In sunny weather, you have to be a ‘detail’ fisherman and make precise presentations to specific pieces of cover to catch bass. When it clouds up, you’ll do better with a shotgun vs. a rifle approach.”

Color and Size Considerations

Many anglers fish the same lure colors regardless of sky conditions — a huge mistake, our experts believe. “Lures with a reflective finish definitely work best in sunny conditions,” Velvick emphasized. “These include crankbaits and surface lures with shiny chrome or gold finishes; spinnerbaits with nickel, copper or gold plated blades; and translucent soft plastics with metallic flakes. These colors capture the telltale flash common to many baitfish that bass target, including threadfin shad, shiners and rainbow trout. When it’s cloudy, however, a lure with a reflective finish tends to disappear from view — it literally becomes a mirror reflecting the grayness around it. Instead of using shiny lures, switch to baits with a flat finish when it’s cloudy: hard baits in bone white, red, perch or chartreuse; soft plastics in dark colors with black or no flakes; spinnerbaits with flat painted blades.”

Likewise, sky conditions should have an impact on what size lure you’re fishing. “Bass in clear lakes are sticklers for detail when it’s sunny,” Rojas has found. “Your lure and presentation better look totally natural now or they’ll reject it. In general, the bigger the lure, the more unnatural it looks to a bass. The exception to this rule is a swimbait, many of which are startlingly realistic. The best swimbaits capture the coloration, movements and profile of large forage fish.”

Sunny vs Cloudy Conditions

Choose lure colors carefully according to sky conditions. Lures with reflective finishes (top) work better on sunny days, while those with flat painted finishes (bottom) produce more strikes on cloudy days.

Fine-tune your Presentation as Sky Conditions Change

Often your fishing day will be marked by changing sky conditions. Here’s how to fine-tune your lure presentations to catch bass regardless of whether it’s sunny or cloudy.

 • Dip the Tip. On partly cloudy days, try blending both natural and bright colors. A quick way to achieve this look is by dipping the tail of a green pumpkin lizard or worm in chartreuse dye.

 • More Mass. If you’re fishing a spinnerbait with reflective blades on a sunny day and it starts to cloud up, first add a bulky trailer to the lure to increase its visibility before switching to one with painted blades.

 • Get Small. Severe cold fronts mean bluebird skies. Bass often get lockjaw under these conditions, but you can get a reaction strike if you replace your big, bulky crankbait or spinnerbait with a jig or finesse worm, then shake it repeatedly around boat docks and in thick cover.

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