What the polar vortex will do to bass, part 1

It’s an understatement to say that the past few weeks have been cold. Temperatures in many areas of our country have set new records for daytime and overnight lows. I’m hearing that in some places it’s been as much as 50 degrees below zero. And that’s the ambient air temperature, not the wind chill factor. 

The Polar Vortex is showing us who’s boss. That’s obvious. What isn’t so obvious is the effect it’ll have on the bass and our fishing next year.

The answer to that question is complicated. The environment is affected by dozens and dozens of factors. Temperature is just one of them. We’ll talk about all of this in two parts. Part 1 will deal with the bass. Part 2 will deal with habitat. 

The first thing we need to think about when we think about the bass is how long will the cold last and how deep is the water where they live. I’m in Florida getting ready for the 2019 Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River so I haven’t been watching the weather in the Midwest and beyond closely. It looks like it’s letting up. I hope that’s the case, for a whole host of reasons. 

Assuming that’s happening I don’t see the cold having much of an impact at all. The ice that was already covering the water will act as an insulator. The water underneath it won’t get any colder than it was before the Polar Vortex hit. The bass will handle things just fine. 

If, however, the cold lasts — I’m thinking it could between the Upper Midwest and Canada — things could turn tough for bass. As the ice thickens there’s less and less oxygen getting into the water. And bass, like almost everything else, need oxygen to survive. 

A lack of oxygen will be a bigger problem in smaller and in shallower bodies of water. Small lakes restrict where a bass can go to get fresh, oxygenated water. Shallow bodies of water do the same thing. If they can’t find good water, at least some of them will die. 

And, if the water is small enough and shallow enough, it’s possible for the water to freeze from top to bottom. I’ve seen that — places where it’s frozen all the way down into the mud and muck on the bottom.

I honestly don’t know if that will kill bass. I’d guess it will if their gills don’t have any liquid water on them. However, if there’s even a little bit of water on the red in their gills they might make it. I’ve seen catfish that were frozen solid, down into the bottom of a lake, but with the tiniest amount of water on their gills, come back to life when they thawed out. 

So here’s the bottom line: The Polar Vortex probably won’t have any measurable effect on the bass themselves except in a small percentage of lakes and rivers. They’re tougher than a lot of anglers realize. They’ve survived thousands of years under a variety of harsh conditions. That’s not an accident. 

What might have an effect of them, however, is the Polar Vortex’s impact on their environment. I’m thinking specifically about their forage base and whatever aquatic vegetation is in their lake or river. We’ll talk about that next time.