2008 Commonwealth Crappie Forecast

Here's where you'll find hot spring fishing for papermouths, from Lake Barkley to Cumberland Lake and many other waters throughout Kentucky. (March 2008).

Photo by Keith Sutton

At this time of the year, thousands of Kentucky anglers have crappie on the brain. Most fishermen are wondering where the best fishing is going to occur this spring. After all, starting this month, crappie fishing heats up as spawning activity begins, and egg-laden females make their way to the shallows. Do you know where to go?

Fisheries biologists at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources Department (KDFWR) have reviewed angler creel surveys. Here's what they say should be the best opportunities for fast black and white crappie action in Kentucky as the prime crappie run begins.

KENTUCKY & BARKLEY LAKES

In recent years, the Commonwealth's two powerhouse crappie fisheries have taken a few punches from Mother Nature. But according to biologists, both reservoirs continue to stay in the top rankings for good catches of papermouths.

You might have noticed that for the last couple of years, Kentucky Lake seemed to have had an umbrella over it. The sustained drought has slowed reproduction and consequently, numbers of young crappie have dipped some from normal on this traditionally outstanding crappie water.

"Though our catch rates have dropped the last two years, our growth rates are still very good," said biologist Neal Jackson.

"Anglers are still reporting good catches of crappie, despite the curve our weather conditions have thrown us," he said. "It's just that fishermen may have to work a little harder to come up with the better fish." (Continued)

When the water flow slows, clearer conditions are present for longer periods of time, and aquatic vegetation increases. Jackson notes that this makes catching crappie harder, probably because the fish stay out in deeper water more -- and the traditionally fishing technique of hitting shoreline cover in shallow water isn't as productive.

Clear-water conditions also tend to favor black crappie more so than white crappie, though both species are found in both these lakes.

"We see the crowds out there in April on the banks," said Jackson, "and those anglers are catching some fish in two to three feet of water.

"We know the fishing in the bigger embayments, like Blood River and Jonathan Creek on Kentucky Lake, are top spots that draw a lot of crappie in during the spawning period.

"At the same time, though, I have to believe the smaller embayments will have pocket hotspots for nice crappie as well. And I believe anglers should scout around for other places outside those two creeks that everybody knows about.

"Spring crappie fishing is so enjoyable because you can fish the same place day after day and still usually find some fish. And Blood River and Jonathan get hit pretty hard.

If you want to escape that competition, according to the biologist, check some of the other creeks where fewer boats are. Search around a bit for some brush or a ledge in a little deeper water, and you might come up with a honeyhole that's getting a lot less fishing pressure.

Don't overlook cover in Big Bear and Little Bear creeks, such as flooded shoreline bushes, brushpiles, tree stumps and even stakebeds or other locations that attract fish. Sometimes big crappie move into those areas at the onset of the spawning period, and you can slip up on a spot and catch a number of good fish.

Barkley Lake's trend on numbers of young fish is similar to Kentucky Lake's. To help give these reservoirs a break until things return more to normal, beginning March 2008 the daily creel limit on crappie for both reservoirs is going to be 20 fish, versus 30 fish before.

"This measure is designed to stretch out the harvest of the larger fish a little longer," said Jackson, "and protect a few more crappie that may help offset the downward trend in numbers.

"The average-sized crappie caught on these two lakes has been 10 inches for several years," he added. "And until the spawns pick back up, reducing the harvest some will give more of the smaller crappie the time to grow into a higher-quality fish."

Best spots to try on Barkley included Eddy Creek and Little River embayments, where a good proportion of the crappie are found when the spawn comes in late March and early April. Don't overlook the less-fished creeks, either. Spend some time searching for schools of crappie in Donaldson Creek and Devils Elbow.

Don't expect to be completely alone, but it's likely there will be fewer boats in these smaller creeks, especially on weekdays.

LAKE CUMBERLAND

It's been a busy last year or so at Lake Cumberland for the thousands of anglers and boaters this reservoir attracts each season. A major concern to many anglers is the drop in water level for the long-term repair of the Wolf Creek Dam. How would the repairs affect access to the lake, as well as the lake's many fisheries?

The lake will remain down from traditional levels for some time into the future, but most of the fear that this change might clobber fishing in general has now been alleviated.

According to Southeast District fishery biologist John Williams, Cumberland is his top crappie pick for 2008.

"Cumberland contains quality populations of both black and white crappie," Williams reports, "although the black crappie seem to be doing the best right now.

"We have excellent growth rates, and these fish attain really nice sizes -- they just aren't as numerous as you might find in other reservoirs," he added.

This spring, some of the shoreline habitat that crappie fishermen may have utilized in the past will be unavailable, so it might be worth an early trip to locate a few new likely-looking spots to hook up with spring-spawn fish. Remember, though, that even at its lowered level, Cumberland still holds over 35,000 acres of water. That's a lot of territory and within it, plenty of places to try for crappie when they start moving more to the banks.

You may be spending more time fishing some of the main lake points and banks where you find cover, rather than way up some smaller feeder creek. Yet crappie will still find the available cover -- which before the lake was lowered, used to be in de

eper water.

"We've got adequate numbers of 9- to 13-inch crappie in the population for this spring," said Williams. "And we found some really nice 13- to 15-inch black crappie last fall while we were netting and checking on walleyes near the Burnside Island area."

It's likely that when the water temperatures reach the high 50s and low 60s, crappie will be back in the same areas in the spring. If they are being picked up in study nets, there's little doubt that they like the habitat here.

CEDAR CREEK LAKE

For the crappie chaser who prefers to catch fish and isn't out to catch 2-pound slabs only, Williams recommends a second spot in his district as a good place to go in 2008.

Cedar Creek Lake, mostly known as the one lake where trophy largemouth bass management is in place, has a good volume of mid-range-sized crappie, too.

Biologists have learned that Cedar Creek' crappie have not responded to the 9-inch size limit in terms of super-fast growth, and so have removed that size limit, starting March 1.

"We've got a bunch of 7- to 8-inch fish, and some 9-inch plus fish in the population," said Williams. "But our studies have shown more fish than we'd like are not hitting that range and really dropping off in growth."

"For those who want to catch a good number of these mid-range fish, Cedar is going to be a good choice this spring. There are a lot of panfish anglers who clean 8- and 9-inch bluegills or shellcrackers for the skillet, and those filets are some of the best- tasting stuff you can put in your mouth. I suspect crappie of that size are still just as good as the big ones. You just need a few more to go as far.

"We believe that reduction of the number of crappie in Cedar will allow those that don't get to the table to show better growth and thus improve the overall quality of that fishery in the next few years," Williams explained.

"There should be less competition for food and space," he added. "That generally results in better growth."

GREEN RIVER LAKE

A big bright spot in Southwestern District biologist Eric Cummins' region for crappie this year is Green River Lake.

Look out, bass anglers! This is a pretty big deal now.

Cummins notes that according to recent surveys, when fishermen were asked what they were after at Green River, crappie turned up as the most sought-after species.

That alone should tell the rest of us that something really good is going on with crappie on this reservoir. Cummins says crappie haven't been "No. 1 since 1991" for Green River.

"We've had solid year-classes and spawns in three years back to back, from 2003 through 2005, and believe that is what anglers are experiencing right now. And that holds true into 2008," said the biologist.

When consecutively good years of reproduction occur, it provides a prolonged period of good fishing, sometimes improved fishing. And that's what's going on at Green River.

"We keep having a group of fish recruiting into the harvestable size range for two or three seasons in a row," Cummins said, "and it is really noticeable to anglers."

Consistently good quality crappie fishing is hard to achieve because the species is very cyclic in nature. Weather plays a huge role in whether a good spawn occurs or a poor one. In recent years, Green River has enjoyed enough good ones to supply a lot of fish in that "good enough to keep" range, making Green River a top pick for this season.

Cummins' recommendations for areas of the lake to concentrate on include the middle to upper portions of the Robinson Creek arm, upriver from Lone Valley, and in the Green River arm from Corbins Bend upstream. Better spawning habitat and cover can be found in these portions of the lake, but that's not to say that all the crappie are just in those areas.

On Green, anglers can expect to catch white crappie almost exclusively and should be keying in on shoreline cover where they can locate some colored water. In late March, crappie will pre-stage a little farther out from the bank and, as the water temperatures climb, gradually move into bedding areas closer to the bank.

"I think Green will be an excellent choice this spring, and I hope anglers are successful on these fish while they are present in good numbers," said Cummins.

FISHTRAP &

BUCKHORN LAKES

"For the eastern part of Kentucky, Fishtrap and Buckhorn will stand above the other reservoirs for higher quality and better spring crappie action this year."

District biologist Kevin Frey places these two lakes at the top of his list, based on some good year-classes in recent years, and on angler success on white crappie last season.

Frey says Fishtrap is coming off two very good crappie fishing years in 2006 and 2007, and he expects it to continue for another season. He is pleased with the size distribution and overall number of fish, saying that populations are well balanced for crappie up to 12 inches -- and along the way, some lucky fishermen will connect with some crappie from 13 to 15 inches. Those are big fish!

Buckhorn Lake also gets the nod above Paintsville, Grayson, Dewey and some other major lakes in this region. When the redbuds and dogwoods start blooming, Buckhorn is a strong candidate to consider for dunking a few minnows or swimming a jig over a brushpile or around other woody cover.

When significant rainfall comes at the right time, in some of the mountain watershed lakes like Buckhorn and Fishtrap, it can push water up into shoreline cover that normally doesn't have water over it.

If that happens during the pre-spawn and a warming trend follows, fishing crappie right on the bank can be a really good bet, even if it's a little ahead of the usual time and conditions when most crappie get in their spawning mode.

"We've had solid year-classes and spawns in three years back to back, from 2003 through 2005, and believe that is what anglers are experiencing right now. And that holds true into 2008," said the biologist.

When consecutively good years of reproduction occur, it provides a prolonged period of good fishing, sometimes improved fishing. And that's what's going on at Green River.

"We keep having a group of fish recruiting into the harvestable size range for two or three seasons in a row," Cummins said, "and it is really noticeable to anglers."

Consistently good quality crappie fishing is hard to achieve because the species is very cyclic in nature. Weather p

lays a huge role in whether a good spawn occurs or a poor one. In recent years, Green River has enjoyed enough good ones to supply a lot of fish in that "good enough to keep" range, making Green River a top pick for this season.

Cummins' recommendations for areas of the lake to concentrate on include the middle to upper portions of the Robinson Creek arm, upriver from Lone Valley, and in the Green River arm from Corbins Bend upstream. Better spawning habitat and cover can be found in these portions of the lake, but that's not to say that all the crappie are just in those areas.

On Green, anglers can expect to catch white crappie almost exclusively and should be keying in on shoreline cover where they can locate some colored water. In late March, crappie will pre-stage a little farther out from the bank and, as the water temperatures climb, gradually move into bedding areas closer to the bank.

"I think Green will be an excellent choice this spring, and I hope anglers are successful on these fish while they are present in good numbers," said Cummins.

FISHTRAP &

BUCKHORN LAKES

"For the eastern part of Kentucky, Fishtrap and Buckhorn will stand above the other reservoirs for higher quality and better spring crappie action this year."

District biologist Kevin Frey places these two lakes at the top of his list, based on some good year-classes in recent years, and on angler success on white crappie last season.

Frey says Fishtrap is coming off two very good crappie fishing years in 2006 and 2007, and he expects it to continue for another season. He is pleased with the size distribution and overall number of fish, saying that populations are well balanced for crappie up to 12 inches -- and along the way, some lucky fishermen will connect with some crappie from 13 to 15 inches. Those are big fish!

Buckhorn Lake also gets the nod above Paintsville, Grayson, Dewey and some other major lakes in this region. When the redbuds and dogwoods start blooming, Buckhorn is a strong candidate to consider for dunking a few minnows or swimming a jig over a brushpile or around other woody cover.

When significant rainfall comes at the right time, in some of the mountain watershed lakes like Buckhorn and Fishtrap, it can push water up into shoreline cover that normally doesn't have water over it.

If that happens during the pre-spawn and a warming trend follows, fishing crappie right on the bank can be a really good bet, even if it's a little ahead of the usual time and conditions when most crappie get in their spawning mode.

Newly available habitat tends to pull all kinds of predator fish into places that may provide them with new food sources. In spring, most all fish -- including crappie-- are in a big hurry to eat better, finally, and many times, where they find it is on new ground beneath them.

"Most of the time, we don't think about the less fertile lakes in the east as being good for crappie," Frey said. "But Fishtrap and Buckhorn have had the right conditions lately to improve that fishery. This spring is a good time to take advantage of what's there."

The Kentucky waters highlighted here are by no means the only good places to find quality crappie fishing, but the local biologists in various regions of the state choose them as some top picks to consider.

While fishing the spawning run is traditionally productive, all the experts and anglers in the know will say that in recent years, some of the best and biggest crappie have been caught a month or more before the time of the spawn.

Many anglers wait until April to make their move and start fishing. Though the weather may be a little more agreeable, consider spending a little time on pre-spawn crappie at any of these recommended lakes.

Fish creek or main lake ledges in eight to 15 feet of water where crappie will stack up waiting for the warm-up and nesting time.

If there is a warming period, even in the latter part of February and into March, it will trigger crappie to feed. Sometimes if it lasts a week, they will run in to very shallow bank cover for a day or two, and move back out when it cools back down. Often, they are just a little farther off the bank in March, and will still bite as the winter's slow-down period gives way to the more active period of spring.

Lastly, the KDFWR publishes an update on all the major fisheries at the main reservoirs, usually in late January or early February. This report will include what they find and give you the most recent information about where 2008's best fishing opportunities for all sport species will be. For that report, call the agency toll-free at 1-800-858-1549, or go online at fw.ky.gov

There will likely be even more places worth a shot this spring for the papermouth chaser who's champing at the bit to start the spring fishing season off right.

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