Photo by Tom Berg
Crappie anglers had another great season in the Bluegrass State last year. Our waters continue to produce some fine crappie angling each season.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to change locations to find the hottest spots for that particular year.
At most every lake, crappie fisheries are cyclical. It’s just the nature of the species. They will go through periods of excellent recruitment and growth — and then for one reason or another, they will cycle down for a few years, with poor spawns and a subsequent drop in fishing success.
But not all lakes experience this cyclical pattern to the same degree. Some lakes have crappie fisheries that fluctuate constantly through extreme highs and lows. Other impoundments have fisheries that ebb and flow barely unnoticed — at least by anglers.
Biologists keep a close watch on these patterns and provide fishing forecasts based on predictions for a coming year. Throughout the entire state, we’ve got numerous lakes that have good crappie fisheries.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five hotspots within the state that should rank near the top for superb papermouth angling right now!
Our preeminent water for huge crappie has always been considered to be Kentucky Lake. Many anglers feel this is our best spot for landing whopper papermouths — and with good reason. After all, some real big slabs have been pulled from this lake over the years.
Although Kentucky Lake is still producing some excellent crappie fishing, some changes have been ongoing there for several years. There may be more in the near future. The most significant one is the makeup of the crappie fishery.
In the past, white crappie made up the bulk of the lake’s papermouth population. Due to numerous changes at the lake, however, black crappie are now more abundant.
Their numbers first peaked in 1997 when biologists recorded 63 percent of black crappie in their fall trap-netting sampling to be black crappie.
Since then, the number of black crappie in the samplings has soared to around 80 percent each year.
Unfortunately, anglers have not completely caught on how to fish for black crappie. Recent creel surveys showed the numbers of black crappie in the harvest to be only around 33 percent, despite the fact that black crappie far outnumber white crappie in the lake.
However, that figure was higher than the 2003 survey, which showed only 23 percent of the crappie in the creel as being black. That means anglers are starting to learn how to fish for them.
Black crappie tend to inhabit different areas of the lake than do the white crappie. They also tend to come shallow in the spring much earlier than white crappie: Studies have shown that black crappie move into shallow water about 1 to 2 weeks earlier than their white counterparts. Black crappie are sometimes found in stakebeds in only 24 inches of water as early as the first week of March.
Another thing to consider is that the spawn may be taking place a little sooner than in past years. Most anglers have expected shallow-water crappie fishing to coincide with a peak spawn time around April 15 each spring. However, biologist Paul Rister says with the recent milder winters and warmer spring temperatures, the spawn has often been occurring in late March and early April.
The key is to watch water temperature. Look for crappie near shallow- water spawning areas as soon as the water temperature hits the mid-50s.
Their optimum temperature is 58 degrees, so anglers who rely on their temperature gauges can really outdistance those who don’t.
The state recently performed a comprehensive study on the patterns of crappie movement at Kentucky Lake. For the details of what this study revealed, read the reports online at www.kdfwr.state.ky.us. After the home page loads, click on the fishing link on the left side of the page.
ROUGH RIVER LAKE
The 5,100-acre Rough River Lake in Breckinridge and Grayson counties is looking really good for crappie. At times the lake suffers from the cyclical trends of the species, but right now it is doing quite well. And crappie populations have not shown as much up-and-down tendencies as in the past.
Biologists sample this lake during the last two weeks of October each year. The sampling efforts show there are lots of harvestable crappies above the 9-inch minimum creel size. Results showed a lot of fish in the 10- to 12-inch range. Biologist Rob Rold says the 9-inch size limit has really helped improve the fishery.
The fall 2005 sampling showed the population levels to be down somewhat, but it was negligible. During the three years prior to 2005, fall sampling yielded some of the best crappie population surveys on record.
Young-of-the-year numbers were still strong, which should bode well for coming years. Rold says for the last two to three years, this fishery has been excellent.
At Rough River, crappie begin heading up the creeks in the springtime to make their annual spawning pilgrimage. Some of the best spots are up in Tules Creek, Georges Branch, and Calamese Creek. There is a lot of standing timber in the upper ends of these creeks. Both natural and artificially placed brushpiles are also excellent locations to find crappie in March and April.
Most of the structure at Rough River is old standing timber. A lot of the natural woody structure and brushpiles are deteriorated due to the annual 20-foot drawdown each winter at the lake. Along with volunteers, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) recently did some habitat enhancement by placing several brushpile attractors and stakebeds in the lake.
At this time of year, additional spots to try are points and secondary points out on the main lake. At times, the mouths of some of the creeks hold a good number of fish as well.
The key is to watch water
temperature. Look for crappie near shallow-water spawning areas as soon as the water
temperature hits the mid-50s.
Casting minnows directly into the brushpiles and around the standing timber often produces the best results. For anglers wh
o prefer artificial baits, vertical jigging is hard to beat at times. Cast small spinners and twistertail grubs for good fishing on this lake.
Some of our better crappie fisheries can be found over in the eastern portion of the state. Buckhorn Lake in Leslie County is one such impoundment, which has been doing really well of late as far as crappie go. Biologist Kevin Frey says 2007 should be another pretty good year for anglers at this 1,250-acre lake.
The best assessment at the lake was during 2003. Samplings during 2004 and 2005 were down somewhat, but still good. Over the past three years, the numbers of crappie over 8 inches has stayed virtually the same.
There is excellent size distribution throughout the lake, and good numbers of fish up to 12 inches. Anglers also occasionally catch fish up to 15 inches.
A new minimum-size limit is in effect at Buckhorn as of March 1, 2007. Anglers will be able to keep only crappie that measure 9 inches or longer. Frey says it takes crappie at Buckhorn about 3 to 4 years to reach 9 inches. The new length limit should help the fishery remain strong and keep distribution more even.
The lake has a significant drawdown in winter. Anglers can have great success fishing the lake from January through April while fish are confined to the lake channel. During spring, the lower half of the lake tends to be best for crappie. As summer heats up, the lower section loses oxygen, and the fish will spread out more.
During spring, anglers should try fishing around fallen trees and other submerged timber. There are still some old stumpbeds remaining in the lake, but they are scattered and somewhat hard to locate. One trick to finding them is to look on the shallow flats where trees were cleared prior to the lake’s impoundment.
The KDFWR has also put in some structure in the form of old Christmas trees. Most of these have been placed in deeper water, though, to provide late-spring habitat after the spawn.
One place in the lake where there has been some structure enhancement is in the upper end of Leatherwood Creek. Along with the Corps of Engineers, the KDFWR placed a variety of structure there, including Christmas trees, wood pallet structures, plastic PVC attractors, and even some hardwood trees.
Casting and vertical jigging are very popular methods at Buckhorn Lake during the spring. Many other anglers will use jigs tipped with minnows or simply fish minnows exclusively. As spring starts to give way to summer, papermouths will begin to spread out more. Some anglers then switch to trolling to locate fish and then, once a school is located, stop and cast. Small baits resembling minnows, jigs, or twistertail grubs make excellent lure choices for trolling.
Springtime will find a good many crappie anglers on the waters of Fishtrap Lake. It is annually a very popular destination for crappie — and with good reason. It has received a rating of very good for papermouth from the KDFWR. There are good numbers of quality-sized fish there.
Biologist Kevin Frey says the last two assessments have been good and the number of crappie over 8 inches is increasing. Between 2003 and 2005, in fact, the number of fish over 8 inches almost doubled. There is good distribution all the way through 13 inches.
The assessment for 2007 was not available at press time, but it is expected to be very good to excellent.
Crappie seem to grow a little larger at Fishtrap than at Buckhorn. They also grow a little faster. Fish will reach 9 inches in around 2 to 4 years, depending on conditions. They top out at the lake at around 15 inches, which is considered a quality fish in most people’s opinion.
The lake has a classic cyclical crappie fishery — but when it’s up, as it is now, it’s excellent. In the spring, there is good crappie angling all the way from the lower end to the upper end. Anglers have the option of fishing clearer water in the lower end and more turbid or muddy water in the upper section.
Anglers at Fishtrap mostly use jigs, minnows, or jigs tipped with minnows. When the lake level is up, however, a good amount of trolling is also done.
As mentioned, there are
numerous good fishing
locations throughout the
lake. The trick is just to
locate structure the
crappie are using.
Because the lake is a flood-control impoundment, sometimes the water level can go way up. Frey says that during those times, the fish seem to disappear from the banks. However, he says if the fish were in 5 feet of water close to the bank prior to the lake’s change in level, they will often be found in 5 feet of water further out toward the middle. After a few days, the crappie will adapt to the change and move back closer to the bank.
As mentioned, there are numerous good fishing locations throughout the lake. The trick is just to locate structure the crappie are using. Structure can vary and can be found in the form of stumps, standing timber, and rockpiles. Frey says that the crappie will relate to almost anything that shows up as structure on a depthfinder. Even an old washing machine submerged in the upper end of the lake attracts these tasty panfish.
Fishing areas popular with local anglers are Joe’s Creek and Grapevine Creek. Another popular area is the section of the lake from Miller’s Creek to Lick Creek. Also consider the area near the Lick Creek boat ramp.
Fishtrap Lake is located in Pike County. The lake has around 1,131 surface acres of water.
Over in the eastern part of the state, one more lake to consider is the 2,314-acre Yatesville Lake in Lawrence County. The lake has been providing some excellent crappie fishing, and the numbers and size of the fish have greatly improved. Anglers can find very good numbers and distribution through 12 inches. At Yatesville, crappie length will peak at around 14 to 15 inches.
Gizzard shad were introduced to the lake in 2000, and the crappie population has really benefited ever since. The KDFWR had held off on introducing shad to the lake in hopes that Yatesville would produce an above-average bluegill fishery. Unfortunately, the situation never really panned out as hoped, so the shad were introduced to improve the crappie fishery. Crappie anglers are much the richer since the arrival of the shad.
Crappie growth has been really good due to the forage the shad created. Most crappie will reach 9 inches by the time they are 2 to 3 years old. A few will hit the 9-inch mark after only about 1 year, which is phenomenal growth.
The KDFWR has given Yatesville Lake a good assessment for crappie in the most recent forecast. This season (2007) is expected to be rated as good at least, if not as very good. The assessment has improved in recent years from a fair rating.
A big factor i
n the assessment receiving higher marks is due to the number of crappie over 8 inches in length. That segment of the fishery has doubled in recent years.
Anglers should stick mostly to the lake’s creek arms and coves. There are a lot of coves at Yatesville Lake that still have standing timber. These areas are excellent locations to target for springtime crappie.
Out on the main lake, look for deadfalls or other downed trees. The larger trees seem to be the better attractors. The upper end of the lake is really good and has a lot of downed trees. In fact, the whole upper end of the lake is almost like a big cove. It has good fishing out on the main part of the lake and also back in the creeks and smaller coves.
The lake is shallower throughout its upper end. Fallen trees near shore attract a lot of crappie in the springtime. The biggest fish are usually found relating to the part of the tree farthest from the bank and in about 4 to 5 feet of water.
Many anglers like to anchor near these downed trees and probe the depths with minnows on single or multiple hooks suspended below a bobber. Other anglers use vertical jigging or a combination of jigs and minnows. Casting twistertail lures or small spinners and retrieving them slowly just above the suspended crappie can also be deadly effective at times.
In conclusion, anglers should keep in mind that these five lakes are simply our choices for this year, not the only good spots from which to choose. Consult the KDFWR Web site at http://www.kdfwr.state.ky.us for the latest forecasts for all the lakes in the state.
Remember that the latest regulation changes are effective as of March 1, 2007, so anglers should check for any pertinent regulation changes prior to going fishing.