With the weather warming, crappie are getting ready to spawn, which means Kentucky crappie fishing is ready to rock. Here are a few places you should consider this year.
By Ken McBroom
Anglers enjoyed excellent crappie fishing across the Bluegrass State in 2017, and the news is much the same for 2018. Of course, it is getting time to pursue pre-spawn slabs, which are slowly migrating toward shallow spawning flats in preparation of the spawn.
It may be cold and rainy, but some of the best fishing, especially for really big crappie, occurs well before the spawn. Locating travel routes that crappie use to get to spawning grounds can pay off big for crappie anglers in February and continue throughout the spring.
While winter is lingering, warmer weather is approaching, and crappie will begin their migration. They might move a little slower, but they are coming to those spawning grounds. Lower water levels can help anglers locate concentrated schools of crappie, so be sure to thoroughly fish areas once fish are found; there are more in the area.
February can be tricky depending on the weather and water temperature, but according to biologists, the 2018 Kentucky crappie forecast will be good to excellent across the state.
KENTUCKY & BARKLEY LAKES
Crappie fishing was spectacular on the twin lakes in 2017, and according to Western Kentucky Fisheries Biologist Paul Rister, an upswing in crappie populations will continue in 2018.
“Coming out of a slump from some poor year-classes (2011-2012), with better year-classes, especially 2014, this past spring was fabulous, with many anglers catching good numbers of 10- to 11-inch crappie,” said Rister. “This fall, the 2014 year-class will continue to support a strong fishery as the crappie had another summer to grow in length, along with the 2015 year-class crappie reaching the 10-inch mark. The 2014 year-class crappie will likely be pushing the 13-inch mark.”
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There are a lot of tactics for catching crappie in these two lakes. Barkley Lake has more visible cover, such as logs and fallen trees along the shoreline, providing prime habitat for transitioning crappie in the spring.
Kentucky Lake has less visible cover and most anglers rely on structure in the form of creek channels and humps. Locating travel routes of migrating crappie from wintertime haunts to spawning grounds in the spring will help anglers catch crappie throughout the year.
A jig and bobber works great around brush and logs and is one of the more popular ways to catch crappie on Barkley Lake. Spider rigging is probably the most efficient way to fish the deeper structure in Kentucky Lake. Of course the bobber and minnow is always effective and works great on either lake when the crappie are shallow in the spring and fall.
According to Kevin Frey, eastern fisheries district biologist, Fishtrap is the top crappie lake in Eastern Kentucky.
“In the eastern fisheries district for 2018, Fishtrap Lake should be good to excellent in population assessment,” said Frey. “This fishery stays fairly consistent with most years rating good to excellent. Larger fish will top out at approximately 16 inches, with good numbers of fish through 14 inches. During early spring, anglers should target crappie primarily on wood and brush with tube jigs, popeye jigs, hair jigs and minnows under a float. Summer can find some fish on structure, but most fish suspend just above the bottom over large shallow mud flats on the main lakeand at breaklines from flats to the main lake channel.”
The 1,130-acre Fishtrap Lake is located in Pike County and was formed by the building of Fishtrap Dam, which backed up the Lavisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.
Frey notes if an angler wants to try for both black and white crappie in the eastern region, Dewey Lake would be a good option.
“At Dewey Lake both black and white crappie are numerous and there is no size limit based on slow growth and numerous smaller fish.” Frey said. “Recently white crappie at Dewey Lake have had population assessments of good to excellent with larger fish to 14 inches and good numbers of 9 to 11 inches. Black crappie are numerous, but have only had a fair population assessment.”
CARR CREEK LAKE
Like Dewey, Carr Creek Lake has good numbers of both black and white crappie, with black crappie being fair to good and white crappie good, according to Frey. There is a 9-inch minimum length limit for crappie at Carr Creek Lake, but white crappie to 16 and black crappie up to 14 inches are available.
There are many fish attractors at Carr Creek Lake, which are a great place to start when searching for crappie. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources works hard to help anglers catch more crappie and enjoy Kentucky’s natural resources by sinking habitat structures, such as fish attractors, to provide cover and help crappie thrive. This submerged cover can be cedar trees, pallets or hinge cuts (trees cut part way through so they fall into the water’s edge and not drift offshore), and a whole host of other materials. Information on attractors on all public lakes is public and can be found at the KDFWR website.
GREEN RIVER LAKE
Those looking for numbers should consider Green River Lake, located in Adair and Taylor counties in a section of Kentucky known as the Highland Rim. The lake was developed as a flood control lake and has more than 8,000 acres to explore.
Green River Lake has long been a go-to lake in Kentucky for good numbers of crappie, and while Green River Lake isn’t known for giant crappie, according to David Jones, crappie guide (www.greenriverlakecrappietrips.com) on Green River Lake, there are some good size crappie in the lake.
“The crappie outlook for 2018 at Green River Lake is good from my standpoint,” Jones said. “My catches have been great and show no signs of falling off.”
The KDFWR has submerged habitat on Green River Lake, which can be found on their interactive map. Jones added that Green River Lake is loaded with submerged stumps and foundations that hold a lot of crappie.
“My favorite technique is spider rigging over productive cover I’ve located with my fish finder,” said Jones. “My go-to bait for this technique is a Southern Pro Minnow Tube in baby bass color tipped with crappie nibbles. I tip the jig with a minnow if the bite is slow.”
ROUGH RIVER LAKE
Rough River Lake is 5,100 acres and is a great springtime crappie destination with plenty to do. Rough River Dam State Resort Park provides plenty of lodging, while Grayson’s Landing Restaurant provides great food prepared by Chef Calvin Bishop and panoramic views from the dining room. There is also an airport complete with a 3,200-foot paved and lit airstrip with tie-downs. There is also an air camp where folks can pitch a tent close to aircraft and spend a night or two chasing crappie.
Rough River Lake showed good crappie recruitment for 2015. According to Robert Rold, fisheries biologist, the 2015 samples equate to good populations of harvestable 9- to 11-inch crappie with occasional 12- to 13-inch crappie available for 2018.
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“Very prolific year-classes in 2010-2011 depressed the growth rate at Rough River Lake somewhat for a few years, but it’s now rebounding and getting back to normal as the slower-growing stunted fish leave the population,” said Rold. “In 2015 samples of age-3 fish averaged 9.3 (inches) at Rough River Lake.”
Techniques for Rough River Lake crappie vary, depending on the season. Early spring is the time for spider rigging jigs or minnows over structure leading to spawning flats. When crappie move shallow, anglers should use a minnow and bobber around submerged wood and brush.
This cover is usually visible in shallow spawning areas, but locating brush piles and stumps not visible on the surface can be a crappie goldmine. As the water warms and crappie begin to migrate back to deep water, trolling small crankbaits is a great way to intercept them in open water.
NOLIN RIVER LAKE
Not far from Rough River Lake is Nolin River Lake. Nolin River Lake fluctuates dramatically from winter pool to summer pool, going from 2,890 acres to 5,795 acres, respectively. This fluctuation can have an impact on the crappie spawn so samplings of the population give biologists, as well as anglers, an insight on how the fishing may be several years in the future. According to Rold, sampling on Nolin River Lake shows good news for crappie anglers this year.
“We sample crappie populations in October, so any forecasting for 2018 is done using last October’s data for Nolin River Lake.” Rold said. “That being said, for 2018 I would expect Nolin to have good populations of harvestable 9- to 11-inch crappie with occasional 12- to 13-inch ones available. Normally the growth rate at Nolin has fish reaching 9.5 to 10 inches at age 3. Last year, age-3 fish in Nolin averaged 10.7 inches. While neither Nolin or Rough River Lake might really be considered a standout when compared to other reservoirs in this region, both lakes have solid, fairly stable and good quality crappie fisheries.”
The best way to catch crappie on Nolin is to locate cover in the depth that the crappie are hanging, depending on water temperature. Start by locating shallow flats or known crappie spawning areas on a map. Follow the channels out to deeper water, as these are the highways that crappie use to travel to and from spawning areas. Spider rigging is the best and most efficient way to locate and catch early season slabs. Rigging different colors and varying depths throughout setup can help pinpoint exactly where the crappie are hanging in the water column.