Although the redbud trees haven’t bloomed yet, it isn’t too early to start fishing for crappie.
Black crappie are likely along rocky banks now in lakes that have them.
“With the water temperatures still in the mid-40s, white crappie are likely staging in deeper water right now,” said Jeff Crosby, central fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “With the longer photoperiod and the warmer temperatures on the way, they will be moving up to the shallows.”
The big twins of western Kentucky, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, along with Green River Lake and Taylorsville Lake all receive oodles of fishing pressure for the crappie that swim in their waters. However, Kentucky is also blessed with other less known waters holding bountiful populations of crappie that don’t receive the adulation and fishing pressure of their more well known brethren.
While known for its excellent largemouth bass fishing, wood strewn 2,315-acre Yatesville Lake in Lawrence County holds good numbers of quality white crappie with many in the 15-inch range.
“In our latest population sampling, Yatesville had the most crappie we’ve ever sampled in the 10- to 14-inch range,” said Kevin Frey, eastern fisheries district biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Yatesville Lake, near the West Virginia border, more resembles a flatland reservoir with abundant woody cover than a mountain lake. Probe the fallen tree tops and submerged trees with live minnows suspended under a bobber and adjust the depth until you get bites. The timbered coves and banks near the confluence of Blaine and Greenbrier creeks hold crappie.
“In the upper part of Blaine Creek at the Rich Creek boat access, we’ve placed fish structures and cut down trees for bank anglers to catch crappie,” Frey said. “There are numerous pull offs along KY 32 for bank anglers. It is good fishing in that area in spring.”
Cave Run Lake is full of 2- to 3-year-old crappie, providing excellent opportunity for both black and white crappie. The deep weedbeds in the mouths of Skidmore and Leatherwood creeks in the Beaver Creek arm attract black crappie in March and into April. Black crappie tend to move into the shallows earlier in the year than white crappie. White crappie stay out in deeper water along creek channels while blacks may be in just a few feet of water along rocky banks at the same time.
The abundant woody structures around Bangor Boat Ramp and fallen trees along the island near Poppin Rock Boat Ramp in the North Fork Arm of Cave Run provide excellent fishing for white and black crappie.
One of the crappie sleepers flows off of Pine Mountain all the way to northern Kentucky. The Kentucky River holds considerable numbers of crappie a foot long or better. “The river goes in cycles, but there are some good fish in there,” Crosby said. “The crappie in the Kentucky like those creek mouths and backwater areas with little current.”
Tributaries at their confluence with the Kentucky River have abundant root wads, undercut banks and washed in tree tops and brush. Probe all of these with live minnows suspended under a bobber or with 1/16-ounce chartreuse Roadrunner style spinner baits dressed with a matching 2-inch curly-tailed grub.
“Another flowing water to consider is the Ohio River. It is really, really good for crappie right now,” Crosby said. The Ohio River offers good crappie fishing from Ashland downstream to the Purchase Region in far western Kentucky.
He recommends backwater areas along the river, often formed where tributaries meet the main stem of the Ohio. “With all of the flooding on the Ohio, those embayments should have fish right now. Target brushy areas with live minnows in those embayments.”
Guist Creek Lake covers 317 acres in Shelby County. It is also overlooked for crappie. “We saw some really nice crappie last fall in our population surveying,” Crosby said. “I think most of the fishing pressure there is on largemouth bass.”
Early spring is a good time to catch large white crappie 11 inches and longer on Barren River Lake in Allen and Barren counties. Known throughout the Midwest and upper South as a superior largemouth bass lake and written up in national magazines, Barren River Lake holds a burgeoning population of black crappie as well, which now make up 60 percent of the total crappie population in the lake.
Casting banks composed of pea gravel with lime-green 2-inch curly-tailed grubs rigged on red 1/8-ounce leadheads is a productive presentation for black crappie. Drifting live minnows along creek channels in March and early April fools big white crappie on Barren before they move into the shallows to spawn.
The huge snows of just a few weeks ago are now in the dustbin of history. It is time to get out and catch some crappie.
Editor’s Note: Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing. Get the latest from Lee and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.