Now is the time to catch your fair share of slab-sided crappie, especially in the lakes and reservoirs highlighted here!
When the days finally arrive where there’s just a bit of nip in the air, yet the sun warms our backs in the afternoon, we know it’s getting close to the time for good crappie fishing. That’s when we’ll start watching for water temperatures to ever so slowly creep up into the 60-degree mark, which is about the same time that the dogwoods start blooming. When that happens, the scramble for our crappie gear begins. It’s time to raid your nearest tackle shop for some new jigs, twistertails, and to see what’s new on the market.
White and black crappie are both found in many of Kentucky's lakes and reservoirs. White crappie prefer cloudy water and are often in deeper structure, while black crappie like clearer water. Photo by Mike Skinner.
Kentucky biologists are, in general, predicting a pretty good year for crappie angling this spring. Some of the state’s old standbys will remain hot, while other waters should be experiencing some better quality fishing as we greet the spring 2005 fishing season. Let’s take a look at Kentucky by the various management regions, and see where the best picks for this spring are expected to be, including what biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) have to say.
It is interesting to note that on several reservoirs, the presence of black crappie is increasing, and anglers may find this species in their creel more and more often. Black crappie and white crappie act similarly, moving into the shallows in spring, but more often than not, when you fish a specific hole or cove, you will only catch one type or the other. They seem to group together as a species, and depending on where you fish, sometimes you only catch one type even though both may be abundant in the waterway.
EASTERN & SOUTHEASTERN REGIONS
In most lake environments in eastern and southeastern Kentucky, the lack of fertile land, and subsequently the waters, makes it tough to carve out and sustain a really high-quality crappie fishery anywhere. Some lakes, though, do offer good fishing, thanks to careful management and sometimes supplemental stocking.
The supply of microscopic organisms, and other items at the lower end of the food chain in eastern Kentucky waterways is generally less than lakes in the central and western parts of our state. You may notice that there isn’t nearly the volume of crop farming in the eastern end of Kentucky that you find elsewhere. The land is simply poorer, and the run-off that feeds lakes in this region just isn’t as packed with nutrients to help grow small plants and animals for crappie to eat, which ultimately enables this species to grow fast and big.
It takes a few years for crappie in less fertile waters to get to a harvestable size, sometimes up to five years to have a 10-inch fish. Luckily, not every lake has that slow growth pattern, and in some cases, things move along more quickly.
Buckhorn Lake this season is continuing to get high marks for crappie, as a couple of strong year-classes are moving into the “take-home” category size wise.
“I’d call it excellent fishing right now in comparison to other waters in the region,” fisheries biologist Kevin Frey said. “We have excellent size distribution and numbers of fish are quite good.”
The early spring period, especially March and April, is perhaps the best time to fish, too, because the lower water levels concentrate fish and make them a little easier to locate.
Anglers may want to spend most of their time in the main-lake channel and look for dropoffs with cover or breaks. Crappie will spend time on this kind of structure in early spring, and as water levels come up, will move closer to the bank and look for cover there to complete the spawn.
“I think we ought to have a good year on Buckhorn for crappie, if we get good fishing weather to work with,” Frey said.
According to the latest data available, anglers may also want to give Yatesville Lake a hard look this year as well. A sizeable population of white crappie were moving into the 7- to 9-inch range late last fall and should be available to anglers this spring. Yatesville is also harboring fish in the 10- to 15-inch range in lower numbers, but anglers are likely to catch a few of these fish during the spring when they are most vulnerable and active.
Frey suggests anglers look for the higher quality fish around tree laps, blowdowns and sloughed-off banks in the upper end of Yatesville. Dunking minnows or tossing a jig into the cover and fishing at varying depths may yield some really nice slabs during the spawn.
One other lake that needs to be mentioned for crappie fishing this spring is Laurel River Lake. The end of a three-year stocking program rolled around in 2003, which means there should be a higher number of eating-size fish swimming around in this clear, deep reservoir in 2005, now that they’ve had a little time to grow.
Laurel sports a 9-inch minimum size limit, but it’s a good bet many of the stocked fish, and some from natural reproduction, should be in that range this year, and that’s a pretty good eating-size fish compared to what you catch in some places. The fish stocked were black crappie, so anglers can likely tell when they are catching those vs. what normally occurs in the lake.
CENTRAL & SOUTHCENTRAL REGIONS
Moving from the east-southeast into central Kentucky, anglers will find increasingly better overall crappie fishing. Papermouth populations are cyclic no matter where you fish, but lakes that are more fertile can bounce back faster when it comes to maintaining a fishery that on average has better crappie. Taylorsville Lake is one such middle state reservoir.
Central district biologist Kerry Prather says he expects a good year for crappie on Taylorsville in 2005. Anglers saw improvement last year, and that trend should be maintained this spring. He believes the lake had a very good spawn in the spring of 2004, which will help keep fish coming up into the ranks for harvest. More importantly for now, though, his studies indicated a lot of fish right at the 9-inch mark late last fall, and that means more keepers available this spring.
“We’ve got a couple o
f good yearclasses hitting the mark now, and it’s taking them about three years to get to the size limit after they’re hatched. So we’ve got pretty good growth,” Prather said.
“Our black crappie numbers are on the upswing as well, and I imagine our population ratio in Taylorsville now is close to 50 percent black crappie and 50 percent white crappie, so anglers can expect a little bit of variety,” the biologist said.
Prather notes that black crappie are faster growers and that when you fish for them, they may seem spotty. Black crappie tend to like a little more clear water conditions than white crappie do, and a lower volume of rain over the past few years has probably contributed to their increase in numbers.
“You don’t normally think of Taylorsville as a clear-water lake, but it has been a little less murky the last couple of years, I think. Although we had some portion of the year with pretty good rainfall, we also had some prolonged periods with next to nothing, which is a little different than usual. When the lake level stays the same and doesn’t drop out under the fish when they’re spawning, we get good reproduction. We’ve been pretty lucky with the timing most of this decade so far,” the biologist said.
“We ought to be seeing lots of fish in the 8- to 11-inch range this March, and these fish should be pretty healthy.
“Much of the rain we got last year was in the spring following the spawn, and sometimes that generates a better food supply for the fry, and it gets them off to a good start. A good forage base helps survivability and growth. It helps them enter the winter period in better condition and sometimes a little bigger, and usually a bigger fish has a better chance making it through the colder months than a smaller, first-year fish.
“With what should be some really nice black crappie in the population, anglers should have a good year on Taylorsville for both species,” Prather said.
South of Taylorsville Lake, in the heart of the Commonwealth, a new lake called Cedar Creek is coming on strong for all kinds of fishing. (Look in next month’s issue for a feature on Cedar Creek, Kentucky’s newest fishing lake.) Crappie in this lake will be hitting the 9-inch size limit this spring, and fishing should be excellent if you like wetting a line in a smaller reservoir.
Cedar Creek’s 784 acres in Lincoln County have a ton of natural and manmade cover. There’s cover on the bank, cover in the creek channels, cover on the points — cover everywhere. Anglers may want to note that often crappie come shallow in smaller reservoirs sooner than the big Corps lakes. Sometimes the water seems to warm a little faster in smaller impoundments. You may want to start checking this month, rather than mid-April for those first fish to start doing their thing.
Last year, biologists were really hyped up about the crappie fishing potential at Rough River Lake in mid-western Kentucky. The previous year was excellent for anglers, and 2004 was very good as well. This spring, there should still be some big crappie available, fish 10, 12 and 14 inches long, as well as the smaller versions.
Anglers may find this to be another excellent year on Rough River.
“We’ve had excellent population levels the past two years, and although the year-classes that made up the higher quality fish have been worked on, there should still be some very good crappie in this lake this spring,” biologist David Bell said.
“You know, it doesn’t look too bad over at Nolin for this spring, either,” said Bell, of the other major reservoir in his region.
“A lot of anglers go back and forth between these two lakes, and I think they’re finding some good crappie fishing at both places.
“We had a big group of 7- to 10-inch fish moving through the system last year, and that population will probably dominate the catch this spring.
“It looked good when we checked it, and I hope the weather and water conditions will be favorable so anglers can have the best chance to get on these fish as soon as possible,” Bell said.
“It was kind of quiet around these lakes for crappie talk until a year or two ago, and things have really been looking up here recently,” the biologist concluded.
WESTERN & SOUTHWESTERN REGIONS
The strong year-class of 2001 will lead a decent fishing year at Green River Lake this spring, according to biologist B.D. Laflin. Green River also sports a 9-inch minimum size limit on crappie, and Laflin’s check on the population shows some of that year-class was hitting that mark in 2004, and most of the rest, along with fish from previous years’ spawns, should be available for anglers to take home.
Anglers should spend time around shallow cover, timbered coves with some submerged trees and stumps, and look for new shoreline habitat like fallen trees to fish around. Likewise, fishing along the first ledge or dropoff in creeks is productive, depending on what stage the crappie are in when you go. Fish can be caught in slightly deeper water around brushpiles and stickups in March, before they get right on the banks in April. Sometimes the better crappie are taken early on many Kentucky reservoirs, before everybody goes shallow to the bushes and woody stuff along the bank.
We mentioned earlier that some reservoirs in Kentucky have been good for crappie year in and year out, or at least perhaps the best fishing that’s available in a given year. Kentucky Lake, followed by sister Lake Barkley, is the Commonwealth’s best examples of consistent crappie catching.
It seems like it’s not so much a question of the quality of crappie caught because for a long time the average size crappie taken on Kentucky Lake has been 10 inches. But a great year is sometimes determined by the number of big crappie caught, not the size of the fish. Crappie from Barkley and Kentucky lakes are almost always as good or better in size than you will normally come across anywhere else.
The stability of the crappie populations in both Kentucky and Barkley lakes remains good for this spring. There are many 10-inch fish available, and excellent numbers of fish coming on under that mark. In both lakes, black crappie numbers have come on strong. Anglers are finding this species on their lines now much more than in past seasons.
Telemetry studies conducted by biologist Paul Rister have revealed that anglers who want to catch black crappie need to get fishing from mid- to late March. These fish come shallow sooner than white crappie, and if you wait until April, you may m
iss some excellent fishing.
On some lakes, black crappie will be found in shallower water than white crappie. You may need to look to shallow-water cover for black crappie, and the more submerged off the bank habitat for white crappie.
Both of these reservoirs should provide some good slabs this spring. There is certainly enough water to go around between these two huge reservoirs. Blood River embayment is always a top choice on Kentucky, but any of the creeks will hold crappie from one end to the other when they come in close to the banks.
The lakes mentioned here should keep you in plenty of spring crappie action, regardless of which end of the state you want to explore. These by no means are the only choices to find excellent papermouth angling. In a given year, about any Kentucky waterway can give up some fine crappie when the weather is right.
For other ideas of where to try crappie fishing this spring, contact the KDFWR Information Center at (800) 858-1549, or visit the Web site at http://fw.ky.gov for a copy of the 2005 Fishing Forecast and the latest updates. Most KDFWR crappie netting studies are done in mid- to late October. Fall anglers have likely seen biologists on lakes pulling nets and seeing what they’ve caught. (All fish are released, of course.) The Fishing Forecast may contain some additional information on what biologists found and may highlight other waters where crappie are doing well in the Bluegrass State.