This 10,000-plus-acre impoundment is better known for its fabulous hybrid striper action, yet it's no slouch when it comes to producing big papermouths, too. (April 2010)
Are the redbuds popping and the dogwoods starting to bloom where you are? If so, then you know it's the signal in the Bluegrass State when crappie should be on the banks and waiting for a jig to swim by. But where might be a good place to fish when the conditions finally ripen after a long winter of waiting?
One of the better choices this spring could be somewhere in the 10,000-acre Barren River Lake in south-central Kentucky. Here's the rundown. State fish and wildlife biologist Eric Cummins reports the crappie fishing on Barren River Lake to be fair last spring, but he believes his latest check of the lake indicates improvement overall for the spring of 2010.
Anglers should find a higher number of white crappie in the population, thanks to a decent 2008 spring spawn. Cummins also says more white crappie in the 8- to 10-inch range should be available based on his team's fall trap-netting studies last October and early November.
Crappie are ranked as Kentucky's second most popular game fish, and anglers are always interested in trying lakes where fishing is on the upswing for tasty quality-sized papermouths.
"As has been the case on a number of other lakes like Kentucky, Barkley and Taylorsville, in recent years we've seen an increase in the black crappie for various reasons until they have become the dominant species," said Cummins.
"Barren has been no exception to that. But we have seen a bit of a surge in the white crappie coming on for this spring, so I suspect anglers will notice that this April when they start fishing it pretty steady," the biologist continued.
Cummins notes that black crappie tend to come to the banks earlier than white crappie and get in the shallow water cover just as the weather starts to plane out a bit from the winter season. Having both species present extends the crappie spawn season to some degree really from mid-March through April -- sometimes even starting earlier than that.
Anglers are still probably going to find more black crappie in their livewells at the end of the day -- something most have become used to over the past few years.
Black crappie populations really kicked in when water conditions on Barren and other major reservoirs, especially in central and western Kentucky. were very clear for a while. Black crappie prefer clear water conditions. White crappie prefer turbid conditions for better reproduction. Other weather factors and water levels and quality of spawning habitat affect both species
"I think following some of the basic crappie fishing techniques and approaches will produce fish. You don't need some particularly advanced way to go after them or a special trick for success," said Cummins.
Cummins notes that probably the biggest key to doing well is fishing the most productive water and timing the weather well. In the spring, crappie tend to congregate more toward the upper parts of creek arms and the main river arm around shoreline cover. "I think it really picks up when you can catch it right after a rain event that starts pushing the water up the bank a foot or two.
"It seems to pull the crappie into the additional bank cover that becomes available and stimulates their feeding, and that spells better fishing," said Cummins.
Getting a little rainfall, followed by several days of more stable, warmer weather sets up ideal conditions to score on crappie by using traditional methods of tube-jigging brushpiles and drifting minnows around woody cover and often along creek channel ledges midway and on up in the embayments.
Bright-colored tube-jig combinations fished on ultralight gear around fallen treetops and in the debris that often collects in the backs of creeks is a good choice.
Dunking minnows under a slip-bobber around submerged stumps found in about 4 feet of water, or down inside some brush you come across along the banks ought to be productive, especially on cloudy days.
Cummins recommends fishing Peter, Beaver and Skaggs creeks upstream from about the Narrows Marina, or working in the Barren River arm of the lake upriver from the U.S. Route 31 E bridge for best success. This isn't to say crappie can't be caught elsewhere, but these portions of the lake are where biologists conduct their fall studies and find crappie present. With water temperatures similar in spring and fall, and adding the fall spawning run into the mix, it's a good bet these spots should attract fish in April pretty well into cover that's around 5 to 8 feet deep, sometimes less.
"The upper reaches of the creeks have better spawning habitat for crappie, and the water warms there a little sooner. Warmer water attracts baitfish closer to the banks, and when crappie haven't eaten all that well all winter, their instinct is to get to where baitfish can be found in more abundance and gorge themselves as the pre-spawn and nesting season arrives," Cummins explains.
"That makes them more vulnerable," he said "to most shallow-water fishing techniques, and concentrates them better so you can catch several in one location or around one chunk of cover
"Clear water conditions can make them a little spookier at times, but often when the water is rising, there is sufficient color to make them more comfortable in the shallow water if you approach the bank slowly and not pull right in on top of the brushpile. Staying out a bit and casting to it often gets better results," said the biologist.
Another bit of information crappie fishermen will be interested to know about is the ongoing research project that started last fall on Barren for white crappie.
KDFWR research biologist Chris Hickey has initiated a study on several Kentucky impoundments, including Barren, to see if crappie stockings can improve or help maintain populations at a more stable level.
Crappie are a very cyclic species in terms of spawning and reproduction. Factors and conditions have to be just right for white crappie to produce young successfully each spring, and when a poor spawn occurs, it results in a down fishing year two or three years down the road.
To combat that a couple of Southern states with lakes that perform similarly to Kentucky waters have been rearing crappie in their hatcheries and releasing them in the fall when they realize the natural spawn didn't come off well that spring. Kentucky is giving the same approach a try based on the mar
ginal to excellent success states such as Tennessee and Alabama have experienced.
The next two years, Barren, Kentucky, Barkley, Taylorsville and Carr Creek lakes will all receive stockings of 10 white crappie per acre. That will complete the three-year stocking period. These 4-inch fingerlings are fin-clipped so they can be identified from natural spawn fish. When biologists check the lake, they can rate the survival, and through creel surveys determine how well the stockers are supplementing the overall catches of anglers as they reach the legal size limit.
"The overall goal," says Hickey, "is to see if this is a viable way of giving fishermen more consistent success year to year, when Mother Nature deals us a poor hand."
For now, Barren River anglers will be relying on what the crappie present in the lake now can produce, and this spring things should be looking up as the whites are gaining ground over previous spring seasons.
Barren River offers a good amount of access points to get you quickly to the better crappie water Cummins mentioned. The easiest way to be able to look them all over is to get a free copy of Kentucky's Boating and Fishing Access Sites guide through the KDFWR. Fishing information on the lake is available by calling (270) 646-2122 through the Army Corps of Engineers' office.
Lastly, you may want to go online at fw.ky.gov and take a look under the fishing tab and check the "2010 Kentucky Fishing Forecast" for any additional details on Barren. This report from biologists generally provides the latest developments and trends for the game species in all of the major waterways in the Bluegrass State.