Winter may still have a firm grasp on the Bluegrass State, but eager crappie anglers have their minds firmly set on the upcoming spring fishing action just around the corner. Known throughout the state as the "crappie run," spring spawning season will be here before long.
This is the time when dedicated crappie anglers, as well as weekend or seasonal anglers, pour onto Kentucky waters in droves looking to target shallow water crappies during what is arguably the best crappie fishing time of the year.
The spring run is when crappie anglers put forth the most effort and have the best success. Even so, there are many great fisheries in the state offering good crappie angling almost year 'round. Right now anglers are on the cusp of what many consider the start of the season and excitement is building with each passing week.
With that in mind, here is a look at some of the great opportunities and locations across the Bluegrass State for the upcoming spring spawn and beyond.
KENTUCKY AND BARKLEY LAKES
The Big Twins consistently produce some of the best crappie fishing in the state and rank very well when compared to lakes in other states. Anglers travel long distances to fish these lakes, both for the numbers of fish caught and the huge slabs for which the lakes are renowned.
There are good numbers of black and white crappies in both lakes. The black crappies start moving into shallow water earlier than the whites and are often found on sloping banks or points with gravel. More skittish than white crappies, black crappies are best targeted by keeping the boat back away from the fish and making longer casts. Jigs and minnows are good choices, but many anglers are having better success on black crappies by casting Blakemore Road Runners with a slow retrieve.
White crappies move in a little later and are found in brush piles, around downed trees and bushes, and along with the numerous stake beds put out by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). Drop jigs tipped with Berkley Crappie Nibbles or minnows straight down in the wood cover under bobbers.
Anglers should find plenty of fish, with most of the keepers ranging between 10 and 13 inches. But there is potential for larger slabs. Part of the excitement of fishing these lakes is that any bite could yield a huge slab nearing or exceeding 2 pounds.
CAVE RUN LAKE
Anticipation is running high for a good year of crappie fishing on this big lake near Morehead.
KDFWR fishery biologist Tom Timmerman said, "Cave Run Lake crappie in 2014 was as good a year as the lake has had and this will most likely continue into 2015. Good spawning classes for the last several years will continue to move through the population, and the high success rates of anglers in 2014 will allow those fish to continue to show improved growth rates."
Crappie fishing in the spring at Cave Run is typical of other lakes. Anglers should target brush or wood structure in shallow water near the shore. The KDFWR has been placing brush-pile structure in the lake recently and these attractors offer some of the best fishing to be found.
"In 2014, we expanded of our habitat program and placed over 1,000 units of structure into Cave Run," said Timmerman. "Anglers in 2015 should put some time in to learn exactly where this brush is, where the fish are in that brush and how to fish it. They will be rewarded if they put their time in on these brush piles. A good side-scan with GPS can help you learn all you need to know, and with all the new brush added in 2014, there should be plenty to go around for all the anglers. Maps are available online (fw.ky.gov) or by calling or emailing the Northeast Fishery District," (606-783-8650 or email@example.com).
Cave Run has good fishing during the spawn, but fishing deeper brush piles is a hot ticket during the summer months. Timmerman regards it as one of the best bets in the Northeastern Fishery District.
"In June and July, it's about as hot as it can get for a low-fertility, eastern Kentucky lake," said Timmerman.
There are several lakes in the Eastern Fishery District that look really good for crappie this year. KDFWR fisheries biologist Kevin Frey expects crappie fishing to be good at Dewey, Fishtrap, Buckhorn and Carr Creek lakes. The biologist does caution that Buckhorn Lake has highly fluctuating water levels in the spring and does not offer the consistency of the other three during spring. However, Buckhorn offers some great summertime fishing during July and August.
"Buckhorn is an excellent choice for summer fishing for white crappie," said Frey. "It is popular for anglers to troll across mudflats in the main lake with crankbaits or plastic curlytail jigs to catch crappie. Fish are in angler catches through 12 inches regularly and there are some larger fish up to 14 inches. The crappie assessment value determined through our sampling has run at 'Good' for the last several years."
Fishtrap Lake probably offers the best early spring fishing of this group of eastern lakes, with the white crappie population being assessed as "Excellent." Tactics include vertical jigging, trolling and dropping a minnow under a bobber.
These lakes offer opportunities for shore-bound anglers to get in on the action as well. The lakes have significant drawdowns in the wintertime to aid in flood control and water levels do not start rising toward summer pool until April 1, so anglers can walk the exposed shoreline.
"Carr Creek Lake has an 11-foot drawdown, Fishtrap is 22 feet, Buckhorn is 25 feet and Dewey is 5 feet," said Frey. "This leaves an open strip of un-forested land to easily walk and have bank access to fish."
NOLIN RIVER LAKE
"At Nolin everything seems good," said Rob Rold, KDFWR fishery biologist. "The numbers in our nets have been down a little the last couple of years, but growth is very good with the age-2-plus fish averaging right at 10 inches. We were not able to net Nolin last year, but it looks like anglers should have a decent year at Nolin this year."
The last assessment at Nolin rated the crappie fishery as "Good," with plenty of fish in the 9- to 11-inch range. Spring fishing is typically very good when the fish are shallow, but angler effort wanes after the spawn. Look for deeper brush and wood structure to stay on fish later in the summer.
There are some decent opportunities to catch crappies from the shore at Nolin by targeting some of the brush piles installed by the KDFWR near the piers and some of the campgrounds.
"There are a couple of guys I hear from at Nolin that only bank fish for crappie in the spring at Nolin," said Rold. "They keep tabs on brush pile locations at winter pool, then fish these areas as the water submerges them as the lake is refilling to summer pool. I don't know their locations other than they always fish the upper lake and river area, but they seem to do well."
Rough River Lake is nearby and, similar to Kentucky and Barkley lakes, Nolin and Rough are often referred to as twin lakes due to their close proximity. However, Rough River Lake has been in a bit of down cycle and is not expected to be as good as Nolin this year.
"When we trap-netted last fall, we found the population was primarily composed of 2-plus-year-old fish from an extremely abundant year class in 2011," said Rold. "Normally 2-plus-age fish would average around 9.5 inches. While some of them were in the 9-inch range, the majority of these were 7 to 8 inches. It seems the over-abundance of this year-class has depressed growth rates somewhat. Hopefully, as these fish move through the population over the next couple of years, growth will return to normal. There are some larger fish available for harvest, but the most of the fish are in the 7- to 8-inch class."
BARREN RIVER LAKE
The crappie fishery at this lake near Glasgow should be good to excellent this year. Biologists have sampled good numbers of black and white crappie from prolific spawns in 2008 and 2010. Plenty of black crappie are also available from a good spawn in 2011. Anglers should encounter lots of fish in the range of 9 to 11 inches, with some larger fish in the mix.
Barren has a good crappie bite in the early spring and there is plenty of wood structure to target. Both species can be caught in shallow water during early spring. Afterwards, target deeper brush and wood, including fish attractors added to the lake.
This 3,050-acre lake near Louisville is not usually regarded as a crappie hotspot and its papermouth fishery this year certainly has not vaulted it into elite status. However, anglers should enjoy a noticeable uptick in both crappie numbers and size. Taylorsville Lake had a good crappie spawn in 2013, and these fish should really add to anglers' catches this year. Anglers should remember there is a 9-inch size limit and a 15-fish daily creel limit at Taylorsville.
GREEN RIVER LAKE
The crappie fishery at this 8,210-acre lake in Taylor and Adair counties has really been turning heads the past few years. Last season on Green, many anglers remarked it was one of the best years in recent years, especially for crappie size. There are very good numbers of fish in the lake and anglers typically catch lots of fish per day, often culling fish while building a limit in the livewell.
The fishery has been rated from "Good to Excellent" by the KDFWR and this year looks to produce another stellar season. There are plenty of fish above the 9-inch size limit and local anglers reported that several of the fish were above 12 inches last year.
This big lake is known as Kentucky's striped bass mecca, but it is also home to a very robust population of crappie. The crappie fishery is overshadowed by Cumberland's great striper fishery, as well as huge smallmouth bass. However, local crappie anglers know the lake is a gem for slabs.
Lake Cumberland is very deep and can be difficult to fish for crappies. Even so, spring is one of the best times to hit the lake for some slabs. The water level was down for several years while the Wolf Creek Dam was being repaired, but is now back at full pool. Lots of brush and weeds that grew along the shoreline while the water level was down are now submerged. This submerged brush and vegetation makes excellent cover for the crappies and draws in forage fish, too. Anglers targeting this newly flooded cover this spring should find plenty of papermouths.
The lake Cumberland crappie fishery is rated "Good" by the KDFWR. Plenty of fish are available up to 12 inches, and bigger slabs are present as well.