The warm, sun-drenched days we’re now experiencing in Kentucky signal the start of spring crappie season.
This splendid weather motivates crappie anglers to visit the waters in force. Several Kentucky reservoirs, such as Green River Lake, Cave Run Lake and Barren River Lake, are on the cusp of a crappie boom.
“There are some really big black crappie in Barren right now,” said David Wyffels, southwestern district fishery biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The fishing is still a little slow, but they should start heading up in the creeks and into the shallows with this warm weather. The black crappie in Barren are big and they are fat. The lake holds lots of white crappie in the 9- to 11-inch range right now. Barren is going to be really good this year.”
Green River Lake is another reservoir in southcentral Kentucky producing good crappie fishing. “They are catching lots of small ones right now with some big ones mixed in,” said Phillip Matlock, a fisheries technician for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife who works on Green River Lake. “The fishing should get better as the water warms. They are fishing shallow cover right now.”
White crappie dominate the population in Green River Lake. “Green has a little bit of a pile-up around the 9-inch minimum size limit,” Wyffels explained. “In the next couple of years, a lot of fish will be 10 inches or better — and the number of 9-1/2 inchers in there should make for good fishing.”
Crappie fishing at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is picking up. White crappie are still sulking in the channel drops in 8 to 20 feet of water while they wait for the water to warm. Anglers catch them by drifting live minnows along these channel drops. Black crappie are located in the shallows and will stay that way until early summer.
Cave Run Lake is a sleeper lake for good crappie fishing. “We did our crappie sampling last fall,” said Tom Timmerman, northeastern fishery district biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “It was more than double than our best year in the past 20 years.”
The deep weed beds in the mouths of Beaver, Skidmore and Leatherwood creeks hold some big black crappie. The flooded timber near Bangor Boat Ramp and the fallen trees on the island near Poppin’ Rock Boat Ramp also hold nice crappie.
The drought conditions in the late 1980s and again in the 1990s changed the nature of crappie in many Kentucky reservoirs, especially the two most well known Kentucky crappie haunts, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Droughts, combined with improved agricultural practices that contained silt-laden run-off , cleared the water in these lakes. Clearer water favors black crappie, and their numbers boomed while white crappie numbers declined.
Black crappie generally are slightly thicker and shorter than white crappie. Black crappie have a spotted pattern on their side. White crappie have distinct vertical bars on their side.
Although both types are crappie, fishing for each is like fishing for two different species. Fish for black crappie like you would largemouth bass. Pea gravel banks and banks with submerged brush hold black crappie. Cast a 1/8-ounce leadhead tipped with a lime green, chartreuse, blue or white grub onto these banks and slowly reel back, similar to the way you fish a spinnerbait for bass.
Feather jigs and small spinners like the Road Runner also work well. Black crappie spook easily, so you must stay well off the bank you plan to fish.
This is a radical concept for many crappie anglers. For decades, they found shallow cover or mid-depth dropoffs and drifted over these areas, or jigged bait in the area. These are white crappie tactics. They still work, but on lakes with burgeoning populations of black crappie, these tactics should be just part of your fishing arsenal.
Many state parks offer lodging and camping near the state’s best crappie lakes. These are great base camps for anglers. Visit parks.ky.gov on the Internet for more information. For more information on boat ramps and fishing reports, visit the Web site of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife at fw.ky.gov.
Both black and white crappie taste great. April is the best time of year to get a limit — and few states off er better crappie fishing than Kentucky.