Crappie spawn when the dogwoods bloom, the old saying goes. The white bass run when the redbuds burst out in spring. Old grizzled anglers claim they can smell when the bluegill spawn in a pond.
These old sayings about when fish move shallow to reproduce aren’t too far off the mark. The jury is still out on whether someone can smell bluegill in a pond, but knowing when certain species spawn helps anglers improve their skills.
“Those sayings are actually a pretty good rule of thumb regarding air and water temperature,” said Benjy Kinman, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The most important aspects are water temperature and the lengthening days. The longer days are critical.”
A crappie study in Missouri demonstrated Kinman’s wisdom. The study found crappie began building nests when daylight starts to average a little over 13 hours. Crappie stop building nests when the sunlight lasts slightly longer than 14½ hours a day. This corresponds with crappie initiating the spawn when water temperatures reach the low 60s and continuing until it reaches the low 70s.
Many Kentucky reservoirs are now in that temperature range. Black crappie are in the shallows at Kentucky and Cave Run lakes, preparing to spawn. White crappie are nosing their way around the shallows at Green River Lake.
In the future, time your crappie trips to match sunlight of 13 to 14 hours a day with water temperatures in the 60s. This should put you right in the middle of the spawn.
The redbuds are in full bloom and anglers will find white bass staging in the headwaters of Barren River, Herrington, Taylorsville, Green River, Lake Barkley and other lakes in Kentucky. White bass first begin migrating to the headwaters of reservoirs and toward locks and dams on the Kentucky and Ohio rivers when the water temperatures reach 50 degrees. When water temperatures hit the high 50s to low 60s, the white bass spawning runs begin. White bass in runs provide some of the best fishing in Kentucky.
White bass spawn in moving water by dropping their sticky eggs in shallow water on a hard bottom. One female white bass can release as many as 500,000 eggs. White bass abandon their eggs and provide no parental care to their young. The abandonment triggers poor reproductive success.
Water temperatures vary widely throughout the state right now. Anglers report recently catching a mixed bag of hybrid striped bass and white bass at Herrington Lake. White bass are now running in the headwaters of Barren River Lake.
A good rain and increased flow into these lakes would further increase the white bass run. Check the fishing reports on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Web site at fw.ky.gov for the status of the white bass runs.
As spring melts into May, the bluegill and redear sunfish, also known as “shellcrackers,” move toward the banks. In ponds and lakes, bluegill spawn in such shallow areas that anglers can easily see their whitish hubcap sized nests.
Bluegill and redear sunfi sh start making nests when water temperatures reach 70 degrees. They may spawn all the way into mid-June.
Redear sunfish spawn around the edges of weedbeds once water temperatures reach 62 degrees. Spawning stops once the water warms to 68 degrees.
“Redear spawn a little earlier than bluegill,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They should be getting interested right now.”
Bluegill can’t resist white, yellow or black feather Popeye style jigs tipped with a wax worm cast under a bobber and worked just over their nests. Redear sunfish devour the same rig cast along weedlines.
A small, yellow, curlytailed grub also works well for these fish. The next six weeks is the best time of the year to fish for bluegill and redear sunfish. Crappie, white bass, bluegill and redear sunfish are making their spawning moves right now. It’s time to take advantage of the best fishing of the year.