Lake Conditions:  Fair - 79° / Lake Temperature  85° - 359.12'
Cadiz, Kentucky
Cadiz, Kentucky
Cadiz, Kentucky
Closer Than You Think

Rising Lake Levels/Weather Annoys Anglers

Written by Steve McCadams - Published on March 31, 2021

Stability has not been in the cards this week for Kentucky Lake’s fishing scene but it appears warmer days are fast approaching. At a time when fishermen were hoping for a slow and gradual warm up to coincide with normal lake stages as the peak of the crappie spawn approaches it has been anything but.

Riding it out are legions of both bass and crappie anglers who have witnessed rapidly rising lake levels this week in the aftermath of flooding conditions across the TVA valley. Floating debris has been abundant across the open waters areas, delivering a lot of obstacles to boaters.

At midweek the reservoir’s elevation at Kentucky Dam was 358.9, which is about 4 feet above where it would normally be for early April. In a normal spring the TVA begins reservoir filling on April 1 and from the lake’s low ebb of winter pool the curve is supposed to gradually rise with a target day of summer pool level (359) for May 1.

What fishermen prefer is some stability in weather plus a slow rise in lake levels this time of year. When drastic changes occur such as was the cast earlier this week---a dramatic cold front that dropped surface temps while lake levels were rising ahead of schedule---it throws both the fish and the fishermen off balance.

The reservoir has been low enough to provide storage capacity for some of the recent flood waters that raced through the region this week and there’s a lot of current present in the main Tennessee River channel. TVA has been able to spill a large volume of water through Kentucky Dam the last few days---over 250,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) most days---and that has helped cushion the blow of the flooding so to speak.

Conditions on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers will determine how much discharge TVA can continue pushing through the system in the days ahead.

Upstream at New Johnsonville lake levels at midweek week had swelled to the 361.5 range but crested and were falling. Compared to Kentucky Dam’s reading of 357.9 at midweek it shows just how much water is flowing north at the present time.

Current Fishing Scene

Kentucky Lake’s crappie spawn was starting to hit high gear at midweek as the cold front blew in and north winds put a chill in the air. Lows were forecast to drop down to 26 degrees on Thursday night, which is not what anglers want to witness as fish make a blitz toward shallow spawning zones.

However, a rapid warm up appears to be on the way beginning Saturday. By Sunday and Monday daytime highs will rebound to the mid to upper 70’s and that should resume the spawning phases after a nasty and short hiatus.

Watch for a drastic change for the better as crappie are likely to bounce back with a vengeance. That strong urge to transition toward spawning structure around shorelines, shallow flats and midrange structure will resume as waters warm back to the 62 to 66 degree early next week.

Dogwoods started blooming at midweek but even they were somewhat fooled by the cold snap. Sometimes Mother Nature throws a curve to blooming dogwoods and the early phases of the crappie spawn. The last few days was a prime example of spring’s unstable personality.

Some decent stringers of slab crappie were caught before the high winds and storms earlier this week. Depths of 7 to 9 feet were producing but fish have been a bit scattered, a scenario which isn’t unusual given the rapidly changing lake levels.

Male crappie really showed a hormonal change the last few days and are now sporting their beautiful purple color change as their pigment reveals spawning time is at hand. Male crappie are the ones that turn dark while females in both the black and white species retain their white, pale appearance.

Bulging with eggs are the females right now. They’re ready to deposit their hefty egg sacs around structure as they broadcast them on submerged brush, stumps, manmade fish attractors and the like.

Anglers should see a variety of techniques pay dividends these next few days. Some boats have already experienced success by casting grubs around shallow shorelines as male crappie move up and search for structure while the females wait and suspend offshore until conditions are ideal.

Shallow stakebeds and brushpiles in the 4 to 9 foot depths range were already attracting some early spawning fish which may have a negative mood swing until warmer days return. Again the change will happen quickly.

Also producing have been boats applying spider rig presentations and pushing multipole presentation slowly over main lake flats and back into the bays as the fish move up.

Long line techniques were also doing well as chartreuse variations of Road Runner style jigs and twister tail grubs were allowing anglers to cover a lot of water and capitalize on crappie that are staging out away from spawning habitat in midrange depths of 8 to 12 feet.

The abundance of floating debris has been annoying to long liners and spider riggers as it fouls their lines results in numerous twists and tangles.

Meanwhile, water color has been slightly stained in the Paris Landing sector but sporting a good color overall for fishing as have a few big bays such as Cypress, Eagle, Leatherwood, Lick, Hurricane and up Big Sandy in Swamp Creek and sectors south of the power lines.

West Sandy and the upper end of Big Sandy south of New Hope and Country Junction experienced some muddy water after the rains but once lake levels settle down or begin falling the water color should improve.

Water Level Concerns

Fluctuation in lake levels is a concern to both bass and crappie anglers. A rapid rise like we’ve witnessed this week can bring fish toward shallow venues in preparation for spawning. Warm days rapidly heat shallows, pulling fish to their locale.

What worries anglers is fish heading to shallow zones following the rising lake stages only to have a drastic drawdown occur once fish have set up housekeeping. If the TVA pulls the plug and drops lake levels drastically back to its normal curve it could have a negative impact on the success of the spawn and recruitment for the young of the year small fry.

Actually higher water can be good for the success rate of the spawn of both bass and crappie if it inundates shoreline habitat at the right time and stays there. More water around weeds and bushes plus shallow submerged structure increases the opportunity for fish to spawn and increases survival rates for their fry.

However, if the fish blitz shallow and deposit their eggs only to have a drastic drawdown occur it greatly diminishing the success rate resulting in a lost or weak year class. That’s a clear and present danger.

Hopefully things will settle down in the days ahead and TVA can retain some of the water that has entered the reservoir. Anglers are reminded the agency’s priorities are flood control, hydro power generation and navigation.

Sometimes what the fishing community wants and what it gets are two different things. Let’s keep our fishing fingers crossed!

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