Steve McCadams' Fishing Report
Crappie Spawn Underway; Lake Levels Recede
Report for April 8, 2020
Dogwood and redbud trees are blooming! For fishermen in this part of the world it signals spawning time for crappie.
What a difference a week can make! Kentucky Lake’s elevation is down over four feet from last week at this time when high water jumped up above normal and inundated campgrounds, docks, piers, boat ramps and shoreline access.
That’s all changed. TVA really pulled the plug last weekend and dropped lake levels almost a foot each day, bringing the reservoir back down near its normal curve for early April. Actually, we’re still a few inches high but stability has returned to a large degree.
At midweek TVA’s projection for the weekend was around 358. Last week the reservoir crested at 362.4 so a lot has happened in a short period of time. Normal summer pool---which is slated for May 1 under normal conditions---is 359.
Anglers have been out in force hoping to capture the peak of the annual crappie spawning phases on Kentucky Lake. Despite the fear and anxiety of the current pandemic fishermen have made it to the lake in droves as beautiful weather and the rumor of crappie biting exhibit a strong magnetism.
Above average temperatures the last week to ten days have influenced the spawning phases for crappie and bass too. Surface temperatures reflected hot days and warm nights, rising to the 70-degree plus range at midweek in several secondary pockets and bays.
A few days the sun was beaming and it was downright hot on the lake when light breezes subsided.
Crappie will kick start their spawning phases when surface temps reach the 62 to 66 degree range and the unusually warm weather sort of hit the fast forward button this week. Although on the threshold, females hadn’t spawned earlier this week but will likely begin by this weekend if not sooner.
Females are bloated with eggs and ready to broadcast them to structure. Male crappie are sporting a deep dark purple color and their handsome appearance means spawning time is here.
A check at the cleaning tables showed eggs still present in hefty female slabs but it was clear they were about ready to begin this annual spring ritual.
Rapidly changing lake levels this week had the fish and the fishermen somewhat off balance at times. Up Big Sandy some crappie fishermen were seen wading the buck bushes a few days and finding some scattered fish up on the shoreline buck bushes and willow trees.
No doubt the fish were about to spawn there in the visible cover but once TVA pulled the plug lake levels rapidly receded and the honeymoon with visible shoreline structure fishing was short and sweet. Crappie pulled out of the shorelines and fell back to somewhat deeper water where depths of 5 to 6 feet offered a comfort zone.
Most of the big stringers this week have been taken by anglers either longlining or spider rigging, which locals refer to as pushing. Slow trolling Road Runner style jigs or perhaps pulling tube skirted jig and twister tail grubs has paid dividends.
The fish have been on the move and responding to fluctuation in lake levels. As a result crappie have been backing off the banks and suspended out in midrange depths as they continue to stage and wait on the magic moment to make a blitz to spawning spots.
Depths of 5 to 8 feet were giving up the bulk of crappie at times. Several flats in the wide open areas were holding fish in both the upper Big Sandy gravel pits, near the Country Junction sector and throughout West Sandy. These areas traditionally warm quicker in the spring as their shallow depths and submerged stump fields have always appealed to the early spawning fish.
Crappie in the Paris Landing sector were much more scattered and low numbers were being taken compared to the upper Big Sandy and West Sandy sectors. No doubt the recent surge in high lake levels influenced crappie to move up the Big Sandy as they followed the water.
Now that lake levels have receded look for more crappie to acclimate toward structure and spawn around manmade cover in the 5 to 10 foot depth ranges. Anglers that have faced tough luck using vertical fishing methods around submerged structure may see a rapid rebound of fish playing their game now that things are settling down.
Water color had cleared had cleared significantly this week as falling lake stages pulled any muddy or stained water out of bays.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Lake fishermen have been the beneficiaries of warm weather which is about to change. Weathermen are forecasting cooler conditions for the next several days so anglers will have to dig out those coats and jackets again.
Although no one likes to see the warm weather leave, conditions had gotten a little ahead of schedule as to the biological clock. A cool spell might not be all bad.
Bass fishermen have scored some dandy catches this past week as they flocked to the shorelines and found some lunker bass moving into the shoreline stickups.
Pitching and flipping techniques paid off for several days as tossing a jig and craw combo or Texas rigged lizard and craw worked well at times. Spinnerbaits were appealing too as the combination of grass and bushes was a spinnerbait paradise.
Anglers have used a lot of the tackle box buffet lately as a multitude of lures have worked during the high lake levels that had current present in various areas of the lake. From crankbaits to swim baits, bassers have found success on a wide variety.
Now that water levels have fallen out of the shallow trees and bushes bass are likely to hold on the submerged shorelines just out away from where they were a few days ago. Shallow running crankbaits and Texas rigged worms and craws will appeal as will Rattle Trap style lure selections that allow anglers to fan cast sloping flats and gravel bars where the fish have fallen back.
Lately it has been a game of hide and seek for bass fishermen. The lake has presented a challenge at times and yesterday’s location and patterns seemed to change overnight.
After a short parade of high water and shoreline structure now anglers are back to fishing normal lake levels for early April, which means out away from visible stickups but targeting staging areas where bass are hold up and getting ready to spawn too.
Spring fishing on Kentucky Lake has a reputation of roller coaster lake levels at times plus unstable weather patterns. So far things are holding up to that reputation this year!
Stay safe, be cautious and practice social distancing. Out on the lake you can throw your favorite lure; just don’t throw caution to the wind!
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Steve's reports cover Kentucky Lake from Paris Landing to New Johnsonville.
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About Steve McCadams
A member of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Legends of the Outdoors, Steve McCadams is a professional guide and outdoor writer from Paris, Tenn.