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101: Crappie Fishing

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Crappie Fishing

Without a doubt the Crappie is the most sought after panfish in North America.  Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are two of the top fisheries in the country for both numbers and quality of these great eating fish.

Both Black and White Crappie are taken here in good numbers through out the year by the savvy angler although most anglers do not target them during the summer months.  The Crappie's main forage here is threadfin shad and insects.

Spring Patterns

The spring Crappie fishing can be broken down into three distinct phases:  prespawn, spawn and post spawn.

Early prespawn patterns begin when the morning water temperatures are in the low 50's which normally occurs from early thru mid March.  The Crappie will stage during this period near the mouths of the creeks and bays along the old creek and river channels as they prepare to move toward spawning areas.

These staging fish can be taken during this time by vertically fishing with small jigs and small minnows.  Two of the most popular techniques used for this vertical fishing are "spider rigging" and "bottom bouncing".

Spider rigging consists of the angler using a number of long Crappie poles spread out to the front and sides of the boat (hence the term spider rigging comes from the analogy that a boat with all these poles sticking out from it looks like a spider).

Each of these rigs are set at a different depth by the angler as he moves along the old ledges or over humps looking for schools of staging fish.  Once a fish is taken the angler makes note of the depth that the fish was taken and adjusts the accompanying rigs to this depth.

Bottom bouncing is a technique that incorporates a rig that has the weight placed at the end of the line and has one or more hooks or lures (jigs) spaced above the weight.  As the angler moves along the old channel ledges he keeps slight contact with the bottom by "bouncing" the weight along the bottom.

This is an effective method for finding hidden cover such as brush piles, stake beds, etc. that may be holding staging fish.

When the morning water temperatures reach the mid to high 50's the Crappie can be located in the creeks and bays. These fish will generally be staged over cover such as brush piles, stumps or deep stake beds near the spawning areas.  The White Crappie tend to stage over the deeper cover but the Black Crappie will tend to stage somewhat shallower.

These late prespawn fish are typically taken by spider rigging with minnows or jigs over the cover or by vertically jigging and/or casting small curly tail jigs to the cover.  The spawning period normally begins when the morning water temperatures reach the low 60's and lasts for about a week or 10 days.  This normally occurs around the first or second week of April.  During the spawn the Crappie can be taken in shallow water especially near gravel areas with wood cover.

The best times to catch these fish near the bank are early in the morning and late in the evening.  These spawning fish can readily be taken by casting small curly tail jigs, small spinners to the bank and retrieving or by fishing with minnows and/or jigs under bobbers along the bank.

Typically during the day these spawners can be taken around the nearest cover to the spawning banks using the same methods but fishing somewhat deeper.

Once the spawn is over, usually about the time the morning water temperatures reach the mid 60's, the Crappie will move back to the deeper water, basically the same areas they used for prespawn staging.

It is important to note here that the White Crappie will move to deeper water faster than the Black Crappie.  The Black Crappie will tend to stay in shallower water near cover for quite a while longer than the White Crappie as a general rule.

These post spawn Crappie are normally tough to catch right after the spawn as they are spent out from the spawning ritual and are sluggish.  However, they can be taken by spider rigging small jigs (1/16 and 1/32 ounce) over the post spawn areas.  Once these fish have rested up they will start taking larger jigs and minnows again.

Summer Patterns

When the morning water temperatures move into the 70's, which normally occurs here around the middle of May the Crappie will move from the post spawn staging areas to their deep water summer haunts.

These areas can be found along the old creek and river channels.  Typically, the fish will be located in the 15-25 ft range. Most panfish anglers don't target the Crappie in the summertime as they turn their attentions to other more active summertime species such as White Bass and Bluegill.  But Crappie can still be taken in the summer by working these deep water areas with bottom bouncing rigs and spider rigging with minnows and jigs.

Night time Crappie fishing in the summer can be very productive by fishing these areas using lights to illuminate the surface of the water.  These lights will draw the insects to the area which in turn draws the baitfish soon to be followed by the predators and in this case the Crappie.

Many night time anglers are surprised that they can catch Crappie near the surface at night by using this method and by placing their lures or minnows near the edge of the lighted areas.  The Crappie will remain in these deep water areas until the water cools down sufficiently enough with the approaching fall to move the baitfish into bays.

Fall Patterns

Fall Crappie fishing begins around the first week in October as the morning water temperatures drop to around 70 degrees.  The baitfish will then move into the bays to feed up for winter and the Crappie will follow them to do likewise.

The fish will first show up around the mouths of the bays near the old creek channel and river ledges just as they do in the early prespawn stages of spring.  However, they will move into the bays a little quicker than in the spring as the water cools.

These fish may be taken by spider rigging jigs and minnows and by vertically jigging over deep cover along the old creek channels.  As the water continues to cool into the 60's, one can expect the Crappie to be well established in the creeks and bays.  They will be holding over cover along the old creek channels with some Crappie moving to shallow water cover near the shorelines and on the flats.

The deeper fish can be taken by spider rigging and vertically jigging with jigs and minnow.  The shallower fish can be taken by casting curly tail jigs, small spinners to the shallow cover and by fishing around the shallow cover with minnows and jigs under bobbers.

The fall fishing patterns will last until the water temperatures drop to the lower 50's, normally around the end of November at which time the baitfish and Crappie will move out to the deeper water winter areas on the main lake.

Winter Patterns

Many local Crappie anglers know that winter time Crappie fishing can provide some very nice catches of large fish for the angler willing to brave the colder weather.  After the Crappie move out of the bays in late fall, they will move back to the deeper water areas along the old creek and river channels where they spent the summer.

These fish are normally found in very tight large schools suspended under schools of baitfish along the channel ledges.

These fish can be taken by spider rigging with small jigs and small minnows.  The angler should move slowly along the channel drop offs until they encounter a school of Crappie.  These fish will normally be tightly schooled so it is important to not move along to quickly.

Once a school of feeding winter Crappie is found, an angler can expect a lot of quick bites until the school moves off. The angler should be very focused on their fishing during the winter as usually the bite is very subtle.

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Fishing 101 Credits:

Written by Dave Stewart, Bass Buster Guide Service
Edited by Shawn Dunnaway
Fishing 101 may not be reproduced or reprinted and is provided exclusively by ExploreKentuckyLake.com

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Beaver Dam Outlook
Photo by Melodie Cunningham

The view from the top of this beaver dam shows a Kentucky Lake inlet in late spring. An inlet like this one is habitat to a variety of exciting wildlife and plants just waiting to be explored!