Crappie Spawn Begins; Prime Time for Panfishermen
Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 03/30/2017
Things are happening fast. Kentucky Lake’s fishing scene has changed significantly since last week courtesy of warm days and mild nights that have seen surface temps rise. Despite a stormy start for the last week of March crappie are making their annual blitz toward shallow venues as early spawning phases kick in. Surface temperatures have climbed steadily since last week at this time, crossing the 60-degree mark on Monday and Tuesday in many bays. By Wednesday surface temps had crossed the 62 degree threshold and by this weekend active spawning phases will begin. Crappie begin spawning when surface temps reach the 62 to 66 degree range and stays there for a few days, a scenario that is now underway. Since last week male crappie have taken on a dramatic change is their color, which occurs when hormonal changes indicate the biological clock is not only ticking but the alarm is about to sound off! Some big females have been taken this week and their physiology shows a bulky profile with bulging bellies. Eggs are about ready to be broadcast around shallow structure. Fishing has definitely improved among the ranks and should be even better the next week to ten days as prime time arrives. True black crappie will spawn ahead of white crappie so they’re already underway. The lion’s share of white crappie have been in transition this week as they stage in deeper water, awaiting ideal conditions before moving up and spawning in the 2 to 8 foot depth range. Decent stringers have been taken the last few days by anglers targeting midrange depths of 5 to 12 feet. Fish are on the move as they stair-step their way to spawning territory. Several different depths are paying dividends as some fish are suspended in main lake areas in depths of 12 to 15 feet and anglers slow trolling with long line or spider rig techniques are doing good. Trolling multi-pole rigs with a buffet of baits set at different depths has paid off. At the same time those vertical fishing jigs and minnows with a single pole presentation over manmade fish attractors are seeing their numbers improve too. Depths of 5 to 11 feet gave up some good fish the last few days. Last weekend’s Crappie USA tournament saw a hefty slab taken that tipped the scales at 3.22 pounds. It was taken in six feet of water south of the Paris Landing area. Several two-pound plus fish have been taken this week in a similar depth range as they are on the verge of spawning. Water color has been relatively clear in the main lake areas but stained in the upper Big Sandy and West Sandy sector and throughout the upper third of some bays where runoff from thunderstorms earlier this week added color. Overall it’s a good color across the reservoir. Surface temperatures were starting out in the 59 to 60 degree range in the mornings but climbing to the 63 degree mark by midday. By this weekend add three or four degrees to that, which will trigger the early phases of the annual ritual. It appears stability has entered the picture, at least in the temperature department. Lake levels have been in the 355.5 range this week at both Kentucky Dam and upstream at New Johnsonville. TVA’s annual curve for reservoir filling begins April 1 each year with a target day of May 1 for summer pool, which is 359 feet above sea level. Odds are peak spawning will take place before summer pool arrives so most of the shoreline habitat will be too shallow to accommodate spawning crappie or bass. However, lake levels are always influenced by rainfall and subject to change on short notice. Meanwhile, crappie fishermen will be implementing a variety of techniques in the next week or two that also include casting jigs around shallow shorelines and structure. From slip bobbers to just regular curly tail grubs cast on light tackle, this is another popular presentation by the army of crappie anglers now entering the battle. Male crappie are already transitioning toward shallow gravel banks where casting techniques can be quite productive for a week or two. Earlier this year anglers across the region were talking early spring and anticipating spawning to begin ahead of time due to an extended spell of unseasonably warm weather. Indeed it was warmer than normal throughout the winter months and surface temps back in February climbed to the mid to upper 50’s at times. Enter a mean March and things changed. Surface temps lost ground and a series of cold fronts reversed the gains, pulling the timetable back to normal. Crappie spawning traditionally takes place in the first two weeks of April on Kentucky Lake and it appears this year will be pretty much on target. If you’re waiting for prime time crappie fishing then wait no longer! The parade is about to begin. Bass fishermen are seeing fish on the move too and rapidly moving up to shallow flats and gravel points. Shallow running crankbaits and suspending jerk baits have produced lately as have jig and craw combos. Spinnerbaits will enter the picture this week as warmer weather influences bass to become more aggressive. Some bass anglers were taking spawn a few weeks ago when warm weather got ahead of itself but odds are the bulk of the bass will make their blitz in the next few weeks. Look for a lot of males to move up fast once water enters some shallow grass along the shorelines. Until then fish are staging on points and flats near the mouth of feeder creeks or around roadbeds. They’re awaiting rising lake levels and rising surface temps. Spring has sprung!
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